Daniel Craig returned for his fifth and final go as James Bond in No Time to Die. Even with the long delays due to covid, and excluding DVD, On Demand and subscription services, the latest numbers are impressive: $774 million worldwide. His previous four, with Casino Royale the first, infused the franchise with cash unimaginably and successively exceeding the box office intakes of all the non-Craig adventures in the series. Why would Craig be this popular? In all likelihood his Bond personifies our current infatuation with nihilism, the strongest underpinning in the Bond refurbishment. Absent svelte, he’s emphasizing that the smaller the adversary—he’s the shortest of Bonds at 5’8”—the more menacing the bravo in duty. This stealthy pygmy in short hair occasionally tinged with dirty blond, with an imperfect complexion and steely Aqua eyes, a model of fitness and a super brisk walker to boot, is the butchest thing coming out of poncy MI6. His primal forte is a paltry arsenal of facial expressiveness used as shield in any high-stakes risks and as aid in emotional detachment; he recovers rapidly from loss and any scars calloused. Without contradiction, and smashing the conventions set by the other Bonds, his end game is assassination and it becomes personal, clearly set into motion in Casino Royale during the opening black & white kill, based on Britain’s Guy Burgess’s infamy for selling out to the Russians.  

Saving us from domination by rich mega-crazies, which now has more currency for the real world than Bond’s, doesn’t lessen the continual emphasis of phallic worship. Judging by audience responses, Craig’s whole package—bod, naughty boy smiles, immersive voice and aura of endangerment—heels us to kneepitulation. As first Bond in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s height and hirsuteness gave audiences plenty to munch on; even his Scot accentuation was tasty. Until his smirky specialty of bagging the broads between ridiculous heroics became boring and he wasn’t afraid to show it, and, let’s admit this too, there’s nowhere to go after encountering and pumping Pussy Galore. George Lazenby, whose assets essentially left us wanting if only out of reluctance to accept him after the disappointment of Connery’s departure, wasn’t around long enough to hanker for or get sick of and neither was Diana Rigg’s Tracy, the only woman to marry Bond. Close to asexual, Roger Moore’s phooey polish was a fey mock of 007ism and negated whatever his masculinity, consistently in peril of sliding into poof spoof. How he survived as long as he did is beyond understanding; those who like him say they take him strictly for the laughs, re the use of alligators to hop across—instead of being swallowed up in—a swamp in Live and Let Die. Timothy Dalton’s brief allure was in the shiftiness of bad boy shyster working against both the character, as sinister-looking as any nemesis (and why he’s just right in A & E’s 1992 Framed), and obligatory sexual conquest. Pierce Brosnan’s attraction is being the ultimate (and Irish!) cutie pie. His prowess is verbalizing and responding to double entendres with aplomb. Judi Dench’s M calls him a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” who’s light on his feet, bungee-jumping with the confidence of nine lives, really one helluva pussycat bringing dandy apropos to articulation: when Moneypenny voice-mails her wordplay “I trust you’ll stay Onatopp of things,” he concurs with “purr-cisely.”

Bond has been cataloged as an impeccable clotheshorse and no one on screen in recent memory did more for the blue shirt and blazer or Savile Row drapes than Brosnan when globally cavorting. The fatigues were perfectly tailored, too. Connery’s beefiness, having gone flab in his last installments, was often at odds with his attire; he wore tuxes well but he was comically longshoreman-like in business suits. (Not true in the otherwise purposeless, unassociated Never Say Never Again, which ran out of fuel once Barbara Carrera prematurely exploded.) Returning by popular demand in Diamonds Are Forever, with the inducement of a hefty salary and 12.5% of the gross, his sloppy carriage and the sloppier production would do him in, though Shirley Bassey’s career received a huge boost with sellout concerts at which she stunningly delivered the title song (as the envy of every metrosexual who’d later karaoke it atop dining room tables at parties). Moore’s debonair ascots belonged more to the domain of Louis Jordan, though Lazenby ennobled the kilt in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Dalton’s knavery obscured 007’s urban finery. Clothed in Tom Ford, and like him a clean queen minus the pejorative, Craig benefits from collar bars and tight tailoring accentuating frame and accommodating size with or without the lifts and camera tricks. Though we’ve all taken note how he “grew” a few throughout the years.

Another indispensable for 007 is the mastery of multitasking. All of the actors were at least nuff at controls, but, before Craig, Dalton and Brosnan looked more convincing in driving, flying, steering hardware during the inevitable escapathons. (Well, there’s the Michael Dukakis moment Brosnan has in an armored tank.) In Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre, Craig dominates the machinery, his ruggedly driven sleight a part of his DNA not present in the other Bonds. The camera gobbles this up, as well as his violence, and in fulmination causes shudders on the brutality scale, especially in helicopters. (Melissa McCarthy in Spy goes up in one as well, for fatass ha-has; her co-star Jason Statham’s coat caught in a door handle gets the better laughs.) Craig being the least schmoozy of Bonds rubs against diehards wanting the comfort of James’s humor, as if a walking/driving/flying WMD has an endless burden to crack jocularities. In case it’s been forgotten, by the time Brosnan met his icy Waterloo in Die Another Day, the quips, as well as the tricks and stunts, immobilized us. And yet, in spite of the overblown wackiness and poor critical reception, it earned nearly $500 million. In movie parlance this means a franchise inherits audiences as sub for earning them.

Director Martin Campbell didn’t want Brosnan’s début in GoldenEye to be deluged, aware the gadgetry and super-hyped scenarios were already passé. Initially forecasting a move away from formula, he settled for or more likely pressured into accepting the Bond techno candy, and in lieu of battling warped psychos out to rule or destroy the planet he used an enemy (Sean Bean) wrought from within, presaging the betrayal we’d later see in Skyfall.  (The loner psychos would be back in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day, each sequentially more reductive.) As counter punch in GoldenEye, we’re introduced to a new M in Dench, a Glenda Jackson-like harridan who gives good edge and gets her share of loaded one liners throughout her tenure. This shift to a different approach to M is underscored by Eric Serra who, in addition to providing the music, sings the end credits song “The Experience of Love” which he co-wrote with Robert Hine and superior to Tina Turner’s title track; it’s now an alert to what we’ll see as climax in Skyfall. Of course, all Bond broads are expected to be dishes de jour but by appearance, many of them are mutts: in GoldenEye, the villainess Xenia Onatopp, played by Famke Janssen, is markedly funny; a Julie Newmar type, she knows how to put the squeeze on those she kills and gets orgasmic when panting “He’s going to derail us!” There’s Izabella Scorupco crossbred as Sheena Easton and Nastassja Kinski and not overjoyed by the “boys with toys” syndrome. The least mongrel of Brosnan’s dames are the beauty Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough and curvaceous Halle Berry and cunty Rosamund Pike in Die Another Day. Hands down the cheekiest love interest for Bond, in Casino Royale, is Eva Green as a little bit Parker Posey, a little bit Kate Beckinsale and a welcomed reminder of Susan Kohner. (Green and Craig have the single best dialogue sequence of any Bond movie, on a train to Montenegro, from which springs a complicated romance.) Quantum of Solace offers Olga Kurylenko as an agile Ukrainian stand-in for Catherine Zeta-Jones. In Skyfall and Spectre, Naomie Harris a pretty Viola Davis as the most pleasing version of Moneypenny, with whom Bond might have had a covert assignation in Shanghai, following the sexiest shave any 007 ever received. Léa Seydoux tries in Spectre to be Kate Moss eventually slinking to submission to thwart the lingering suspicion she’s not too far above statutory rape bait (the same unease strongly felt in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol).

With Craig in Casino Royale, the no-nonsense 007 is finally ensconced. Knowing the turf and liabilities, Campbell eschewed the hallmark fantasies for, basically, revenge. Fear not, there are the compulsory come-ons, chases and crashes. And one marvel of virtuosity—when a Venetian palacio comes tumbling down. (Don’t give much credence to the depths of its collapse, for the canals of Venice aren’t too deep: the Grand, in pre-cruise ship non-dredging, averages around sixteen feet and the inner canals three to four feet.) Expanding Dench’s tough play with Brosnan, Campbell substantially enlarged her M for Craig. We’re not too sure what’s clicking inside her about him other than being pissed over his re-occurring insubordination and twice sneaking into her home. Chilling with intent in issuing orders—she impatiently calls for a hit resulting in making Bond a “collateral” target in one installment—there’s a grudging like for him, perhaps somewhat less for the Lazarus Effect epitomizing the liberties in the genre than for the lone wolf macho she may empathize with. In Quantum of Solace, a title few of us understand in the scheme of 007, and in Skyfall, the bleakest rubric, we’re moving into an entangled relationship between them. The love/hate and accompanying contempt strainng into a not fully realized mother & son thing could be a little moldy. We nevertheless hang on to the overtones, as they’re both borderline humanoids. With Javier Bardem a sort of Burgess going Blondie Hannibal, we get extra discomforting imports wisely left knotty.  

Those hoping for a revival of outlandish techno flash must have been very disappointed as the “prestige” of Sam Mendes directing Skyfall meant the comic fanfare would be further diminished and in its place (1) the realities about old spies who are about to be mercilessly retired by computer wizards and (2) a conclusion to Dench’s M. These and Bardem’s inclinations help explain the $1.2 billion dollar box office. After the eye-popping nightscapes of Shanghai—a Chinese Epcot as a blue-lit blend of futura with yesteryear—it comes close to feeling like a chore to stay with it: the isolated Skyfall itself, in the Scottish Highlands, recalls the oppressive Reata in Giant. The business attended to there is ugly, with Mendes orchestrating the foreboding action with self-defense proficiency. We don’t easily surrender to Craig in Spectre, either; he looks distressed and empty in his resolutions, never ineffectual yet hardly interested in getting it up. Hoping for the Levitra harvest of Casino Royale, Mendes puts the ruffian back on the train, this time as overt tribute to From Russia with Love. Fitting, as it signals the end of the line, advanced not only by Sam Smith’s thematic “Writing’s on the Wall” during the opening credits but also by the attitudinal assumption carried throughout by Mendes; he’s wrapping up the loose ends of Craig’s Bond. Something morbid is highly pronounced in this picture—the excessively jaundiced visuals of the Mexican celebration of El Dia de los Muertos—and something very tired in Christoph Waltz as Blofeld still pampering his Chinchilla Persian kitty. Which may explain why Ben Whishaw’s Q becomes more curious: as in Skyfall, he’s Carnaby Street clad and his hair a welcoming throwback to George’s hair in Shampoo, and there’s clever subtly in his favoritism to Bond who knows how to use it.

After every Bond chapter, there’s expectedly mindless speculation about the next one. Plenty of online comment about maturating Craig needing to resist re-uping, as it’s time for a new piece. The nancies want Tim Hiddleston, who buffed up a bit in Kong: Skull Island); the masochists crave Tom Hardy (mainly after Mad Max: Fury Road); the sex-hungry nudists petition for Michael Fassbender. I’ll throw in, despite insuperable odds, the freckled Eddie Redmayne and Scott Speedman. Henry Cavill would seem a logical choice, if he hadn’t done The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and one too many of those fatuous superhero crapfests. He’s now become an irksome conceit about his physique. Though Danish and in his 50s, actor Claes Bang had emerged a contender, who’d swing Bond away from super butch to Fleming’s original intent to be a sophisticate. (A tease for the elders left in the audience but Bond producers want someone in his thirties for a ten to twelve year commitment.) Tendering the following as efficacious if not urgent new story line—prepare the new Bond to wipe out the fascist kingpins in America. Should guarantee several more chapters.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2007  RALPH BENNER  (Revised and expanded 6/2021) All Rights Reserved.