This week, we celebrate the last Daniel Craig Bond film. Soon, there will be no more! Every time a new one comes out, I wish Roger Moore were still alive, somehow clinging on to the brand the way he straddled the speeding fire engine in A View To A Kill, his final Bond movie, thin hair flapping in the wind.
I feel alone in this opinion because the world, they’d have us believe, has waited for Craig’s Bonds like they’d never waited for anything before. For many years, in the Eighties and Nineties, the franchise limped on like one of those big Seventies rock bands adrift in a time of drum machines, waiting for the moment they’d be fashionable again. Tonight at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the cast will attend a premiere of No Time To Die accompanied by NHS key workers and members of the military – the military! Marshalled to watch James Bond, as the troops were entertained by Vera Lynn. As a British person, you are now no longer allowed to dislike James Bond.
But do we really enjoy these films? I mean, really enjoy them?
Craig’s films took all the joy out of James Bond by suggesting we wanted to know something of his interior life. We didn’t. No viewer gave a thought to it. Watching James Bond was travelogue, luxury lifestyle, postwar escapism and, by extension, complete freedom and buzz. One scene represents for me the entire problem with Daniel Craig’s Bond films – the scene in Casino Royale, where Bond, tied to a chair, has his balls whipped with a rope. In his eyes, and his manic laugh, he sought to convey complex emotions we didn’t know Bond had had for the last half century, like a penchant for sadomasochism, and self-loathing. Roger Moore’s eyes had two registers: amusement (expert) and steeliness (not always convincing); Sean Connery’s face actually conveyed no emotion at all.
With no psychology to be troubled with, viewers of Bond in its golden era – by which I mean the period from when it started in 1962 to the first Daniel Craig film – were free to focus on what the experience was actually about: locations, gadgets, baddies, suits, methods of murder, uncomfortable national stereotyping and inventive names; a big-plate-buffet of ingenuity, bad taste and euphemisms for an erection that never got tiresome. Moore’s humour rounded off the more questionable ethics of the old films but Craig’s Bond, “on the couch”, is trying to atone for the past: in working so hard to avoid being crude and sexist, the films became miserable and boring.
I have seen some Bond films – Live and Let Die, for example – upwards of 50 times but I struggle to sit through any of Craig’s. Like having your balls whipped with a rope, they feel so heavy and joyless. You were meant to want to be James Bond. But who wanted to be Daniel Craig’s Bond? Certainly not Daniel Craig. He is free now, but I worry that the world he’s left behind will be miserable and boring forever.
[See also: The Many Saints of Newark: an origin story for an anti-hero]