In anticipation of No Time To Die, we will be revisiting and ranking Daniel Craig ’s best James Bond films before his run as the character comes to an end.
Created by author Ian Fleming back in the 50s, James Bond has been present in our pop culture for a little bit over five decades now. Dr. No, starring Sean Connery (The Hunt for Red October), marked the very first time the British Secret Service agent was brought from the page to the screen in 1962. Since then, we’ve seen multiple actors take on the iconic role, some taking themselves too seriously while others being more silly. Over twenty movies later, with a brand new one releasing this year, the Bond series has become one of the longest running sagas, grossing over $7 billion dollars at the box office. Daniel Craig (Knives Out) took on the mantle back in 2006 with Casino Royale, replacing Pierce Brosnan (False Positive). As per usual with this series, it had the difficult job of following the previous Bond actors. In addition, it had to bring the character down to earth with a more grounded and realistic take on the franchise, as moviegoers of the time preferred gritty action films such as The Bourne Identity and Batman Begins. Casino Royale proved to be a hit, setting a new norm for the Bond series and the spy genre as a whole. To this day, James Bond’s influence can be seen throughout the film industry and other art forms as well: it inspired Mike Myers’ Austin Powers trilogy and Mark Millar’s Kingsman comic book series, which would later on get its own on-screen adaptation.
Starring in four movies as the beloved action hero, Craig ’s films are sort of a mixed bag. Half of them are great and are some of the best blockbusters ever made, while the other half are extremely forgettable and mediocre. But honestly? That is not the worst thing that could have ever happened. Even the best sagas have not so good entries. Just look at The Matrix, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, the list goes on. Having two out of four genuinely good movies is a win in my eyes. Even the not so impressive films on this list have redeeming qualities to them. Hopefully Craig ’s upcoming closing chapter turns out to be an amazing ending to an incredible journey and he goes out with a bang, but for now all we can do is look back and rank his run as James Bond.
4. QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Just from watching the opening scene of this movie, you would assume you’re about to see another classic in the Bond franchise, especially after where Casino Royale left off. It’s an exciting, edge-of-your-seat car chase that takes us through Siena, Italy, and immediately hooks you-in. Unfortunately, there are few other redeeming qualities that make this disappointing sequel watchable. Quantum of Solace picks up directly after the events from the previous film, as James’ quest to find answers regarding Vesper’s betrayal leads him to uncover a sinister organization, named QUANTUM, whose influence can be seen across the globe, having double agents inside MI6, the CIA and British government. Eventually, Bond partners with Camille (Olga Kurylenko, Black Widow), another agent who has her own vendetta to avenge her family’s death. Together, they discover that Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, The French Dispatch), a developer of green technology, is working with QUANTUM in a political intrigue involving Bolivia, wanting to replace the political leader there with someone they could easily control.
Quantum of Solace was made during the Writers Guild of America strike of 2007-2008, a time where film and television writers sought increased funding across Hollywood compared to the profit producers and big studios were making. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see that this film is such a mess from top to bottom, with Craig and director Forster having to write sections of the film during production. Not only does it show in the final product, but there’s just too much going on here. Too many antagonists, subplots and evil organizations to keep up with. Add to the fact that the action sequences are just not that well shot compared to Casino Royale. Even when it seems like it’s going to do something interesting and stylish, it falls victim to the fast editing and shaky-camera approach to stunt choreography. It’s quite a boring entry in the Bond series, to be honest. One that, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m writing this piece, I wouldn’t bother revisiting.
Spectre opens up with what’s arguably the biggest opening in the franchise yet, promising a huge scale action drama, as we’re taken to Mexico City during a Day of the Dead celebration. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is incredibly impressive as we follow James through the streets of Mexico with a one-long tracking shot. The costume and production design here shine, even if it’s slightly ruined by the yellow-ish color grading used in this sequence. Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall” is a serviceable song for the film, but one that leaves a lot to be desired after Adele’s “Skyfall,” at least on a personal note. From here, Bond is grounded by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes, The King’s Man) for his actions in Mexico City. He disobeys orders to stay put and goes to Rome to infiltrate a secret organization meeting, only to be caught and having to escape. James then visits an old foe in Australia, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, Stenofonen) from Casino Royale, as James promises to keep his daughter Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux, The French Dispatch) safe in exchange for information on Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained), the leader of the secret organization. Madeline reveals to Bond that the organization is called SPECTRE, as she questions Bond’s life choices and they start developing feelings for one another. They’re eventually captured by Oberhauser, with him revealing his true identity as Blofeld, and that his organization has manipulated world events to gain control of a global surveillance network. It all culminates in Madeline being taken hostage, with James having to rescue her and arrest Blofeld. The film closes with Bond leaving his old life of espionage behind to live a quiet life with Madeline, making us believe this will be the last time we’ll be seeing Craig as the British spy.
Spectre is far from being the worst entry in Daniel Craig’s filmography as James Bond, but it’s certainly the weirdest. How come? Well, the film has this throwback vibe, trying to pay homage to older Bond movies that simply don’t fit Craig’s take on the character. The tone is all over the place, shifting between the gritty, more realistic tone we are familiar with, and the more silly traditional Bond tropes. If this is what Sam Mendes and company were going for when approaching the narrative of Spectre, then I guess mission accomplished. It just feels off, especially after coming from the highs of Skyfall. In that sense, the fourth movie in Craig’s run feels a lot like Quantum of Solace, being more interested in spectacle rather than nuance. The main romance surrounding the film isn’t very compelling either: Léa and Daniel’s chemistry is fine, it’s the script they’re given that doesn’t allow for their relationship to develop organically. One minute there’s tension between them, the next they’re declaring their love for each other. Also, you would think bringing Christoph Waltz to play Blofeld as the ultimate Bond villain would turn out to be amazing, but it’s not. It’s tremendously underwhelming and a waste of Waltz’s talent. His evil plan is uninspired, convoluted, and doesn’t really make sense, completely losing the attention of the audience with a boring third act climax. All I can say about Spectre is, I am glad Daniel Craig is getting the opportunity to potentially leave the role on a high-note with Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time To Die. Because, if this were to be the end of his journey, it would have been a disappointing conclusion.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I say that Sam Mendes’ Skyfall is the most visually appealing and best shot James Bond film to date. Roger Deakins’ cinematography elevates an already great script with his stylish eye for haunting visuals, silhouettes, and making set pieces feel larger than they actually are. If Quantum of Solace delivers a generic action film filled with forgettable characters, Skyfall goes back to what made Casino Royale special by deconstructing, yet again, the character of James Bond and stripping him down from his fancy gadgets and invincible persona. When Bond chases assassin Patrice (Ola Rapace, The Last Kingdom) through Istanbul to recover a hard drive containing the names of every MI6 and NATO secret agent, he is wounded after he’s accidentally shot by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris, Moonlight) under M’s (Judi Dench, Belfast) orders. He falls onto a river with everyone presuming him dead. As a result, Patrice escapes with the hard drive, culminating in MI6 and their agents being attacked. James reveals himself to be alive, hidden, living a quiet life only to come back to the service after learning about the recent attacks. He’s not the same super spy, though. He returns as a broken, older, more fragile man, full of doubts about MI6 and himself. Bond is immediately placed back in the field in charge of capturing Silva (Javier Bardem, Dune), a former MI6 agent behind these terrorist attacks seeking revenge against M. Eventually, it all comes down to Bond’s ancestral home, Skyfall, where he tries to keep M safe from Silva. Almost every main player here has something to lose, which raises the stakes significantly. On one hand, we have M’s authority being questioned by Gareth Mallory, the new chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, forcing her to make drastic decisions. There’s of course Bond, whose choice to return to MI6 is constantly challenged by foes and allies alike, while trying to deal with childhood trauma. Silva also gets a surprising amount of development as a villain, making us sort of understand where he’s coming from after being abandoned by M when he was taken hostage and tortured during a mission.
Sam Mendes’ impeccable job in the director’s chair does something that Martin Campbell couldn’t perfectly do with Casino Royale, and that is pacing. Everything that goes down in Skyfall has somewhat of a payoff, making it much more rewarding and complete as a film. Even the most controversial aspect of the movie, that being the section we spend in Bond’s ancestral home for being a Home Alone “wannabe” in an action setting, it still feels important and personal to our beloved spy as we get to explore James’ origins and family background. Once again, the franchise feels like it’s found new life with Skyfall by bringing a director with actual vision who understands it’s more important to represent our character’s psyche than being a mindless action flick. Skyfall ends on a high note with MI6 embracing Bond back as a full-time agent and Mallory being the new head of the department after M’s unfortunate passing. Although, at the time, we knew Craig’s run was getting closer to its conclusion, every time I revisit this film it feels like a new beginning for his Bond.
1. CASINO ROYALE
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Casino Royale takes the number one spot on this list after everything it has done for the franchise, the serious tonal shift for example. But if we leave behind some of the elements we’ve briefly discussed about this movie, and we focus on what we have in front of us, we would find a refreshing reinvention of the character in a way that shows a vulnerable side of him we haven’t seen portrayed this good before or ever since. The film’s black & white opening scene serves as a perfect setup to show audiences what to expect from Craig’s take on the British spy, as we are shown how he earned his double-0 status, better known as his license to kill, by killing two targets: one in a public restroom and another in his own office. Its main theme song, “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell, does not disappoint and is a standout amongst other classic theme songs in the franchise. Of course, I can’t go on talking about this movie without touching upon the epic chase across Madagascar when Bond tries to investigate a bomb-maker. The choreography here is top-notch work and deserves every bit of praise it receives. The camera work here is superb as well, as cinematographer Phil Meheux is able to let the action flow without cutting away too much from the stunts and establishing the geography of the scene and making it easy for audience members to follow.
From here, the film drags for about 25 minutes or so as another chase, this time in an airport, ensues. It’s still entertaining to watch, but it feels more tagged on for the sake of more action than necessary for the story. Where Casino Royale excels, though, is when we spend most of our time in the casino with James and his companion Vesper (Eva Green, Penny Dreadful) trying to prevent Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round), a private banker to the world’s terrorists, from winning poker games that would earn him money to pay off his debts. It’s odd to say that in an action film the best scenes are of characters sitting around playing poker, but somehow director Martin Cambpell managed to make them even more nerve-wracking and engaging than the shoot-out set pieces. That being said, the action is great and it’s refreshing to see our hero actually get hurt and put his life on the line. The torture scene is particular is at times hard to watch not just because of the violence itself, but because it’s happening to our favorite super spy. In-between Casino Royale, there’s a surprisingly emotional love story between Bond and Vesper, one that proves the infamous “womanizer” has a heart that ends up broken in the end when Vesper betrays him by becoming a double agent in an attempt to save her former lover prior to their initial mission. The film closes with James tracking down Mr. White, the man pulling the strings all along, as Bond finally embraces his classic 007 identity. A perfect introduction to a new generation of fans who would go on to call Daniel Craig the best and most human iteration of the character yet.
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