In the monochrome opening to Martin Campbell’s James Bond revival Casino Royale, it is clear that for the 007 franchise things are going to change. Daniel Craig’s time as the titular character snaps alight like a fuse, building with sophisticated, stylish tension and a staccato espionage soundtrack before exploding into violent life in blinding saturated white. The sudden crack between both scenes echoes the smart tradition of the older films whilst winking at the promises of a future Bond who would embody a brand new image and attitude.
Just four years earlier, Pierce Brosnan had surfed his way into his final James Bond outing in Die Another Day, which seems now as a puerile act, particularly from Great Britain’s ‘very best secret agent’. Yet, merely two months after the film’s release, a relatively young Matt Damon and the introduction of a brand new breed of secret agent would change Bond forever.
Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity was a dense and gritty crime thriller with sharp, snappy action that would soon become ubiquitous with the franchise. It was the film’s action set-pieces that would start a trend toward a brand new series of core values and expectations for 21st-century filmmaking. Heightened by the film’s sequel, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, as well as Christopher Nolan’s superhero game-changer Batman Begins in 2005, by the time Casino Royale came in 2006, much had changed since his last adventure.
Though Daniel Craig was no stranger to these changing values. Viewers of Craig’s 2004 outing as the equally brutal and suave ‘XXXX’ in Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake should’ve known that he would be the perfect choice to lead the James Bond franchise down a revolutionary path. Released to critical acclaim, Casino Royale became one of the most successful stylistic reboots in cinema history, leading the franchise through its weird, rambunctious adolescent transition and into something far more adult.
Speaking to GQ in 2020, Craig said about the themes of the original film as well as those that followed, stating: “The biggest ideas are the best…And the biggest ideas are love and tragedy and loss. They just are, and that’s what I instinctively want to aim for.” These are themes that the franchise had never before sincerely dabbled in. Brosnan, Roger Moore and Sean Connery may have alluded to a greater sincerity toward feelings of love, loss and regret, but the emotion never really resonated and were always performed with hollow insincerity, sometimes even a wry smile.
Daniel Craig’s Bond was different. Before he’d even shot his first gun or thrown a henchman off a high railing, he was already a broken man. A wounded action hero forged from a sincere reality, ready for the uncertain challenges of the new millennium.
James Bond, as a franchise, had come full circle. From its classy beginnings in the era of Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, through the revisionist, self-referential films of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan and even past the parodic mockery of the Austin Powers trilogy. Casino Royale, and the following outings of Daniel Craig’s James Bond for that matter, had revolutionised the series, bringing with it a modern sincerity, ambition and sophistication.
The character and his motivations may still be rooted in increasingly archaic values, yet the tone of the films themselves have changed. It’s only a matter of time before the character themself follows suit.