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[Article] – Why Daniel Craig’s Bond Is More Bond Than Ever

 

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Posted July 23, 2017 by

 
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Given that his parents died tragically when he was eleven years old and he now spends his life working as an anonymous blunt weapon of the secret service, we expect the first screen materialisation of James Bond to be that of a hard-boiled, unfeeling assassin; a social misfit, typical of the no-strings orphans MI6 craves. We definitely don’t expect him to be a buttery prig that just stepped out of a National Bellas Hess Catalogue. Yet when 007 makes his debut appearance playing baccarat in the 1962 film Dr. No, the buttery prig he clearly seems.

What possessed Messrs Maibaum (screenplay) and Young (Dir.) to side-swipe the essence of a book written just four years previously is anybody’s guess. Had they really picked up Ian Fleming’s first pre-1962 novels and come to such a warped conclusion or were they simply monopolising on a popular trope of the times? Either way, they didn’t bring the written-about 007 to the screen. They created a cliché.

To make matters worse, only a few of the films ended up remotely true to their source material with most ‘missing major elements’, according to Jim Smith in his companion book ‘Bond Films’ (2002). But that’s not to say they’re bad films, though it would be fair to say one or two aren’t particularly good either. Most are brilliant for what they are and served an important purpose in their early years partly as a way to engage audiences with new hope.

After all, the world was still recovering from the murderous regimen of the swastika when the first Bond film came out; it was only 17 years after the guns fell silent over Berlin. And there was already a new war being waged albeit against communists rather than fascists. What’s more, the enemy had taken to wearing Gianni Feraud suits rather than standard-issue combats and they used lipstick guns to kill people. How very au fait. You can see why the idea of a crusade appealed.

In terms of trying to find the Bond ideal, hindsight is a wonderful can-opener and perhaps it’s best to leave the worms where they are. Finding it amid the pretention of those early years is pointless. It just isn’t there, or perhaps it is but gets perpetually dumbed down. The problem was Maibaum and Young had set a rigid precedent for the next 44 years.

As a consequence, the films up until the most recent Casino Royale are lined with flamboyant over-compensating machismo in such extremes that they became tedious and jaded by the 1990s. The one-liners, the veracious sexual appetite, the lack of self-doubt, the ability to shoot and never miss unless done on purpose, the never-really-painful torture scenes and constant furtive leers, all began to dog a franchise which on the face of it had promise.

As an aside, it would be interesting to know at what stage of preproduction for Dr. No the decision was made to give Bond’s eyebrows a starring role. Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Piers Brosnan were experts, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton less so but all had one thing in common: the ability to calibrate a sardonic raised slug for maximum impact. If that isn’t burlesque, what is?

The films d0 however get one or two things right about 007: the smoking, the stares, the skilful card play and an ability to think on his feet. They also follow the misogyny of the books to the letter. ‘Women were for recreation,’ muses Bond in his first outing in Casino Royale. ‘On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around’ (the novel was written in 1953 about ten years before the second wave with the Women’s Rights Movement).

So too is there an allusion in the early films to Bond’s dislike of gay men and women. Again in his first book Fleming describes Bond’s views on homosexuals as, ‘a herd of unhappy sexual misfits – barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied’, adding that, ‘he was sorry for them, but he had no time for them.’

So, forward mankind leaps to 2006 to be faced with the shocking revelation that Daniel Craig has no eye-brow skills. Instead he brings something with him that rights the wrongs of the past and does so from the opening scene of his debut film. As David Gritten writes of Casino Royale in Halliwell’s Film Guide, ‘Daniel Craig, a saviour for a tired franchise that creatively had long overstayed its welcome. The opening scene – a bloody murder in a public lavatory – sets the mood.’

Craig’s portrayal is stripped back, brutal and perhaps even blunter than Fleming intended. As Peter Bradshaw writes in his critique of Casino Royale, ‘he would be equally at home playing a Bond villain’. Yet while he is the anti-hero for a modern and more blood-thirsty time we can imagine the author would have approved of Craig’s severity. In addition, his Bond of intuitiveness, self-doubt, fear and, dare it be said, love is caressed in a refreshingly wholesome way.

There is also the expression of pain – real, raw, human – at the hands of a sado-masochistic enemy that previously would have been usurped with a cheeky one-liner. In a scene from Fleming’s second novel Live and Let Die, Bond faints while being tortured; a cruel manifestation of human weakness yet one that Fleming felt he needed to explore. Craig et al do the same. Has there been any finer display of the madness of pain throughout the franchise than that acted out in the Le Chiffre torture chamber scene?

007’s return to the open sexual promiscuity acknowledged in the novels was an eye-opener but in guilty truth did also serve as a welcome change from the chastity of the 1990s. Still, tempering any overplay of the rampant heterosexual card is a scene in Skyfall (2012) – Craig’s third outing – which smacks of homo-erotic overtones and includes the allusion to a fragment of a skeleton in Bond’s previously straight closet. As Vicky Allen of the Sunday Herald remarked, ‘The once invincible James Bond becomes just another joint at the meat market’.

So what makes Daniel Craig’s Bond so addictive and has earned his four most recent films numerous accolades and critical ovation? Surely Craig’s own interpretation of the role has helped. Scolding his previous incarnations as ‘sexist, misogynistic and very f***ing lonely’ we are tempted to believe that Craig knew Bond, which must have had an impact on his performance. So too would 007’s human frailties brought to the fore by the actor, which had never previously been touched on, have been a positive factor.

Fleming himself would no doubt have approved of the humanistic touch. Speaking in 1964, he said, ‘I don’t think that [Bond] is necessarily a good guy or a bad guy. Who is? He’s got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway … But I didn’t intend for him to be a particularly likeable person.’

Couple Craig’s approach with expressive scripts at last adhering to the essence of Fleming’s 007, the stunt-driven set-pieces, lens work and supreme direction of Sam Mendes, Mark Forster and Martin Campbell and it becomes apparent why Daniel Craig’s Bond is more Bond than ever.

It is disconcerting to think there are currently 10 books transposed to film which neither do justice to the narratives or the character. And the recent success of Casino Royale does beg the question of why there aren’t more re-makes planned. Perhaps there are. They may already have been written by uber-talented folk in anticipation of the next James Bond, whoever that might be.

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Written by:

Nick Whittle
@scriptergram
www.nickjohnwhittle.com
Freelance Contributor

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