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The James Bond of Today

The tone of the Daniel Craig era bubbled up earlier in the series. Both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Licence to Kill feature a raw, emotionally driven James Bond who feels pain and takes things personally. George Lazenby was doing the Daniel Craig thing 20 years before Timothy Dalton was doing the Daniel Craig thing 20 years before Daniel Craig was doing his thing. Whew.

However, those films were financial failures in their time and it may have been because they simply arrived a few decades too early. The events of September 11, 2001 hit cinema like a freight train. Audiences didn’t, and couldn’t, look at movies in the same away again. Suddenly, the slick and bombastic Pierce Brosnan films looked archaic. His Bond reflected the easygoing attitude of the post-Cold War era, a decade where much of the western world found itself relaxed and happy and comfortable and just wanting to have a good time at the movies. When Die Another Day arrived in 2002, it looked ancient and sad, a movie made before we had the world snatched out from underneath us.

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Much has been been written about the post-9/11 action hero. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and Christian Bale’s Batman became the ideal: tortured, lonely, broken men who are forced to overcome trauma to win the day. And when they do win, they also lose. A loved one dies. They’re framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Things only get worse. This kind of mentality in a big blockbuster action hero felt unusual at one time. Now, it’s commonplace. It’s expected that our movie heroes be sad, broken, disillusioned people. Even Captain America is bummed out all the time.

And Bond, being the mirror that reflects and absorbs all surrounding culture, became what people wanted. Daniel Craig’s Bond is an astonishing character, but he is also a direct riff on the movies surrounding him. Casino Royale wears its Bourne Identity influences on its sleeve and Skyfall contains shades of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Craig’s James Bond is cool, but you get the impression that he’d do anything to stop being cool, to escape his life of blood and violence and regret. He’s the most sensitive of the Bonds, a man with total self-awareness. He does what he must and the men and women in his life suffer for it.

Previous Bonds racked up pretty big “friends and lovers” body counts, but it was easily brushed off – Bond forgot about it a scene or two later. Craig’s Bond remembers. Since the 007 series is currently reflecting and absorbing the strict continuity that has made the Marvel movies such a hit, we get to see this Bond remember throughout his entire run. The shadow of Vesper Lynd, who perished in Casino Royale, lingers over Spectre like a, well, you know.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the tortured hero who goes above and beyond only to return home to an empty apartment and a bottle of vodka is what we want these days. It’s tragic, but it’s also romantic in the classic sense of the word. The old Bonds, the flippant, fun-loving adventurer of the Moore years and the hardcore symbol of masculinity of the Connery years, feel older than ever. They’re relics (albeit ones that remain fun to watch). Daniel Craig’s Bond films dare to ask “What good is a hero if that hero isn’t suffering? What good is a victory without sacrifice?”

next james bond

The James Bond of Tomorrow

If each iteration of James Bond and each James Bond movie so clearly defines its era, it is the duty of any Bond historian to look to the future and wonder “What’s next?” The Craig era has been successful enough that many of his definitive traits should carry on through at least the next actor. For the next decade or two, Bond will be all too human and all too sad about it. But the details will be modified. The little things will get moved around. Bond will continue to reflect the changing times.

People have lost fortunes trying to predict the future, but why don’t we try anyway? What does the James Bond of tomorrow look like?

Continue Reading Where Does James Bond Go From Here? >>

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