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James Bond’s Swan Song: Reflections on the Daniel Craig Era

The name’s Bond. Blonde Bond.
Skyfall Seige Daniel Craig James Bond
By  and  · Published on October 12th, 2021

The name’s Bond. Bondathon. With twenty-four official James Bond films to conquer before No Time To Die hits theaters, Bond fan Anna Swanson and Bond newbie Meg Shields are diving deep on 007. Martinis shaken and beluga caviar in hand, the Double Take duo are making their way through the Bond corpus by era, so hang up your hats and pay attention. This entry explores the Daniel Craig era of James Bond.

We made it. Twenty-four films watched, six Bonds later, and untold glasses of martinis downed: we’re at the finish line. That is until they christen a new Bond. There are few consistencies in this world. But we’ll always have our rocks: death, taxes, and a decade-spanning franchise about a drunken, well-armed civil servant.

After our deep dives on James Bond, as portrayed by Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan, we’ve reached a (temporary) final note: Daniel Craig. What does this note sound like? Probably a sad organ that’s tired of doing press junkets. But that’s how the brooding, rogue agent cookie crumbles.

After a rocky start with his casting (yes, DanielCraigisnotBond.com is still going strong, we checked) the actor did indeed prove himself as James Bond with his debut, Casino Royale. The series reboot is often hailed as one of the high points of the franchise. Since then the films have seen their critical ups (Skyfall) and downs (Quantum of Solace, Spectre).

With No Time To Die finally released after a long delay, he can boast (or bemoan) the title of the longest-serving Bond. And while he won’t beat Roger Moore in his number of films, Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond is a commendable legacy. One that we had fun unpacking.

We’ll dig into our thoughts on Blonde Bond. But first, a recap of what went down in the Craig era:

What did you expect? What surprised you?

Skyfall Shadow

Bond Beginner:

Before we embarked on this grand Bondathon journey, I had seen exactly two James Bond films: Roger Moore’s The Man With the Golden Gun and Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale. So I was, in my own way, excited to finally return to familiar territory with more informed eyes.

Yes, I knew about the Jason Bourne-ification of Bond. And I had an idea that this was a 007 who was no smiles and all business. But it was interesting to re-watch Craig’s “franchise reset” with a deeper understanding of how big of a deal it must have been.

What did surprise me was how much of these films subscribe to the framework of Bond “going rogue.” Unlike his predecessors, Craig doesn’t go on one-off missions. He pouts and grimaces about being told what to do until he invariably disobeys his superiors when they obstruct his ability to save the world the way he wants to. It’s a very 21st-century flavor of vigilantism. And it’s not for everyone (me).

To clarify: I’m all for Bond having beliefs and modulating his spy shenanigans to suit them. Timothy Dalton goes against MI6’s wishes in License to Kill when they won’t let him avenge his friend. And I loved that for him. But Craig’s rebellion feels different. Less passionate and empathy-driven and more cooly individualistic. He’s not a heedless hothead so much as a calculating rogue agent. Which again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it isn’t for everyone (again, me).

Bond Veteran:

There’s a development that I’ve come to expect over the last several years: every time I watch Skyfall, I like it less. When it came out, I was a big fan. I liked seeing more of Bond’s history. And I liked the emotional core of the film being Bond and M’s relationship. I also liked the gobsmackingly beautiful cinematography (still do!). But something about it has soured for me.

On each rewatch it feels more and more like a movie made for people who don’t really care about Bond movies. There’s an advantage to that — it’s probably the reason it made a billion bucks at the box office — but it’s also something that makes each viewing a little less fun for me.

It’s a technically impressive film lacking in personality. It’s a skillfully assembled and enjoyable film that is too generic to ever have a place in my heart the way other Bond movies — including the more objectively flawed ones — do. In Skyfall, I see a lot to admire but not a whole lot to love.

On the other side of the spectrum (SPECTREum?) I find myself pleasantly surprised by Quantum of Solace more each time. Is it uneven? Yep! Am I always able to follow the plot? Nope! But flaws and all, I really appreciate it for its anomalies. It moves at a breakneck pace and it’s all any of us can do to desperately try to hold on. It’s forceful, disorienting, messy, and often cruel. So is grief.

As a film about Bond’s mourning process, it couldn’t be closer to how I would imagine this character would deal with losing the one person he genuinely seemed to care about. It also doesn’t hurt that Olga Kurylenko‘s Camille is one of my favorite Bond girls even though she’s never gotten her due as one of the better female accomplices.

I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about the connected universe of the Craig era, but I found with No Time To Die that I was unexpectedly impressed by how much the film embraces that aspect and how well it turns out. I think most of Daniel Craig’s James Bond films, but especially Spectre, paint the series into a corner. And while I don’t love that everything is connected into a multi-film arc by the fourth film, I think they couldn’t pretend otherwise in the fifth.

For better or worse, the Craig era isn’t like any other Bond era. So Cary Joji Fukunaga leans into it. He goes all the way and delivers a fitting send-off for a Bond incarnation like no other. I don’t want the next era to be like the last one. But I think Craig needed a unique finale. No Time To Die made the best of a tough situation, and I have to commend it for that.

Do these movies hold up?

Casino Royale Parkour Finale Daniel Craig James Bond

Bond Beginner:

The question of whether or not the Daniel Craig James Bond movies “hold up” is something of an awkward one. Because, while Casino Royale is indeed 15 years old, it still feels pretty recent. Broadly: yeah, sure. All of the Craig Bonds hold up in a general sense. They aren’t garishly over-CGI’d like the Brosnan films or uncomfortably sexually aggressive like Connery’s.

But for the sake of being the objective voice at this table, it is worth noting that the Craig films were not created in a vacuum. Will parkour still be a thing in 20 years? Is it still a thing now? Will anyone in the future care about the cultural impact of Body Worlds? Will Skyfall‘s Christopher Nolan-ness age well down the line? More importantly: will Bond’s brooding endure or be lumped in as a symptom of a passing trend in early 21st-century action protagonists?

To boot, it is wild to me that this modern, self-aware take on Bond is still full of “fridged” women — love interests who exist solely to die to motivate our hero’s story. So yeah, crack open the champagne, this Bond’s not as jarringly racist or rapey as his predecessors. But we still haven’t figured out how to give Bond emotional stakes without throwing women under the bus (or the waters of Venice, whatever). No Time To Die mends this, but one film out of five doesn’t make for a great ratio. 

Bond Veteran:

With other eras, this question has usually boiled down to how uncomfortable we are with Bond’s racism and/or sexism. Or how garish the CGI looks. With the Craig era, I think it really comes down to how narrative developments hold up. And they don’t.

Specifically, I think about Spectre and the “reveal” (read: retcon) that it’s been Blofeld pulling the strings all along. It’s all a little too neat. But more than that, I think it’s lazy. I don’t think that all these years later we need to see Vesper as a cheat code to show that now Bond cares. And while I think No Time To Die works with the hand it was dealt by facing this problem head-on, it still makes this era stick out like a sore thumb. 

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Anna Swanson is a Senior Contributor who hails from Toronto. She can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.