First of all let me say I do not take this position lightly. Working out who is the best Bond is possibly the most important cultural conundrum of our time. Even more crucial than deciding the best Doctor in Doctor Who(Tom Baker, obviously). I would also admit that until about two weeks ago I would have stuck to the position that the first 007 I ever saw, Sean Connery, was still the ultimate Bond. Connery clearly did a superb job of turning Ian Fleming’s character into an indelible film icon, and rarely put a foot wrong (although the less said about his misguided return in Never Say Never Again, the better). I was brought up on Connery’s Bond. I love Connery’s Bond.
But now I’ve seen Skyfall. OK, it is admittedly early days for Daniel Craig. He’s only starred in three Bond films compared with Connery’s six (proper ones). But two of Craig’s – Casino Royale and Skyfall – are easily among the best of the series, and even the famously disappointingQuantum of Solace is actually perfectly watchable due in no small part to the steely, brutal, uncompromising charisma of Craig. He may not look much like Ian Fleming’s conception of Bond but through the sheer unrelenting single-minded brilliance of his acting, he has now usurped Connery.
Charlie Higson, Fast Show Star And Author Of The Young James Bond Books
Right. I’ll agree with you on Tom Baker, and I have to confess, before we start blasting away at each other with Walther PPKs (unless you want to claim the Beretta is better?), that I think Daniel Craig comes a very close second. Let’s face it, though, if it wasn’t for Connery Daniel Craig wouldn’t even be up there on our screens. Dr No was by no means a guaranteed success, but as soon as Connery was revealed at the gaming table and he delivered his famous catchphrase there was no looking back.
It was the birth of a new kind of hero. Connery set the style of how Bond looked, dressed, made love, smoked (of course Daniel Craig isn’t allowed to smoke – only the doomed bad girl is afforded that luxury), drank, handled a gun, drove a car – even what type of car he drove. And it’s a telling point that the biggest reaction to anything at the showing I went to of Skyfall came on the appearance of the classic Aston Martin. The only thing that would have got a bigger, more satisfied gasp would have been Connery himself showing up. Every Bond since Connery can’t help but be compared with him. You can’t beat the yardstick.
BH I’ll keep my Walther PPK in its holster in the hope my argument is like a brick through a plate-glass window. In fact I absolutely agree that the whole reason we’re even discussing this is down to Connery’s legendary version of Bond. But that’s a different matter. Sure, Connery brilliantly laid the foundation for the 007 we see now, but I do feel Daniel Craig has picked up his pistol, run with it and blasted the whole franchise into a new stratosphere.
Skyfall itself feels more sophisticated than pretty much any Bond film so far, while retaining the thrills and the jokes. It’s the same with Craig – he’s one of the smartest actors out there, more than holding his own with the likes of Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes, but he also has a unique, granite-hewn physicality matched by his smouldering intensity. Craig’s Bond exudes single-minded toughness, but we sense, also, the complex psychology of the orphan James, the man who’s licensed to kill, but who has deep-seated emotions, too. I just think he now brings more to the role than all his predecessors, even Connery.
CH I agree that Daniel Craig is a terrific actor, and his combination of toughness and vulnerability is superb, but you’ve made the schoolboy error of thinking that James Bond is a real person. He’s not, Boyd, he’s a fantasy – the ultimate fantasy alpha male. Fleming was clever in the books not to burden him with a backstory. He has no domestic life. No wife and kids. We never see him mowing the lawn or doing the washing up. He lives in hotels, eats in restaurants, sleeps with whoever he likes and is allowed to kill people.
That’s the type of fantasy figure that Connery embodied so effortlessly. It was only in his penultimate novel that Fleming decided to have some fun with Bond’s parental-loss backstory, when M writes the famous obituary. But Bond is not required to behave any differently as a result and go all touchy-feely. And besides, are you seriously telling me that Sean Connery couldn’t hold his own with Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes? Sean bloody Connery? He’d eat them for breakfast, and none of that silly schoolboy blubbing either.
BH Oh of course Bond is a fantasy. I hope I didn’t imply otherwise. But just as Christopher Nolan’s magnificent Dark Knight trilogy managed to deepen the fantasy figure of Batman, and add vivid new layers while never skimping on the entertainment value of such an archetypal character, so I believe the three Daniel Craig Bond movies (yes, evenQuantum of Solace), but especially the new one, have taken the fantasy and made it somehow seem richer. Craig’s Bond might shed the occasional tear, but the incredible thing about his performance is how he still makes sure he’s our ultimate fantasy alpha male, as you put it, while actually managing to make us care about him even more (for which the writers deserve a lot of credit, too, by the way). I’m sure Sean bloody Connery is every bit as great a thesp as Daniel blubby touchy-feely Craig; it’s just that Craig, backed by some extraordinarily good decision-making by the whole current creative team, has come up with an even more deliciously satisfying version of that Fleming fantasy figure we both love so much.
CH Oh, don’t get me started on The Dark Knight (or Batman, as I call him), he’s a man in a rubber bat-suit fighting a clown, for God’s sake. The concept cannot possibly carry the ponderous weight of glum import that Nolan loads on it. Give me the cheesy fun of the Avengers any day. Not for a moment that I’m advocating a return to Moonraker-era Bond silliness, but I do wish Craig had been allowed to just let rip and go for it a bit more. I want to hear that timeless Bond theme pound out and watch Bond transcend this dull world and take me back to when I was a nine-year-old boy at my local Odeon, enthralled by the magic and the excitement and the romance and the sheer vital sexiness of it all. I like a little light and shade and some seriousness and real jeopardy, even the odd tear, but I also like to see a man strapped to a metal work surface about to be sliced in half by a laser beam, exchanging quips with a fat German who loves only gold.