The rumours abound this morning that Daniel Craig is quitting as James Bond in favour of new U.S series Purity based on the book of the same name by James Franzen. For those that remember the low ebb that was Die Another Day, Craig’s departure (if confirmed) marks the end of an altogether industrious and creative high point for the franchise.
His tenure, beginning in 2006 with Casino Royale, signalled a radical departure in the archetypical nature of the series. He was blonde. He was pugnacious rather than gentlemanly and looked ready to take on Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer in a battle of the J’s pub brawl.
Casino Royale not only served as a prequel but splendidly forwent some of the more clichéd and infinitely predictable elements of the films; the opening gun barrel, the gadgets, the cavalier pithy remarks. This was Bond for the 21st century and the film and Craig’s performance rightly remains as a fan favourite and one of the most outstanding contributions to the series.
What followed however is a mixed bag. Quantum of Solace was mired by the U.S writers strike and, while a sequel to Royale, it’s plot and dialogue never matched the charm and thrill of the ‘original’ Craig outing. The man himself, forever looking in dour spirit, played the character with aplomb but you never felt the revenge saga that was set down in Casino was fulfilled.
Like most Bond actors, he got another shot at the prize with a more thematically mature sequel in Skyfall. Sam Mendes, the renowned director of American Beauty and Road to Perdition brought out the character’s more foreboding and taken for granted elements and gave us peak below the surface of why Bond was Bond and where he came from (something done infrequently, in the novels but never touched in the film series previously). The result was a masterpiece, a fitting 50th-anniversary tribute that captured the quiet solemnness and British pride of a year that saw the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics too. Played to Thomas Newman’s wonderful score, Judi Dench’s narration summed it up quoting Tennyson:
“We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
The most recent outing and Sam Mendes’ last contribution to the series was, like Quantum of Solace, an unworthy sequel and a sad note for Craig to finish on. Spectre attempted, with mixed results, to tie all the films of Craig’s tenure into one-SPECTRE laced plot (although this was never the plan, the franchise only got the rights back in 2013). It might have introduced us to Blofeld through the wonderful Christoph Waltz, but it sullied all chances of respect by committing cliché hari-kari by making both characters secret brothers of a sort.
It also never matched the elegantly simple successes of Skyfall. Spectre tried to retain the emotional depth but erred by injecting increasingly large actions sequences while forgetting that the former was a success because action was used sparingly and for plot development; not just excessive car chases and a Blofeld-hideout being blown away for good measure.
It did, however, leave great promise of better things to come. It was laced with references to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the film that saw Bond’s wife murdered by Blofeld) and the typically short but surprisingly deep love affair with Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, which saw Bond quitting the service at the end of the film for her after Blofeld’s capture, suggests a revenge saga was being set-up. If we truly got a ‘Bond is really pissed story’, the sequel to OHMSS that we never got with Diamonds Are Forever and a modern day equivalent Licence to Kill with Waltz and Craig with and Mendes at the helm, the results could well have been mesmerising.
Like all good things, it was not meant to be. Daniel Craig quitting also means that Waltz is unlikely to return, previously saying he only do so if it was opposite Craig. The future is, for the first time in ten years, wide open as to what turn the franchise will take next and at this stage it is anyone’s guess as to what direction, and what Bond, they studio will select.
What is perhaps important to remember is Craig’s departure doesn’t feel unnatural. He has become increasingly harsh spoken about his responsibilities and it is only to the detriment of the series. What Casino Royale and Skyfall got right was to demonstrate to Bond fans what Doctor Who fans know all too well: change is good, a fresh take on the character as well as fresh writers and a fresh direction are all as important as each other. If Craig is gone, so too it might be time for seasoned writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – who have been writing for Bond since The World Is Not Enough – to change the guard and be replaced by writers who are truly fresh to the franchise.
In any event, there can be little doubt that in whatever capacity, James Bond will return.