There is definitely a division between Old Bond and New Bond. This difference is most easily noted by looking at Bond himself. Daniel Craig’s blonde Bond stands at 5’10”. A brick powerhouse bathed in machismo grand style, while the original (Sean Connery) was a classy 6’2” that lurked behind a mist of approachability used to drag in his quirky villains. While there will always be arguments over which Bond is best, there is no right answer. James Bond is male ego incarnate. He is fantasy and there are those who will always love the fantasy no matter who fills the shoes of 007
In Bond’s first appearance on screen, the cues we’ve come to expect from the film franchise are set into place. The gun barrel opening, the highly-stylized title sequence, and the music are all laid out for us in the first few minutes of 1962’s Dr. No. One of the final choices made by the producers was who would fill the shoes of 007. While it may seem unfathomable now, the 30 year old Sean Connery was not the first choice for the role. Cary Grant, Richard Johnson, and Patrick McGoohan were all considered early on, but Connery made the final cut as he was the only candidate able to agree to make a series of films.
After five films, the role was passed on to George Lazenby in the production of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby only made one Bond film and left the role before his picture was released in theatres! Scrambling for a replacement, the producers brought back Connery for the 7th installment Diamonds are Forever, paying him a then-record $1.25 million dollars for his reprisal of the role. However, the filmmakers could not convince Connery to stay on for another film and were left searching for a replacement yet again. The producers turned to an actor they had considered for the lead role during the pre-production of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Before deciding on George Lazenby, they had considered Roger Moore to play Bond. Four years later, the actor was now available and signed on to play the British secret agent in the 1973 film Live and Let Die.
Moore’s Bond was a tad more suave and debonair than Connery’s incarnation. His interpretation of the sophisticated super-spy was as over-the-top as the action sequences and plots were becoming. Moore’s performance occasionally verged on self-parody over the course of his seven appearances and he still remains the only Bond to travel into space (1979’s Moonraker). Near the end of his turn, Moore’s Bond had inadvertently become an old-fashioned character, mocked by critics for being “too old for the role” and representing a by-gone era. This was in stark contrast to the highly-fashionable, youthful portrayal of Connery and every Bond to follow.
Timothy Dalton, Sam Neil and Pierce Brosnan were considered as replacements following Moore’s final performance in 1985’s A View to a Kill. Dalton went on to play Bond twice before Brosnan starred in what was billed as a revival of the franchise in 1995’s GoldenEye. Brosnan went on to make three more films, retiring from the role in 2002 following the release of Die Another Day.
For now, we have Daniel Craig. Unlike the other versions of James Bond, his fantasy is so based in the real world that it looks as if the character is a living, breathing human being. The caricature of a polished, high-class womanizer vanished in Craig’s first outing, 2006’s Casino Royale. He was dirtier, grittier and flawed. Not yet an official operative of MI6, Craig’s Bond had to earn his stripes not just on screen, but in the hearts of fans as well. Quantum of Solace was the 2008 follow up to Casino Royale, continuing Bond’s evolution into the man with a license to kill.
In the most recent release, Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes) Daniel Craig’s Bond has matured, giving us a familiar glimpse at the spy we always knew he was. The reinvention of the character over the past two films results in a truer Bond than has appeared in the past 23 releases. Instead of existing as an infallible legend, James Bond has been reborn for a new generation. Thankfully, while reinventing itself, the Bond franchise hasn’t forgotten its roots. There are a multitude of references in Skyfall alone that callback to the old days of Bond and the origins of what was to become the longest running film franchise in history.
After fifty years, and with so many variations on the story, the best Bond will always be a tough and classy fellow with a knack for handling outlandishly difficult situations with ease. No matter who plays the character, there will always be one Bond…James Bond.