September 23 2008

Who Is The Best James Bond?

Ian Fleming, a former British Naval officer during World War II,created James Bond 007 in 1953.  After fourteen books about the British spy, Mr. Fleming passed away in 1964 of a heart attack.  Somehow his character endures over four decades after his death, and shows no signs of slowing down.

I bring all of this up because I finally watched Casino Royale, the 21st James Bond film, on Monday night.  I admit I took my time getting to this film because the past few movies had been less than classics to be sure.  With a reboot to the franchise (it was named for the first novel and had Bond just picking up the mantle of being a double-0), they seemed to have really retooled the whole thought process behind the films, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The early films had over-the-top villains bent on world domination, but I always enjoyed the aspect of the nefarious organization known as SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).  While no name was ever mentioned in Casino Royale, there were some hints to some evil organization running things in the background, and the commercials for Quantum of Solace, the 22nd film, certainly point to more information on this portion of the plot.  I mean, come on, Tomorrow Never Dies had a guy who wanted to start a war so he could sell more news.  That’s a villain?

So, why the picture of how Mr. Fleming envisiong the spy?  It is time to delve into one of the most hotly contested debates to face mankind of all time… which actor was the best James Bond?  (I avoid politics on this blog, but I’m willing to take on THIS taboo subject?!?  Am I insane?!?)

Sean Connery

The first man to portray James Bond, and the one most people point to at the true James Bond.  He played the role for six films (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever… I think everyone tries to forget Never Say Never Again), and is the first impression most people have of the character.

I would have to say I always enjoyed his wry delivery, and he certainly had the debonair aspect down, but he also knew how to become the deadly assassin when needed.

Easily the best up until a certain point… more on that later.

George Lazenby

Poor George Lazenby.  He is like the forgotten Bond as he only appeared in one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  He was originally supposed to appear in seven, but apparently his agent felt Bond wouldn’t last that long and convinced him to drop out after only one film, leading to Connery returning for one more go at the title role.

I’ve seen the movie once or twice, and he didn’t seem to really fit to me, though that may have partially been because his voice was dubbed over in some sections of the film, but who knows.  I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who says he is their favorite Bond.

Roger Moore

I remember as a kid thinking Moore was fantastic, and he never failed to make me laugh… in a James Bond film.  As I’ve gone back and looked at his seven apperances as the spy (Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill), I think he may have partially been a victim of the time period where he played the role.

The 1970’s had an odd sense of humor, focusing more on a slapstick style, and when they wanted to interject humor into the films, it always came off as ham fisted.  I think it also didn’t help he played the role into his 50s, and his age was showing towards the end.

He was passable, but I would say if I was forced to make a list of the actors in order, he would be in the bottom three for sure.

Timothy Dalton

Mr. Dalton only appeared in two films (The Living Daylights & Licence to Kill), and I had high hopes for him, but both films were pretty much disasters story wise.  He was more inline with what Bond should be like, but his comedic deliver was just abysmal, and the movies just seemed to drag on endlessly.

I’m not sure if it was his fault, or the scripts, but I also wonder if the fact Pierce Brosnan was perused heavily for the role, but couldn’t take it because NBC didn’t want to mess up Remington Steele, had anything to do with it.  There was a six year gap between his last film and the next one, so something went awry with the whole process.

Pierce Brosnan

I just about did backflips when he finally got named to the role of Bond, but he entered a horribly weak period for the villains.  Over his four films (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day) he was certainly passable as Bond, but with the lack of good villains, it just felt like an exercise in pointlessness.

His tenure in the role also suffered from more and more emphasis being put on product placement.  Everytime you turned around in these films, you were being shown some company logo on a gadget he was using.  While some is to be expected, the amount during these four verged on the absurd.    It also seemed that special effects got better, they were trying to see just how many they could cram into the film, leaving Bond as almost more of an instigator than the centerpiece of the films.

It was unfortunate because I thought Mr. Brosnan could have been the best Bond since Connery, but he suffered from a film series that had certainly lost its way.

Daniel Craig

The minute Daniel Craig was announced as Bond… I was horrified.  He was too rough looking, he wasn’t debonair… HE WAS BLONDE!  You can’t have a blonde guy being James Bond!  The horrors!  I will say now that I have seen a drawing of what Fleming always envisioned that he actually is the closest, and that surprises me.

Having finally seen Casino Royale, I have to say that Mr. Craig actually has a shot at being the best Bond since Connery, and (this part may get me killed) potentially surpassing him.

I know, I know, BLASPHEMY!  Hear me out, though.  He played this role in such a human way, an almost brutal and animalistic way.  This Bond is human, but just an amazing one.  The scene that sold me was the foot chase early on in the film.  Where the guy he was chasing was doing all these fancy acrobatics, Bond was running through dry wall like a bull.  He was more of a force of will than some super spy.  He still has his moments of brilliant cunning, but he is just a man at the end of the day.

Partially script, partially a fantastic performance by Craig, it has me more jazzed about the James Bond series than I have been in ages, and I actually want to see his second film, Quantum of Solace, in the theater, and that’s something I haven’t done since Licence to Kill.

And the winner is…

I think in the end it all boils down to personal tastes, but I will force myself to do something that will possibly get me hung in some parts of the world.

  1. Sean Connery
  2. Daniel Craig
  3. Pierce Brosnan
  4. Timothy Dalton
  5. Roger Moore
  6. George Lazenby

It’s difficult to say because there were script problems for some, production problems for others, but you really just have to look at the actual performance to make the final judgment. Brosnan would have ranked higher for me if he had been given more to work with, but he is where he is on the list.  Moore would have beat Dalton if he hadn’t played the part for so long, and hadn’t had bad comedy all the time.  Lazenby gets last place for a whole slew of reasons, but I really don’t blame him as an actor.

Have at me, but that’s my list.  So, who is your favorite, and why?

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