From 1962 to 2012, viewers have enjoyed fifty years of the James Bond film franchise, watching numerous actors fill the shoes of the devilishly debonair superspy also known by MI6’s secretive moniker, 007. This Friday, the 23rd entry in the series will be released nationwide once again starring Daniel Craig as the MI6 agent with a license to kill originally created by British author, Ian Fleming. Director Sam Mendes takes the reigns on what looks to be a thrilling new Bond film and in preparation Reel Reactions is putting together some articles rating various aspects of the Bond franchise thus far. So far, we have delved into the franchise’s famous title theme songs and analyzed each of Bond’s villains while speculating on how Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva will compare. This week, we look at the six faces of Bond to examine the legacy each of them has left on this expansive franchise.
From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, James Bond has been through numerous reincarnations. Through the franchise’s fifty years, six actors have taken on the massive role of James Bond, each leaving a different mark on the character. Unlike the previous articles, I will not be grading the actors on their abilities to adequately portray James Bond because, in all honesty, all six actors have been fantastic. Yes, I, like so many others, have a list of who is the best and who is the weakest and that is simply my opinion, but in no way has an actor ever completely failed to bring Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy to life on the big screen. The character of Bond has fluctuated over the past fifty years, but with the upcoming Skyfall he appears to be in the best form possible. Will Daniel Craig catapult himself higher than the original Bond, Sean Connery, after the films’ release this weekend? What significance have actors Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby, who combined only played Bond three times, left on the franchise? Did Pierce Brosnan relinquish 007 duties too early or too late? See my opinions below, and check out the notable moments from each actor, most of which I have not attached to the Bond film of which they came. Can you guess where these moments appeared? Which did I forget?
Actor Name: Sean Connery
Number of Film/Reign as Bond: Six (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever), 1962-1971
Legacy: Widely considered the best actor to ever portray Ian Fleming’s famed MI6 secret agent, Connery gave the very first face to Bond and was the guinea pig for a number of the franchise’s staples: The tuxedos, the drinks, the sultry seductiveness, the violent nature of Bond, etc. As an actor, like most of the five players who followed, portraying Bond served as Connery’s breakthrough and cast him into immortality as a film actor since he playing one of cinema’s greatest protagonists in what has become Hollywood’s longest running film franchise to date. For the majority of his tenure as Bond, Connery’s films were based on Fleming’s original novels and were very much adaptations as opposed to the later franchise installments which were more original. However, in the prep stages for the first James Bond film, Dr. No, Ian Fleming and producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli required persuading to find solace in Connery’s embodiment of the character. Broccoli’s wife, Dana, was instrumental in getting Connery the part and it took the assurance of Fleming’s girlfriend (who deemed that Connery had the sexual charisma to match Fleming’s original character) and the successful reception to the premiere of Dr. No, where it was discovered that director Terrence Young mined the suave and sophisticated Bond out of the ‘overgrown stuntman’ (Fleming’s first opinion of Connery), to allow the novelist to rest assured. Once Goldfinger was released in 1963, nobody would ever question Connery’s casting again. Also, not for nothing, Connery’s performance as the ‘blunt instrument’ of 007 made him a film star and a sex symbol of 60s cinema.
Notable Moments: Discovering the ‘Golden Girl,’ Bond’s reaction to Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) appearing on the beach, nail-biting fight with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) aboard the Orient Express, that wonderfully timed moment with the Aston Martin’s ejector seat, initial encounter with arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), the ‘electrifying’ pre-credits sequence in Goldfinger, piloting the Little Nellie, the very first ‘Bond, James Bond’ introduction at the start of Dr. No
Actor Name: George Lazenby
Number of Film/Reign as Bond: One (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), 1969
Legacy: The Aussie actor had big shoes to fill, and was surprisingly very close to doing so when he had his one hundred and forty minutes of fame in his single outing as 007. Based on one of Fleming’s novels, Lazenby followed the pitch-perfect casting of Connery and was given a seemingly impossible task of carrying on the franchise whose longevity would be based entirely on the audience and critical reception of Lazenby’s performance. A daunting task? Most definitely. Yet, in the time since its initial release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has become remembered as one of the better Bond films with Lazenby’s unique portrayal and vulnerable heart put at the forefront. While Connery was a brute force with a cut physicality that oozed sexual desire for all women, on-screen and off, Lazenby’s presence was far more tender, making him the only Bond player (outside of Daniel Craig in reboot, Casino Royale) to ever play a lovesick Bond who falls so deeply for a woman that he actually proposes marriage to her. This all culminates in the most tragic Bond finale, when Tracy di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) is murdered mere hours after the two wed, and to the cop on scene, Bond calmly says, “It’s quite alright, she’s only sleeping. We have all the time in the world.” A crippling end to OHMSS. Unfortunately, Lazenby was unhappy with his treatment on set and was assured by his agent that Bond would be archaic by the end of the 1970s, so the actor denied a seven-film contract and bailed following his debut. Whether he regrets that decision today or not, the critical and audience reception was warm enough for the franchise to expand until the present day and, over time, has become far more positive making OHMSS a classic among the franchise and Lazenby’s role as a temporary Bond truly memorable.
Notable Moments: Bobsled fight with Blofeld, the first ski chase of the series, Tracy Bond’s death at On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s finish, ‘This never happened to the other fellow’ in-joke.
Actor Name: Roger Moore
Number of Film/Reign as Bond: Seven (Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill) 1973-1985
Legacy: The longest running contributor to the Bond franchise in the title role, with seven Eon Production screen credits, Moore has left a very conflicted mark on the Bond franchise, with some finding his performance beyond acceptable and others branding it the campiest Bond there could ever be. Now, while neither of these statements are completely incorrect, Moore was definitely a different Bond than Connery and the short-lived Lazenby and embraced the added campiness of the 1970s while still having a number of fulfilling moments and a handful of fine Bond adventures. Moore is like the FDR of the Bond franchise, holding the office for twelve long years and bringing Bond through numerous progressions in style, personality, and fads. Moore’s first Bond film was Live and Let Die, a Blaxploitation-inspired Bond that showcased the forty-five year old actor in top form hoisting the franchise into a new, fun-loving direction. However, the fun-loving direction comes with its own negative baggage. Not to criticize Moore as a performer, but his films contained low-stakes fight sequences that exclaim, ‘This was choreographed!’ and were the basis for the ‘judo chop’ joke in Austin Powers. Plus, the skin-tight action suits, very much a mark of the era, and misguided plot points (sending Bond to space in Moonraker) were unfortunate decisions that have unfairly affected Moore. When it came to dapper, sophisticated appearances, no actor has looked better in a tux than Moore, and his ultra-Brit accent made him the most elite sounding Bond. The catchphrases and nuanced Bond moments came rolling off his tongue, and you’ve got to give the actor credit for going after the role at nearly sixty years old. He may have regretted it and he may have looked far older than Bond ever should, but he ended on a very high note with A View to a Kill and will have early turns, like Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me, to dwell on positively
Notable Moments: Impromptu bridge created by the heads of crocodiles, Jaws, Bond by ways of Star Wars fighting his enemies with laser guns in Moonraker, mid-air automobile barrel role, the self-deprecating appearances as a clown and the Tarzan yell while swinging from tree to tree, facing off against Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) atop the Golden Gate bridge, skydiving without a parachute, ski-chase off a cliff saved by a Union Jack parachute, the judo-chop heavy fight sequences, defeating Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) by inflating him like a balloon until he actually pops.
Actor Name: Timothy Dalton
Number of Film/Reign as Bond: Two (The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill) 1987-1989)
Legacy: Literallyone-upping George Lazenby with only two big screen turns as James Bond, Dalton’s performances did a completely one hundred and eighty degree turn around from how Roger Moore decided to play the character. The playboy-ish aspects had disappeared and Bond was now as brooding as ever, excelling in violence to a Connery-esque degree while rarely letting his serious tone dwindle, choosing sardonicism as comic relief. Dalton changed the tone of Bond entirely and his MI6 agent exterminated his enemies without remorse and with unrelenting brutality. To play the Bond of the novels was Dalton’s ultimate goal and he neared a method practice by even participating in all the action scenes himself, whereas the aging Roger Moore never could. His films were criticized for their lack of humor, but Fleming fans and critics praised both The Living Daylights (which became the fourth highest grossing Bond film upon its release) and Licence to Kill (a lackluster scorer in the U.S., but a personal favorite of mine) and were disappointed when Dalton chose to resign from the role in 1993 after legal issues that lasted four years between Eon Productions and MGM had finally been resolved. In only two months, Dalton had been replaced, and upon reflecting on his decision to leave the franchise, Dalton’s opinion of his actions has not changed. He played the role for a bit, was happy with what he provided, but was done with the character by the time GoldenEye got the green light. Like Lazenby, many simply disregard Dalton as a forgettable Bond, but with notice of where the Daniel Craig Bond is headed, viewers might consider returning to the Dalton era for there’s actually a significant amount of Dalton’s tone in the Craig features.
Notable Moments: Using a cello case as a makeshift sled, wild airborne fight against henchman Necros while clinging to a netted load of Opium from the cargo hold of a Soviet airplane, defying MI6 to extract revenge after the personal attack on Felix Leiter, sending Dario (Benicio Del Toro) through a grinder, tanker truck wheelie, climactic ‘He met his waterloo’ fight with Brad Whitaker, fiery and brutal fight with Sanchez, the danger-filled pre-credits sequence of The Living Daylights.
Actor Name: Pierce Brosnan
Number of Film/Reign as Bond: Four (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day) 1995-2002
Legacy: It was big news when the star of Remington Steele and the co-star of Mrs. Doubtfire took the reigns from Timothy Dalton to play James Bond. The handsome and smirking Pierce Brosnan made one hell of an entrance in ‘95’s GoldenEye, a violent and engaging Bond film co-starring Sean Bean as the terrific villain, Alec Trevelyan, and directed by Martin Campbell. With Brosnan returned the Bond humor, flair, and wit and an underlying current of loss was added. Bond’s past always seeped into the Brosnan entries with references to his family and old friends and the tragedy that he has never been able to escape from. While Dalton possessed a presence and a temper, the charisma was lacking and Brosnan entered the franchise with a seemingly more complete package. A vulnerable nature, like Lazenby, that he forced into submission by presenting little to no sympathy; he seemed a more natural fighter and never strayed away from violently engaging with, or even killing, women. While the deaths of women simply happened around Roger Moore, it was expected for Brosnan to deal with female antagonists in the same fashion that he would the direct male villains. However, like Moore, Brosnan stayed in the game a little too long and was looking weary by Die Another Day. While remaining enthusiastic about continuing the Bond franchise, eventually he was released by Eon Productions to make way for a younger Bond face, Daniel Craig. Upon his departure, he was quoted as saying that Daniel Craig was going to make a very memorable Bond.
Notable Moments: The destructive tank chase, ‘For England James?’ ‘No, for me,’ Driving a BMW with a 1997 cell phone, a thrilling boat chase on Thames River, ejector seat car flip, short partnership with a new Q (John Cleese), cold blooded murder of Elektra King.
Actor Name: Daniel Craig
Number of Film/Reign as Bond: Three (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall) 2006-Present
Legacy: A relatively unknown British actor, Daniel Craig was tapped in 2005 to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in a serious take on the very first Ian Fleming bond novel, Casino Royale, which had been turned into a parody film back in 1967. After the release of his casting and throughout the production of Casino Royale, fans riddled the internet with anti-Craig propaganda calling Craig the absolute worst choice to wear the Bond tux and fill Brosnan’s absence. Yet, he was defended by Brosnan, as well as Roger Moore, Sean Connery, and Timothy Dalton, even Clive Owen, who was also vying for the role of Bond, said that audiences will be surprised with Craig. In the end, saying we were surprised is putting it mildly. Labeled as a reboot, Daniel Craig surprised just about everybody with his unbelievable performance as a reinvented James Bond, having just been granted double-O status with fragile emotional depth, an unstoppable edge, and a cold heart fresh for breaking. Craig was electrifying on screen and presented viewers with an anti-hero Bond reinstating the ‘blunt instrument’ idea that was infused into Sean Connery during the early days of the Bond franchise, plus nearly $600 million worldwide showed widespread appreciation. Followed by Quantum of Solace, a sadly disappointing direct sequel, Craig made up for the film’s numerous weaknesses with a vengeful performance mirroring Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill, who had voluntarily relieved himself from MI6 to seek personal revenge. But this weekend, Craig returns in Skyfall, which might just ensure Craig as the best actor to ever tackle James Bond. With the franchise geared up to be taken in an intriguing new direction, it appears that the original joke is on us and we are witnessing a three-part revival to the fifty year old film series
Notable Moments: The black-and-white opening of Casino Royale, the pre-credits car chase of Quantum of Solace, ‘Give me a vodka martini.’ ‘Shaken or stirred?’ ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’, an intense chase to stop an airport terrorist, the parkour chase through Madagascar, Vesper’s death, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’ finale.
There you have it, my take on the many actors who have filled out the devishly handsome tuxedo of superspy, James Bond; which is your favorite? Are you happy with Craig’s recent portrayal or will no one ever be able to top Connory? Sound off below!
Skyfall will be released on Friday, November 9th and check back here for our full review later in the week.
Article by Mike Murphy