Recent news seems to suggest that we have finally seen the end of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. Without question his marked one of the most storied chapters in the legendary series's run. Bringing in historic box office totals and a plethora of critical acclaim. Yet, at the same time Craig never seemed to really enjoy his role as the worlds most famous spy, indeed at times he seemed to outright hold the role in contempt. All told though his time provides one of the most fascinating looks into the story of James Bond, for Craig represents the man who never wanted to be Bond.
Daniel Craig was James Bond for 10 years and 4 films. He oversaw the rebirth of the storied character and brought it to heights it hadn't seen in decades. His time as Bond was quite uneven though, producing two of the two finest films the series has ever crafted, along with two films which are not quite so good. When Craig's 007 worked it was spectacular, crafting an intricate look into the psyche of James Bond, a man who is no longer glib and full of humor but instead haunted by his past, cursed in love, and driven to perhaps a troubling degree. He is an essence deeply flawed in ways we haven't seen in at least a generation. Many have of course talked of how Craig mirrors Timothy Dalton's Bond, but where Dalton was truly unfun and far too brooding and grumpy, Craig's was dark while still having that tiny little sparkle in his eye. Indeed while Dalton always seemed eternally pissed at the world, Craig's was something far deeper and complex. He was pissed off, but he could push that aside focus on other things and allow himself, how ever temporarily to let go of it all and enjoy life.
This is an important theme. Daniel Craig never wanted to be James Bond and his version of the iconic character seemingly never wanted to be the worlds greatest spy either. The number of times his Bond, resigned, was fired, or got suspended is almost certainly unrivaled in the series. In fact three of his four movies very heavily focus on his leaving or having left MI6 for an absence and in the other he basically goes AWHOL for large chunks of the film and operates without supervision, not exactly the story of someone happy with his day job.
This plays into the fact that Craig's Bond is the most self-contained Bond story since at least the days of Sean Connery 50 years ago, if not ever. His four movies are his, being far more difficult to fit into the tale of James Bond then the rest of the series entries. Tracing his entire life out from his first days and kill to his final decision to quite literally walk away. This is a man who has less chosen this life then been forced into it and that applies to both Craig and 007.
In Craig's finest performances, Casino Royale and Skyfall you see stunning and wonderful new dimensions to this character who's been around for 54 years and 24 films. From his lovely and moving relationship with Vesper in Casino, to authentic and beautiful dynamic he forges with Judi Denchs M over the course of the films but culminating in Skyfall. They are James Bond at his very best, yet somehow also his most human. Bond is dealt devastating losses in both films each of which have long-lasting and profound effects on him. He is never really the same after Vesper, indeed the entire next movie is dedicated to him getting over her loss. Similarly Spectre clearly serves to mark a capstone on the trio of films before it, seeking to build off of the losses Craig has suffered.
Yet with all that said, there are two other films in the series in Quantum of Solace and Spectre. In those neither Craig or the films as a whole are anywhere close to as good. In Quantum he is basically reduced to the walking stereotype of the brooding angry leading man, going long periods without speaking more then a few words, and very rarely expressing any emotion other then pure fury or disgust at the fact that he isn't killing someone right now. Hell even the characters in the movie reference the fact that seemingly everyone he meets is dead within five minutes. As for Spectre, well there is simply far too much to unpack about whats wrong with it, but I will simply say that both Craig and his Bond look like they simply want to be somewhere else, which by now has begun to turn a little old.
That's the ultimate paradox of the Daniel Craig era. He was a Bond like no other. The very fact that he wasn't a big fan of the series beforehand meant that he felt free to experiment with and tinker with all the various aspects of the series, there were no sacred traditions he wasn't willing to overturn. This freed him up to take bold risks and reinvigorate and reinvent a character and series in dire need of both, he came in like a powerful breath of fresh air for the series marking a very clear break from the past. The result were two of the very best bond films of the last 50 years in Casino and brought to its wonderful highpoint, the masterpiece of a film in Skyfall, that stands along the very greatest of the series and of cinema as a whole. Skyfall is breathtakingly beautiful, far more moving then James Bond had been in 40 years, featuring a masterclass of a villian that ranks among the series best, with one of its grandest themes, and packed to the gills with nostalgic nods to the past that instead of filling cheap and forced( cough Die Another Day cough) brought a wonderful sense of history and impact to the proceedings. Everything felt more important because of this long shared history we had with James, and as things became more and more personal for both him and us the events crescendo into one of the most powerful and forceful conclusions in Bond's stunning tale. Capped by one of the perfect shots of cinema, Skyfall is a towering example of just what the Bond films are capable of and a powerful reminder of the brilliance and wonder the series can still reach.
Yet, his lack of a prior connection to the series meant that for lack of a better word, he simply didn't care about the series. His willingness to break the sacred cows of the series meant that at times he and the producers made huge strategic errors, particularly in Spectre. His lack of a built-in connection meant that at times he outright looked miserable being Bond, meant that as the years went on and the films kept coming a certain magic was gone. He and Bond almost seemed to have run their course yet were forced to continue to work together. While friction and unease can produce transcendent pieces of work, see the final few Beatles albums, the entire run of Police, or even the last few Connery bond films or indeed Skyfall, over time it eventually just burns everyone out and snaps what had once made things so special to begin with.
Perhaps Daniel Craig's time as Bond was always meant to end this way, bitter, seemingly mad at everything about this series. Maybe there was no way to avoid a bruising and at times harsh breakup between the iconic role and the man who never wished to do it. Maybe someone willing to do anything or break all the established rules ultimately couldn't ride happily into the sunset. I don't know if it was possible for things to have ended better then they appear to have ended. What I do know though, is that nobody will ever forget the Daniel Craig era of James Bond and that as troublesome or uneven as some of his movies may have been, they pale in comparison to the spectacular highs that he managed to reach. More then anything else though is the simple cold hard truth that James Bond will never be the same again, there has been an at times haphazard but ultimately successful rebirth of the character and of what he means, and perhaps there is no greater legacy for the rebellious bull in the china shop of James Bond then to say that he changed things forever. Daniel Craig isn't my favorite Bond, honestly he may not even be my second favorite, but the impact and legacy he leaves behind is unrivaled at times and I would argue that his ranks right among the very finest performances of the storied characters run.