A license to thrill

James Bickford

Reflecting on the career of the best Bond since Connery

James Bond has been a box office mainstay for over 50 years, ever since the premier of the first film in the franchise “Dr. No”in 1962. With Sean Connery bringing a suave, timeless class to fiction’s most famous secret agent, it has long been self-evident to Bond fans that no actor could possibly be as “Bond”as the original actor. From Roger Moore to Pierce Brosnan, no actor was deemed to be quite in Connery’s league.

That all changed in 2006 when Daniel Craig hit the silver screen as a new 007 for a new era. After the disastrous “Die Another Day,”Eon Productions, the studio behind the Bond films, decided that a reboot was in order to breathe new life into the character. Not only did Eon decide to reboot the character, but they decided to cast an actor that did not fit the traditional mold of a James Bond actor.

Standing at 5’10”with blond hair, Craig was met with significant protest from Bond fans when his casting was announced in October 2005, most notably the Daily Mirror who ran several articles critical of the choice.

From the start, Craig was breaking the Bond mold. Having been born in 1968, he was the first Bond to be born after the franchise started in 1962 as well as the first Bond to be born after creator Ian Fleming died in 1964. He was a younger, more babyfaced, more vulnerable Bond.When his first film, “Casino Royale,”hit theaters in 2006, he was shown to also be a more profitable Bond.

“Casino Royale”made $600 million at the box office, making it the most profitable Bond film to date. It is based off the very first Bond novel of the same name, and depicted Bond’s first mission with his “double-o”license, otherwise known as his license to kill. Craig impressed critics with how well he inhabited the character, and the Daily Telegraph’s review of the film was one of the first (of many) articles to compare his performance favorably to Connery’s. The BBC review even went as far as to say that Craig more closely resembled the characterization of Bond in the novels than any actor had up to that point.

To date, it is the fourth highest rated Bond film on Rotten Tomatoes, with 95 percent.

After the smash success of “Casino Royale,”Craig had earned his stripes as James Bond. A second film starring Craig was immediately put into production, and “Quantum of Solace”was released in 2008. In a rare twist for the historic franchise, “Quantum of Solace”was a direct sequel to “Casino Royale,”and established Craig’s Bond as a Bond with a sense of continuity. His character also displayed an emotional depth not seen in a Bond film since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” in which he seeks revenge on his lover’s killer.

Like Craig’s first film, “Quantum of Solace”was extremely profitable, raking in $580 million at the box office. However, critics were not as impressed with Craig’s second outing, rating it at 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus was that the movie was very confusing, and took itself too seriously. The film was noted for being the most violent in Bond history. It had more acts of violence depicted than in any other Bond to date, a fact not lost on those who preferred the more lighthearted Bond outings, especially former Bond actor Roger Moore.

Although Craig’s performance was praised in both films he had starred in, he had yet to truly prove himself as a critical darling. He had a critical hit and a critical miss, though both had been commercial successes. He had yet to have a truly iconic film.

“Skyfall”had a tumultuous production history. From MGM’s 2010 financial troubles to total script rewrites, it took a long time for Craig’s third film to get off the ground. When it was finally released in 2012 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of “Dr. No,”it came with a lot of fanfare. The theme song by Adele that won a Golden Globe, Academy Award and a Brit Award, as a $200 million budget, “Skyfall”hit theaters with high expectations behind it. It surpassed everyone’s epectations.

Raking in $1.1 billion, “Skyfall”is the highest grossing bond film to date by far, making almost twice as much as “Casino Royale”did. Critically, it was a smash hit, scoring a 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a perfect score from legendary film critic Roger Ebert. Craig became the most successful Bond in franchise history, and had become culturally important enough to parachute into the 2012 Olympics with the Queen herself.

Though he is still on contract for one more film, Craig has indicated in an interview with Time Out London that he is not going to do a film after “Spectre.”Should this indeed be his last film with the franchise, Craig can rest assured that his place in Bond history is secure, as a Bond to rival the best. In terms of money, he is unchallenged. Critically, he is a juggernaut. And in the eyes of the Bond faithful, he has more than proven himself worthy. He has redefined 007 and can be proud of his accomplishments.