'Logan Lucky' Proves Daniel Craig Doesn't Need James Bond

Earlier this week, Daniel Craig put years of speculation to rest when he announced that he's officially returning to play James Bond again. But after seeing his delightfully un-Bond-like performance in Steven Soderbergh's Southern-fried heist movie Logan Lucky, it's more clear than ever that Craig doesn't actually need the Bond franchise. He may be great at playing 007, but he's a more exciting actor when he's allowed to cut loose.

Everyone has their favorite Bond, and that decision is often influenced by who the actor was when you were first introduced to the character, or when you were watching those movies at a particularly impressionable age. I'll always have a soft spot for Pierce Brosnan's debonair, well-coiffed take on the character since he was the one I primarily grew up with (at least theatrically), but for my money, Craig's Bond is the best actor of the bunch. His 007 is a brooding bruiser who drowns his broken heart with gallons of alcohol and buries his emotional pain by getting lost in the seduction of whatever beautiful woman happens to be closest to him. Sure, he saves the world every few years, but more than any other Bond actor, you truly get the sense watching Craig that James Bond is a damaged, lonely guy. There's not much joy in his iteration of the character.

Contrast that sulky, ponderous interpretation with his work in Logan Lucky, in which Craig is gleefully unhinged as an imprisoned criminal named Joe Bang. I don't want to give too much away about what he does in this movie because you should all see it for yourselves, but suffice it to say that Craig is a total blast in a role that allows him the freedom to not only smile freely on screen, but occasionally cackle like a madman. It's a side of him we haven't seen before. Just watch the way he cracks up after making a purposefully terrible joke in the last few seconds of the film's trailer:

I can't picture any other Bond actor doing that – can you?

Don't get me wrong: I'm excited about the potential of Craig coming back to reprise the role of England's best secret agent because I'd like to see him walk away from that franchise after truly knocking one out of the park. But I don't think Craig needs the role of Bond in the same way many of the other actors who have played that role have.

The November Man

Other Bond Actors' Post-Bond Careers

Look at the post-007 careers of the other men who have played Bond: they're almost all disappointing, and many films took advantage of having those actors as a way to obnoxiously slip a winking reference to their Bond history into an entirely different project. While some of these turned out pretty well – a popular fan theory pegs Sean Connery's character in The Rock as an older James Bond – there is, unfortunately, the other side of the see-saw: Roger Moore, God rest his soul, once played a character named "Tab Lazenby" in Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Brosnan has taken numerous Bond-esque parts after his heyday as 007, and even tried (and failed) to launch a new spy franchise in 2014 with The November Man.

I'd argue that only Connery and late-'80s Bond Timothy Dalton went on to make an impressive number of memorable and worthwhile projects outside of the Bond franchise. Connery is the only honest-to-God movie star of the whole bunch, and he benefitted from playing the character relatively early in his acting days; while all who play Bond step into the shoes of a cinematic icon, Connery managed to bring that title with him once he stepped out from under the umbrella of EON Productions. Dalton took a different tack, often playing a bizarre, broken-mirrored reflection of his Bond in movies like The Rocketeer (in which he plays a slick Nazi movie star) and Hot Fuzz (in which he plays a deliciously sketchy grocery store owner).

While Connery undeniably had that ineffable X factor that made him a full-fledged star, I think Craig has the most range of any of the men who have fired that famous Walther PPK. He's a born character actor in a leading man's body, and I have a feeling when he does eventually step away from the Bond franchise, he'll spend the next few years delivering performances that continue to surprise us.

Logan Lucky's trailer contains a card that reads "and introducing Daniel Craig as Joe Bang!!" It's a goofy, tongue-in-cheek joke that fits the film's tone, and the idea of "introducing" Craig long after he's been established is patently ludicrous. But Soderbergh is onto something there: in a way, he's introducing us to the Daniel Craig that we've been missing out on because he's been playing Bond for the past decade-plus. If I was somehow granted the ability, I admittedly don't think I'd be curious enough to scrap his Bond films from existence to see what kind of actor he would have become instead, but Craig's go-for-broke exuberance in Logan Lucky definitely has me looking forward to spending more time with this version of the actor in the years to come.