A grand total of six actors have had the honour of playing one of the most iconic action heroes ever to grace our screens in the Eon series of James Bond. To put that into perspective, more men have walked on the moon.
SPECTRE marks 53 years of the world’s most famous on-screen spy. Shooting, drinking and womanising his way through movie history, Bond continues to delight audiences across the globe. As a lifelong fan of the franchise, I have seen how each actor has shaped the character and how Bond has developed over five decades.
We all have our favourite Bond moments. For some it is Roger Moore raising that famous eyebrow of his whilst simultaneously sipping a martini AND making one of his legendary quips. For others, it is the more subtle and much darker approach to the character taken by Daniel Craig.
Sean Connery had the pleasure of kick-starting the Eon series in the Bond franchise. At 6ft 2, the Scottish bodybuilder proved a favourite with producer Albert Broccoli. Connery proved to the world that us Brits could easily match our transatlantic cousins in terms of playing muscular action heroes, saving the day AND getting the girl.
Often the films contained unrealistic weapons and gadgets, with storylines often being very far-fetched (who can forget the secret missile base within a volcano in You Only Live Twice (1967)?!) Unrealistic storylines aside, Connery played Bond at a time of extreme tension between the democratic West and the Communist East and the early films reflect the very real fears that were felt at the time.
George Lazenby and Roger Moore continued the series in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with Moore providing at times a very slapstick performance.
Roger Moore’s stint as Bond earned the franchise around $1 billion dollars at the box office making him one of the most successful actors in the series. Moore portrays Bond as the archetypal English gentleman yet shows a more playful, more humorous side to the character.
Occasionally Moore overplayed the humour and Bond at times was a little too playful, yet he still remains one of the more memorable actors to take the role.
As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, Roger Moore was still playing Jim Bond well into his 50s. After retiring from the franchise at the grand old age of 57, Moore remains to this day the oldest actor in the series.
The 1980s saw the Cold War reach its climax and the AIDS epidemic swept the globe causing widespread fear of a very different kind. No longer was having unprotected sex with multiple partners seen as something to be admired, instead it was seen as down-right reckless.
Enter Timothy Dalton. Dalton’s Bond was a ruthless killer, more interested in his devotion to duty than bedding the nearest female. Some considered Dalton to be too devoid of humour, and too dark. This is unsurprising as he was filling in the rather large boots of his predecessor.
Dalton’s Bond was perhaps the closest to Ian Flemming’s original description, perhaps until Daniel Craig came into the fray almost 20 years later. Dalton was a Bond truly ahead of his time and resigned after completing his second and final film in 1989.
Bond would not return to our screens until 1995 when well-known Irish television actor Pierce Brosnan brought the spy to life in Goldeneye. For those of us born in the early 1990s, Brosnan was ‘our’ Bond.
I can remember many a Christmas Eve spent watching the Irishman play the quintessential Bond as he fought his way out of top-secret military bases, enjoyed relations with some of the world’s most beautiful female secret agents and delivered some of the most memorable one-liners: “Beg your pardon, forgot to knock” (as he knocks out a Russian guard sat on the toilet). Brosnan had the wit of Roger Moore yet proved he could flip the switch and become the deadly assassin that we all recognise.
Daniel Craig’s gritty performance as 007 brings a whole new dimension to the character. Throughout his tenure as Bond, the 47 year old has shown the spy to have a darker and more realistic nature.
No longer is Bond hell-bent on delivering cheesy one-liners, instead we see a very troubled and at times reckless character. When Craig took over in 2005, he took on the monumental task of rebooting the entire Bond series. Soon after he was cast the actor was criticised for his appearance with many fans of the franchise believing Craig did not fit the tall, dark and charismatic image that had been the norm since 1962.
Whilst Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as Bond in Die Another Day was released in 2002, 2006 saw the release of the first truly post-9/11 James Bond title. No longer was 007 outwitting Soviet Agents at the height of the Cold War, battling an organisation hell bent on taking over the world or being a “sexist, misogynistic dinosaur”.
He was instead a 21st century Bond facing 21st century threats. Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale, was a commercial success and was the highest grossing Bond film until Skyfall in 2012. For the first time we were treated to a glimpse of Bond’s life before he became a 00 agent.
We saw the anguish felt as Bond began his career as a killer, we saw raw emotion as Bond witnessed the woman he loved trapped and drowning in a flooded building. In short, we saw the major development of Bond’s character.
We were beginning to realise where the mysterious secret agent came from. Despite the film receiving mixed reviews, Craig again expertly portrayed Bond in Quantum of Solace (2008) maturing into a more familiar character.
What sets Casino Royale and Skyfall (not so much Quantum) is they appeal to both traditional fans of the franchise and those who may have never seen any of the original films. I have lost count of the amount of people who say “I have never seen a Bond film but I loved Casino Royale/Skyfall”, which perhaps reflects the success of Craig’s performances.
Skyfall can attribute its success to the return of supporting characters such as Q and Miss Moneypenny, whose absences were the elephants in the room in Craig’s previous two films. Judi Dench reprises her role as M for a final time and masterfully shows a new side to the relationship between herself and our favourite 00 agent.
Not only did Skyfall see the return of fan favourites Q and Moneypenny, we also saw the comeback of one of the most iconic stars in the entire franchise: the Aston Martin DB5. This was a nice touch by the makers as the scene of the car driving north to Scotland along with the original theme music created a wave of nostalgia among audiences.
Skyfall is to date the most successful film in the franchise and took £700m worldwide leaving fans desperate for more.
SPECTRE does not disappoint. From the moment the gun barrel sequence appears at the beginning of the film (something not seen since Die Another Day) to the closing credits, I had a huge smile on my face. References to earlier films kept this particular Bond fan happy from start to finish.
At nearly 2 hours 28 minutes, SPECTRE is the longest film in the series and every minute is action-packed, filled with suspense and occasionally fear-something I haven’t felt in a Bond film for a long time.
Ralph Fiennes returns as M (replacing Judi Dench at the end of Skyfall). Fiennes definitely brings something new to the table, showing he can prove just as effective a field operative than he can a Whitehall pencil-pusher. Christoph Waltz is introduced as an old enemy in a new setting as he expertly executes his performance as iconic movie baddie Ernst Stavro Blofeld and propels Bond’s enemies into the 21st century.
Sadly Craig’s time as Bond is soon to be over. With the actor having signed up to just one more film, it is almost time for another to take on the role and continue of the most successful film franchises in history. Whoever it is will have perhaps an even bigger task than Craig did back in 2006.
The films are at risk of becoming stagnant and devoid of originality as they did towards the end of the 1990s yet I am sure we have not seen the last of Waltz as a new and improved Blofeld. Despite this, I for one cannot wait to see more of Bond at its very best.
By Adam John