Now that Daniel Craig is three films into his career as James Bond, I can safely say that he’s my favorite incarnation of the character… And by that I mean he’s the only incarnation of the character I’ve been really able to connect with.
Casino Royale was a great, if not boring, introduction to this universe and Quantum of Solace was a really solid followup, but it was generally forgettable–it felt like a half-assed attempt at a revenge film where the sole focus was on the exotic locations, the women, and showing us for the first time how far this new James Bond is willing to go to enact his plan. It was a great experiment but it was also a Sophomore slump.
Developing the character in this nouveau fashion has honestly paid dividends in expanding the Bond mythology. He’s no longer untouchable. He bleeds (this is probably the bloodiest Bond film I’ve seen). He leaves people to die in favor of the mission. If I were as cynical as I once was, I’d say that this new direction was entirely dictated by the idea that this was the only way Bond was ever gonna make money again.
But that’s how its always worked for this character. Since he’s an ever-changing face behind the 007 brand, he more than any other superhero, has been able to morph and change to reflect the times.
Though perhaps more than Bond, the villains have also reflected the things we fear the most. Javier Bardem’s turn as Silva points directly to the cyberterror threats we face every day on a massive scale. There’s a part of the film where he goes through the list of all the chaos he can enact with a computer, from blowing up a building with a mouse click, to changing an entire population’s opinions.
Against that, you have Ben Whishaw’s Q who merely gives Bond a gun and a radio transmitter instead of all the gaudy gadgets and odd inventions he used to have–like exploding toothpaste and tensile floss. But what good is a gun against a man with a computer? He’ll just kill you from halfway around the world before you can even get on the plane to come get him.
Director Sam Mendes, who’s experimented with action before with Road to Perdition and Jarhead, brings his ability to draw out nuanced performances from the actors on top of his usual ability for visual flare (he also directed American Beauty… and all those rose petals). In working with Roger Deakins, one of the great cinematographers of our time, he was able to construct an spy film with clean action sequences that were neither disorienting nor simply pots and pans and cars and trains smashed together (like Quantum of Solace), and incredible acting.
Also, Chicken Little thought the sky was falling too.