Daniel Craig is the ideal Bond. He encapsulates everything that Bond is and has evolved to be since 007 first emerged into existence from the smoky Royale-les-Eaux casino in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale. Craig’s portrayal of Bond is not only the closest representation of Fleming’s literary super-operator (minus the 60-a-day smoking habit), but he has created the Bond for the 21st century. Whilst Dalton’s and Brosnan’s iterations were practically identical, jumping from great heights dressed in black assault gear, Craig entered the Bond legacy in his own hard-hitting, back-to-basics style.
The Cold War-esque elimination of the secret-selling Dryden in the opening sequence of Casino Royale, marking Bond’s second 00-qualifying kill, shows Craig can deliver the smooth operator side of Bond, quipping immediately after firing a single, lethal round into the traitor’s head. Mixed in with this scene is Bond’s brutal assassination of Dryden’s contact in a toilet. This is the hard-edged warrior side of Bond that was not as apparent in the other portrayals; and in one opening sequence of a Bond film, the best 007 to date was born.
Craig’s Bond portrayal is nothing short of a renaissance for the series, which had become somewhat tired and hackneyed after Brosnan’s spate of wielding the Walther. The references had become overbearing, Q was a member of Monty Python, and the plots Bond found himself involved with were on par with the most ludicrous of the Moore era. Bond was just a brand which was wheeled out every two years for some popcorn-munching blockbusting fun. The true meaning of Bond had been lost to poor scripts, silly fights and daft gadgets. Craig’s Bond would blow away, in just one film, all the tropes and criticisms levelled at the 007 series since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
What puts Craig ahead of his predecessors is that his portrayal stands up not just in cinematic terms, but also when looking at Bond’s literary history. Craig captures the essence of Fleming’s Bond, a hot war fighter battling in the shadows where the lines between friend and foe are not clear-cut. Fleming’s Bond is not an Übermensch, capable of withstanding anything thrown at him. There is a vulnerable and emotional side to the character, a certain fragility hidden behind the armour he shrouds himself in, the same armour that is stripped away by Vesper in Casino Royale. Craig has displayed the duality of the Bond character in each of his three films to date (and likely will do so again in Spectre, as his personal history is exposed and explored, building on the revelations of Skyfall).
What makes Craig unique is that his Bond is a human being. Admittedly, he is an exceptional human being, trained to high standards – but he can still bleed, and that is what we see. Brosnan’s Bond broke his arm, but no Bond except for Craig had been tortured to the point of castration before the machinations of organised crime ironically saved his life. Craig’s Bond is the pinnacle of physical ability, trained to drive and shoot to the elite levels, but he’s also just a man alone, isolated. Twice in Casino Royale, Bond nearly dies except for fortuitously timed interventions by others (Vesper with the defibrillator and Mr White killing Le Chiffre).
And no matter how hard he fights, how fast he drives or accurately he shoots, he can’t totally protect the ones he truly loves, as we see in Casino Royale and Skyfall, and it’s that haunting loss and fear of failure that runs deep through both Fleming’s and Craig’s Bond – more so than any other Bond to date.
What sets Craig apart from the rest of the Bond actors is that he draws on the best elements of his predecessors, and then makes the character his own through his portrayal, adding in the supreme physicality combined with the armoured yet still vulnerable humanity. He has the coolness of Connery, the emotion of Lazenby, the smoothness of Moore, the hardness of Dalton and the charm of Brosnan. But most of all, Craig has Fleming’s Bond at the core of his performance. Even in Quantum of Solace, one of the least critically-acclaimed of all the Bond films, he embodies the cold cruelness at the heart of the original short story, a novella that barely even featured Bond. Though the film was ravaged with production issues (including a writer’s strike), Craig plays the character correctly, as a man whose soul has been hardened by betrayal.
Craig is a Bond for all ages, appealing to all demographics, and has created some of the most iconic moments of the series. His portrayal is not only the best cinematically but also, when matched with Fleming’s original creation, he is the closest to embodying the Commander’s vision of the ultimate intelligence agent.