Since my teenage years I've been a fan of the James Bond franchise. Sean Connery was my favorite, Daniel Craig (the current James Bond, for those who don't watch) is a close 2nd for me. And, while I realize that Roger Moore played the character for 7 turns, 1 more than Connery, I wasn't a big fan of Moore's take on the character. Too comedic at times, too campy. Connery by contrast was just a bit cheeky when he needed to be without being campy. My apologies to any of the Brits out there who would be upset that I characterized an Irishman playing an Englishman as "cheeky". That's your word, I know it, but I thought it fitting here for nothing more than an adjective. Moore ranks up there right above Timothy Dalton for me. Sorry, Moore fans, he just does.
The Bond franchise was always fun. Adventurous, dangerous, lots of conspiracy and international locations, and GADGETS! Ohhhh the gadgets. The franchise really started to take a dive in the waning years of Pierce Brosnan's turn at the character. It just devolved into more overt-the-top campiness. The franchise was tired and goofy and with the likes of new, more serious characters like Jason Bourne taking the scene, Bond just looked like a joke in many respects. So, the Bond creative team regrouped, recast the role, and rebooted the franchise. And, with the exception of Quantum of Solace (that installment was just pointless) the reboot has been hugely successful. The last installment, Skyfall, being the most successful critically and commercially of the lot. And, rightfully so. It was a really tightly-weaved story that was well-acted and beautifully shot. And... Adele sang the theme song.
Craig's first stab at the character was important because it reestablished Bond in a new context. Same old Bond, but grittier, more serious, but still some cheekiness there. But it was also important for one big reason: Bond had finally evolved. Now, there was more too him. More conflict. More emotion. There was something to actually latch onto and engage with rather than just a suave spy with cool gadgets. And, Skyfall was a giant leap forward because we witnessed the character develop and move forward even more. You learned more about who Bond is and why he is like he is. What his vices are, what he may or may not be trying to put away in his past. The allegiance he has to M. And, from the looks of the teaser trailer just released yesterday of the new Bond installment, Spectre, we're seeing the character take another step forward. This is how James Bond is evolving.
I heard some folks who didn't like Skyfall describe it as boring, and I get it; the films have taken more of a turn towards being story-driven, rather than just being a bunch of action and Bond girls. Granted, there is still some really good action sequences in this new Bond, but even the Bond girls have actually been sort of minimized in this new age. Again, there is more emphasis on the story and the character and moving that character along. You never saw that in the days of Connery and Moore. The character was the same the day they finished as when they started. This new Bond, however, is growing. There's something more to the character than ever before, and it's just good storytelling. And geez... is it beautifully shot. The cinematography alone is worth the price of admission.
I think the key to future successes will be to continue to put good writers in a room together, a good director behind the camera, and a good cinematographer setting up all the visuals. And, most important, a solid actor in the role. Daniel Craig does have some acting chops, something I would argue that Roger Moore never really had. Connery, yea. Dalton, no. Brosnan, yea, but he's more or less played different iterations of the same characters in all his movies. But, Bond is growing, the character is evolving. I'm all for that in movies. Skyfall was a nice exposition into the experiences of sacrifice, loss, and determination. It wasn't just, "Whelp... bad guy is dead, world saved, and I got the girl! Here's your Bond film, check please?" Casino Royale and Skyfall didn't have a neat and tidy ending where the hero wins and gets everything he wants. Make no doubt, he wins, which is a bit more ambiguous in this age than in ages past, but he still loses something in the process.