The ‘novelty’ value of appointing a new face to the iconic role of James Bond is the biggest threat to Daniel Craig’s tenureship, writes Tim Robey. If he is kept on though, don’t viewers deserve to see a return of the brutish animal magnetism that got him hired in the first place?
When Daniel Craig took over as 007 in the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale, he brought some exciting new attributes to the role. First among them was his bruiser quality: he looked more likely to scramble out of a bare-knuckle boxing ring than tux up for pre-dinner cocktails.
This was a palpably different Bond from any we had seen – one with less of a debonair eyebrow game and more of an edge of menace. He meant business, and the business was mean.
Whether he still means it is a whole other question. Last week, a report from the New York Times suggested that his return for Bond 25 was a “done deal” — despite his previous much-quoted statement, since recanted, that he’d rather “slash his own wrists” than step back into the role. But would the Bond films be better off without him?
Bond fans love to hate Craig’s second 007 film, Quantum of Solace, for its haphazard action scenes, lack of memorable villains and a title even more meaningless than Never Say Never Again. But there’s a strong case for the defence — and it partly hinges on Craig, whose performance in it is his best as Bond by a mile.
The film’s terseness — suicidally un-Bond-like, in some eyes — suited his own. He was rarely saddled with extraneous dialogue or bad jokes. Plus, the death of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in the previous outing gave him rare follow-through motivation bubbling under the surface.
You could forget the wholly forgettable plot unfolding, and just concentrate on his residual grief and fury.
But after Skyfall and Spectre — on which more in a second — the vicious lustre of Craig’s Bond has well and truly faded. His age isn’t a problem — Roger Moore was 57 when had his last hurrah as Bond A View to a Kill, with its hilarious over-reliance on stunt doubles, came out, and Craig isn’t even quite 50.
But all the least interesting aspects of Craig’s Bond have lately curdled his persona, turning him into a stiff, Madame Tussauds version of himself. It’s time for a change.
For a start, he’s hopeless at being funny. Say what you like about Moore, but he got on the wavelength of those cheesy wisecracks, making even the lamest ones strangely endearing.
When Craig attempts one — “Got into some deep water” in Skyfall springs to mind — the level of cringe goes through the roof. He just can’t do it.
It’s partly the writers’ fault, for neither appreciating this limitation nor giving Craig better jokes to work with. But his company, like that of any prickly and humourless party guest, is becoming awfully hard work.
As for giving Bond sex appeal? Most would point to Connery as the all-round winner in this area, but those famously bulging swimming trunks in Casino Royale could well bag Craig a silver medal.
He had a brutish animal magnetism when he took over — so where has it gone?
Find me a scene in Spectre, say, which anyone would voluntarily rewind because Daniel Craig is so unforgettably magnetic.
Cavorting with Monica Bellucci in that Italian villa? It’s Bellucci, surely, doing all the head-turning.
Some said after Craig’s casting that the attitude he gave off was a welcome throwback to the “true” Bond of Ian Fleming’s vision: not a suave operator but a ruthless one, with little time for the after-hours innuendo. It’s true that Craig ditched the come-hither posturing of the Moore and Brosnan years, the sense of vanity.
His defining moment in his first ever fight sequence in Casino Royale was when he came crashing down through a building site: on hitting the ground, he merely shook his head to fend off concussion, and continued on. It was clear there would be no Brosnan-esque smarm on his watch.
Still, this down-and-dirty machismo has been a less enduring boon than we might have hoped. Contrast Timothy Dalton — the most underrated Bond forever — who managed to act the part better than anyone, save perhaps Connery on a good day.
This will be controversial, but I don’t think any of Craig’s Bond pictures beats the grit and romance of The Living Daylights (1987), as technically tatty around the edges as it may look these days.
Dalton, balancing Bond’s angst and professionalism with a skill we took for granted, deserved better than two Bond films — certainly in a franchise which is about to hand Craig a fifth, maybe even a sixth. Alas, the paltry box office sealed Dalton’s fate.
For all their pros and cons, every one of the candidates who have been dangled to succeed Craig — Tom Hardy, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender — has a massive advantage over him: novelty. Because the formula is getting stale.
Sam Mendes’s much-vaunted directing role on the last two films has attracted world-class cinematographers, to look on the bright side, but it hasn’t brought the best out of Craig at all. He hasn’t looked like he’s enjoying himself.
Playing Bond must be unbelievably hard work — long days, arduous location shoots, daunting pressure to live up to the brief. But it shouldn’t look like such hard work, or an audience is likely to get depressed.
Connery always pulled it off and kept a sense of fun, a spring in his step, right up to being lured back for Diamonds are Forever (1971).
Craig, at this point, emits such grudging enthusiasm for the job that throwing in the towel would only be good for him — and us.