As problematic as James Bond has become in recent years (and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, always has been since his cinematic debut in 1962), I have always been a fan of the franchise, warts and all. I grew up on Fourth of July marathons of the older Bond movies on TV and Pierce Brosnan’s new Bond movies on the big screen. I worked my way from Sean Connery to George Lazenby, back to Sean Connery again to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Daniel Craig. I’ve gone back and seen the odd-ball entry that was David Niven’s turn as Bond in the original Casino Royale (1967), tried my hand at some of the Cold War era novels and even checked out tedious little off-shoots like James Bond Jr. I. Love. Bond.
And now that we’re racing toward the end of the current era of Bond, it’s easy to look back and see the last decade and one half of movies as an all-around high point for the franchise. Craig perfectly embodied the raw, rough-and-tumble rookie Bond introduced in Casino Royale (2006), a functional reboot of the franchise after the unfortunate ways that the Brosnan era ended in Die Another Day (2002). Casino Royale was, in many ways, the perfect Bond movie: a bit more serious than the series tended to lean historically, but still fun and flirty and full of breakneck action scenes becoming of its storied forebears. Quantum of Solace (2008), though a bit of a slog and certainly a long way off from the heights of its predecessor (in part because the ongoing Hollywood writer’s strike meant that Daniel Craig, who is decidedly not a writer by trade, did a full rewrite of the films script), was nevertheless mostly satisfying as the Bond equivalent of a moody character piece.
By any measure, Skyfall (2012) is the best that the franchise ever got. It was an emotional send-off for long-standing Bond mainstay Judi Dench, a back-to-basics action flick that at one point turns into a Home Alone (1990)-esque home-invasion movie. It delved more deeply into Bond as a character (rather than as a retrograde masculine fantasy for the presumably heteronormative male audience members to graft themselves onto) than any film before it. In one movie, we got our (maybe) best Bond (contested only by Sean Connery’s classic turn as the character), our best M, our best Bond villain in the indispensable Javier Bardem and our most visually distinct Bond adventure (owing to the legendary Roger Deakins), and yet somehow the movie is still greater than the sum of its high-end parts.
Spectre (2015) was an unfortunate coda to Skyfall, a movie that never would have worked on its own terms simply due to having to follow the definitive Bond movie of the 21st century, but the movie wasn’t even good enough to succeed by those paltry standards. The movie wastes one-the-ground goon Mr. Hinx (played by the increasingly excellent Dave Bautista) and criminal mastermind Ernst Blowfeld (played by the resplendent Cristoph Waltz), who has always been the quintessential Bond villain. It retroactively tangles the previous three Bond movies in its spider’s web, conspiracy theory nonsense, in turn cheapening them as stand-alone films. And really, other than a few splendid shots and a rather impressive DÃa de los Muertos action sequence, there wasn’t much for die-hard Bond fanatics and action junkies to go back to it for.
Now we only have one Bond movie left for Daniel Craig, who’s grown wonderfully into the role of a more mature, wizened Bond, and the actor has made it clear for seemingly ever going into it that it would well and truly be his last turn in the tailored tux of 007. And although some parts of the fandom held out hope that he’d change his mind, like he’s done in the past, that has yet to manifest itself in the press. They maintained hope even after the next Bond actor was cast. They maintained it even as Craig continually denied returning to the role in the future.
Now Craig has opened up once again about the role turnover, and the news isn’t something that the Craig-holdouts were hoping for. Speaking to late night talk show host Stephen Colbert, Craig answered definitely that his time as Bond was over: “It’s done.”
And you know what? I’m okay with that. After next year’s No Time to Die (2020), Craig will have played Bond in five movies over a full decade-and-one-half. He helped redefine the role for the twenty-first century, and saw the passing of iconic Bond character after iconic Bond character. But now the man is older, the character is a bit more played out, and it’s time for something different to take over. The times they are a-changing, and so should Bond. The world is a very different place than it was even in 2006, and we need a Bond that better reflects those changes in the world around us. I loved watching Craig grow into the character, but his time has finally come, and I’m excited to see what’s next for the franchise.