(This article contains spoilers)
To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this month, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
After 2002’s Die Another Day, there was a general feeling that the Bond series had run its course. After 40 years and twenty films, the character had become far removed from Fleming’s original novels and taken on a life of its own relying on sci-fi gadgetry and computer generated thrills in stories that were becoming predictably formulaic. Bond had survived numerous revisions over the years but when a film adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s book The Bourne Identity was released in 2002 just months before Die Another Day, the Bond producers knew something had to change. The Bourne Identity and its sequels successfully revitalised the spy genre playing like stripped down Bond films with numerous global locations, thrilling action sequences but with a genuine grounding in reality that in recent years the Bond films had failed to capture.
In 2005, Batman Begins had proven that new life could be breathed into a moribund franchise by returning to the original source and effectively starting a fresh. When looking for a similar approach to Bond there was only one place to start, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel Casino Royale. Although the book had been adapted twice before for the screen, once for a television play in 1954 and again for a comedy spoof in 1967, it had never been used by the official EON produced series. The intention was to strip Bond right back to his roots and to make the most faithful adaptation of Fleming’s character so far.
The previous five films had all had different directors at the helm with varying degrees of success. Martin Campbell, who had taken on the responsibility of introducing Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye, a film considered by many to have been the best of the more recent Bond films, was selected again as the man to aide the series in rebooting the character and revitalising him in a post-Bourne world. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade also returned to write the screenplay with the script given an additional polish by Academy Award winner Paul Haggis. All that remained was to find a suitable actor to take over the leading role.
In late 2005, after a casting call that saw some 200 actors audition for the role, it was announced that Daniel Craig had been chosen to play Bond, beating off serious competition from ER’s Goran Visnjic, Sam Worthington and Henry Cavill among others. Immediately, Craig faced an unexpected backlash from some critics and fans taking to the internet to air their views on the producers’ decision. It did not help that the announcement was made during a high profile press launch in London that saw Craig arrive on a Royal Navy speedboat looking rather uncomfortable and completely un-Bond-like wearing a life jacket. Within days a number of anti-Craig websites soon appeared casting aspersions on his ability to play such an iconic role suggesting his appearance was far removed from the character described in Fleming’s novels.
Already a familiar face on British television following his star-making turn in the acclaimed series Our Friends In The North, Craig rose to fame appearing in high profile supporting roles in Elizabeth, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Road To Perdition before taking leading roles in British films Enduring Love and Layer Cake. Craig would prove to be the perfect choice for the role striking the right balance of style and arrogance forgoing the charm and suavity of Brosnan for a more ruthless and blunt approach stripping the character right back to his grassroots.
While we have already seen five different interpretations of the character over the years, Craig still manages to bring a previously unseen edge to the role. Despite a number of attempts during the series to strip Bond back to the basic elements of Fleming’s books, Craig’s is probably the most faithful and it is ironic that it took a rival spy in the form of Jason Bourne to finally crack the true nature of the character. Craig’s Bond is far more unpredictable than any previous incarnations and as a result he is a more interesting and believable personality.