The 2000s marked a point of supreme uncertainty for the life of James Bond. After Pierce Brosnan’s version of Ian Fleming’s archetypal spy failed to capture the public’s imagination in films like GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, the franchise found itself in a particularly tricky situation. The popularity of the 1997 bond-spoof Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery cast the bawdy campness that had defined the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras in a terrible light.
With the impact of 9/11 still ringing in the world’s ears, the 2002 film Die Another Day sounded the final death-knell of films of its kind. Suddenly, the slapstick Bond portrayed in movies like Octopussy stopped seeming so funny. As Barabara Brocolli, producer of the Daniel Craig-era bond films, said of that period in the early ’00s: “We felt the world has changed and the nature of these films has to change.” Brocolli wanted to return to the darker tone of the early bond films and capture the modern world’s anxieties. But, it wasn’t just a case of finding the suitable script, 007 needed a new leading man to take the franchise into its new golden age. Cue, Daniel Craig.
When Brocollio offered the then 36-year old Craig an audition for the coveted Bond role, he thought she must be joking. Judging from the actors who had come before him, he clearly wasn’t the correct fit. He didn’t have a clean-cut look or the charming demeanour. He was rugged, for God’s sake, more gut-puncher than smooth-talker. However, in Brocolli’s eyes, he represented the perfect candidate for a new type of Bond, a vulnerable Bond, a tragic hero with weaknesses and flaws.
Craig brought a hard-edged quality to Bond, an impenetrable cool that seemed to hide a quiet and untamable range. This, of course, was all helped by the fact that the actor had the face of a man audiences could imagine starting a fight outside a club at four in the morning. It is the anti-hero quality of Craig’s Bond that has given him such enduring appeal. The brutality of the fight scenes in films like Spectre dissolved the boundary between on-screen fight choreography and the reality of violence. In Craig’s hands, Bond is less a highly skilled assassin with a “license to kill” and more a blunt instrument for whom the inherently violent nature of his work takes a severe toll.
Audiences were also shocked to discover that Craig’s Bond was not necessarily one they wanted to emulate. Previous incarnations of the international spy had always been sources of aspiration. In contrast, the Bond of Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall was a hard-drinking workaholic with some serious attachment issues. He seemed to lay all the ugly sides of Bond’s character startlingly bare. This character development allowed screenwriters to gradually transform the franchise’s titular sex-pest into a hero worthy of the post #MeToo landscape.
In this way, the Daniel Craig era slowly did away with the glaring misogynist portrayal of ‘Bond Girls’, which had made 007 synonymous with industry-led sexism for so many years. The vulnerability of Craig’s Bond allowed screenwriters to do away with the red-blooded promiscuity that had defined the character for so long and open up audiences to the possibility that Bond might be capable of love. That slow stripping away of the layers and layers of toxic masculinity that have surrounded Bond since his inception has now culminated in 2021’s No Time To Die, the final edition of Daniel Craig in the iconic role. With Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge having been bought into polishing the script, this year’s Bond is set to bring the franchise right up to the present day, warts and all.