Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bond... James Bond

I've been a fan of James Bond movies for as long as I can remember.  I recall watching Bond movies every chance I got whenever they were on television and I'm sure I have seen every single movie numerous times.  As a kid I fell in love with the gadgets, the watches with lasers, the cars that could double as submarines, the stunts, the action, and yes... even the Bond girls.

I also came to love the theme song, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't ever fantasize about being a government spy or actually being James Bond.  The films invoked a lot of emotions from me... I suppose to some degree I have to equate them to what those horrible Twilight films do to teenage girls, but I somehow doubt Twilight will ever have the staying power to match James Bond.  Or at least we can hope not... because the idea of over 20 Twilight movies is rather disturbing.

I know some people have a strong opinion on which actor was the "best" James Bond, and it seems many people prefer Sean Connery for several reasons.  First of all Connery just had a certain swagger to him and was a bit of a ladies man... so he was believable as a womanizing spy type.  He was also the original Bond, so to some degree he will always be associated with the role and he set the standard.  Finally, Connery had staying power - he became a major Hollywood star and he had a career that spanned six decades, so he wasn't easily forgotten and to this day remains a fan favorite both for his work as James Bond, as well as his other major movie roles.

I do think Connery was a great James Bond, but his one fatal flaw was probably the fact that he never bothered to even try to fake an English accent.  Then again, I don't think anyone really cared that he was Scottish... at least Scotland is still part of the UK, and since most people outside of the UK can't explain the differences between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom, I suspect most people heard Connery's accent and simply said "close enough!".

After Connery, George Lazenby starred as Bond in one film entitled On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  I actually liked the film, but due to him only starring in the one film he isn't often mentioned when people talk about the "best" Bond.  Lazenby was actually Australian rather than British so the credibility factor may have hurt him a bit, although I don't recall his accent being all that distracting.  Lazenby didn't have much of a career after Bond and he was never considered a household name, so I suspect the fact that most people can't even remember his name means that he will likely never be mentioned in the same sentence as Connery or Roger Moore.

Speaking of Moore, he starred in a total of seven Bond films and some argue he was even better than Connery.  I liked Moore in the role, and I probably associate him with Bond more than anyone else merely because his Bond career lasted 12 years, and his films seemed to be the ones shown on television so often.  Back in the 1980s and 90s it seemed there was a Bond marathon on television about once a month, and Moore's films like Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and The Man with the Golden Gun were staples on television and I watched each of them to the point I can still quote lines from them to this day.

I will admit that although Moore was a fine actor, I never felt he was as believable in the role as Connery.  I did appreciate the fact he was an English actor and as such he had the proper English accent, but the whole concept of Bond being such a ladies man was harder for me to believe with Moore in the role, and I can't really put my finger on why other than to say the scenes with him kissing women seemed almost forced rather than convincing.

After Moore retired from the Bond role, the next actor to play the role was Timothy Dalton.  Many Bond fans are a bit harsh towards the Dalton films, but I have always felt it had less to do with him as an actor as it did to do with the scripts he happened to star in.  Dalton has shown he has incredible acting range and he has had a strong career outside of the Bond films, and I felt he was very believable as Bond.  He had that certain look, he had the proper accent, and he just pulled it off.

In truth I would have loved to see Dalton play Bond in a few more films, and in fact his original contract was for three... but due to lawsuits between studios and production companies that lasted for several years, Dalton went another direction and the search for a replacement Bond began.

Pierce Brosnan became the fifth man to play James Bond, and I still remember when it was announced that he was going to start in the next Bond film.  I had become familiar with Brosnan from the television series Remington Steele and I seemed to like him as an actor so I was pretty excited to see what he was going to do as James Bond.

At the time, I felt the Brosnan-era films were the best James Bond movies to date, and he had the right mixture of charm, believability, looks, and attitude to successfully pull off the Bond role.  I have a hard time picking a favorite Bond actor because time tends to blur some of what separates them, but I do think Brosnan is near the top of the list.  He may not have won the praise of all the critics, and I will admit his final Bond film Die Another Day flirted with jumping the shark, but that had more do with a heavy reliance upon gadgetry and CGI than it had to do with Brosnan or his talents.

But seriously... a palace made out of ice, Madonna playing a fencing instructor, and an invisible Aston Martin?  It is no wonder that the Bond producers decided to reboot the series after this movie was released.

I will say that I was fairly upset when I learned Brosnan wouldn't be starring in another Bond film, and I can still remember an interview where Brosnan was asked who should play the next James Bond where he emphatically responded with "me!".  When I found out Brosnan's replacement was going to be the first blond James Bond, I was fairly certain the end of James Bond films was near.

This brings us to the current Bond played by Daniel Craig.  Aside from the travesty of a blond James Bond, I will admit I was very skeptical that Craig could pull off the role.  I didn't know a thing about the guy other than he was English, but when I saw him for the first time I just didn't see what the draw was.  He didn't seem to have the same "Bond" look as I was used to, and I was somewhat convinced the new Bond film would be a flop.

Oh how wrong I was.

Since I'm such a Bond fan, I was more than willing to give Craig, and the new film, a fair chance.  So I waited until Casino Royale was released and I watched it in the theater.  To say my reservations were eliminated was an understatement, and I immediately became a fan of Daniel Craig.  Not only did Craig pull of a convincing portrayal of Bond, but he added so much depth to the role.  For the first time, James Bond showed legitimate emotion as well as a vulnerability which hadn't been presented in previous Bond films.  In a word - Craig was credible in the role.

The fears of a blond Bond evaporated, and Craig displayed a swagger not seen since Sean Connery's 1960s-era Bond.  The script was well written, the film focused more upon plot and action than they did upon CGI and gadgets, and in the end the film was able to stand on its own merits.  Casino Royale didn't need to rely upon the previous four generations of Bond films, and the new realism and gritty nature of the film has made it my favorite Bond film to date.  In fact I liked it so much that I actually purchased a DVD copy which I've watched numerous times.

I didn't enjoy Craig's followup film Quantum of Solace nearly as much as Casino Royale, but his performance didn't disappoint.  I suppose it is somewhat unfair to claim Daniel Craig is the best James Bond to date considering the script and writing have improved so much that they might make it easier for Craig to succeed, but I do think he deserves the credit for much of the film's success.  Clearly he swayed opinions and he made a lot of people eat their words (myself included), and I have no reason to doubt the next Bond film (scheduled to be released in October of this year by the way) won't continue to impress.

So who is really the best James Bond?  I can't really say... because they each brought something new to the role, and they each played the character in their own way.  As of this moment I'd probably lean towards Daniel Craig being my personal favorite, but I suspect my opinion may change through the filter of time.  If history has shown me anything, it is that James Bond films, as well as the actors portraying him, can evolve, adapt, and improve based upon the demands of the role, so who can really say whether there is only one "best" Bond.  Perhaps they are all the best in their own unique way, in their own unique time, and playing their own unique version of the iconic character that is Bond... James Bond.