Connery vs Craig, the Finale

I thought about naming this post “A Good Time to Die” or some other play on the recent Bond title, but didn’t want to freak anybody out. Or, worse, make you think this was a review of the late-1980s thriller Flatliners. Nice and timely.

A few years ago, I ranked the best James Bond actors. At the time, I ranked Daniel Craig two, or more precisely 1a. The jury was still out on whether he could eclipse a certain Scottish knight. Well, now that Mr. Craig has finished, it’s time to reassess my rankings.

So, you know, spoilers and whatnot ahead. The movie’s been out for a month, so if you wanted to see it, I assume you have.

But, you know, while I’m letting you think about if you want to hit the back button in lieu of forging on. Assuming you’re one who wants to wait six months to see a movie but also avoids spoilers. But, like me, you also want general reviews, so you click on the tantalizing links promising you some, but not too much, of a preview. Give yourself a few paragraphs. Above the fold, as we used to call it. I guess it’s above the scroll now. So I’m giving you a few more paragraphs before I get into James Bond’s gender selection party where he and Blofeld have a glorious three-way with Desmond Llewellyn’s reanimated corpse. Bond will come again.

Even before this film, Daniel Craig had two of the four best movies. Note, I didn’t say “my favorite,” but “best.” I’ll broker no debate nor discussion here. The four best Bond movies, in no particular order, are Goldfinger, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Skyfall. Okay, that was in a particular order, but it was chronological. But it should not be construed to imagine Goldfinger is better than Skyfall. 

And really, Goldfinger only holds its spot on this list if you skip the rape scene. The wrestling in the hay is fine, but then hit “forward fifteen seconds” twice and assume it was consensual. 

The fifth best movie is a tie that stretches on for decades. I could make a reasonable argument for From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or The Living Daylights. If I wanted to be magnanimous and throw a top-ten bone to Roger Moore, it won’t pain me too much to say The Spy Who Loved Me is tolerable. (And I also secretly like For Your Eyes Only, but that admission causes physical discomfort).

No Time to Die doesn’t belong in the upper echelons, but it fits with that other group. Certainly the first one to avoid the “last movie curse” that afflicted every other Bond actor with more than one title to his name. If I were to compare it to any specific movie, it would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which they even acknowledge in the movie itself with the “We Have All the Time in the World” homage. More on this later when I can be sure those spoiler-free people aren’t snooping around. 

The other two Craig movies weren’t enough to supersede Sir Sean. Quantum of Solace, everyone can agree, was terrible. Blame it on a writer’s strike if you must, but it belongs squarely at the bottom of the heap with the likes of Octopussy, Moonraker, and Diamonds are Forever. Spectre was mediocre. Indistinguishable and forgettable, especially for a movie that’s supposed to reintroduce the franchise’s biggest baddie. In fact, I spent a good portion of No Time to Die wracking my brain to remember what the hell happened in Spectre, because the previous movie plays into the current movie. In fact, it’s the same Bond girl. I feel like that’s a first.

Speaking of Bond girls, Ana de Armas was phenomenal. And underused. Stop the search for the new Bond right away and just give Poloma an entire franchise. 

Under normal circumstances, ie for the first twenty-ish films in the franchise, not remembering the contents of the last movie made little difference. I’m pretty sure every Pierce Brosnan movie after Goldeneye was the exact same movie, loosely named The World Dies Tomorrow Not Enough. But Pierce Brosnan’s Bond never (are we alone now? SPOILER!) had a child with the Bond girl from the last movie. Even Denise Richards’ dingbat of a “physicist” was smart enough to be on birth control.

And okay, now that we’re into spoiler territory, let’s delve into the biggest spoiler that wasn’t even really a spoiler if you’ve been paying attention to the five-film Daniel Craig arc. Right around the time the first trailer came out, which was back in 2019 because the movie was supposed to come out in May, 2020, I made the bold prediction. If, for the first time, they were treating an actor’s movies as sequels instead of stand-alones, and if they started the run with Bond’s first mission, then it stood to reason that they’d end with his last mission. And there’s only one way you stop a guy like that from coming out of retirement. 

I mean Craig, not Bond.

Can’t wait to see how they pull the Daniel Craig version of Never Say Never Again. But I have the feeling that, whoever becomes Bond next, they’ll pale in comparison and we’ll be clamoring for just one more go. Maybe make him a zombie Bond? Or how about a clone? Blofeld held onto his DNA and….

Oh right, they killed off Blofeld, too. Then how about his good friend Felix…

Wow, they went all scorched earth on this bad boy, didn’t they. No time to die, unless you’re any Bond character outside the office with the padded door. Then you’ve got all the time in the world.

I’ve got minor squibbles with No Time to Die. Safin was utterly pointless, a throwback to the boring Pierce Brosnan bad guys. I think at least one of those guys had a messed up face, too. Not sure what the disfigurement added to the plot. The fact that he was the only survivor when the rest of his family was murdered might give him plenty of vengeance points without fucking up his face. I heard England was contemplating a law that disfigured people couldn’t be shown as evil in movies anymore. Not sure it needs to go that far, but fucking up their looks for no reason seems pointless. Unless you’re hoping for a makeup Oscar.

At least Safin’s plan to destroy the world was great. No, not great. What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right: Horrifying. Don’t go checking my Google history or anything. 

But seriously, poison tied to your DNA, so it can be released into a population but only kill certain people? That might be one of the most Bondian villain plots of all time. Way more intriguing than media moguls with stolen nuclear bombs. Or space lasers. 

So again, why did his face need to be all pock-marked? While we’re at it, why have Safin anyway? You’ve got the definitive Bond villain of all time in the movie already, just to kill him off? Have Blofeld break out of prison and put the plan in motion. Then the final confrontation in the pool would bring a stronger catharsis. Given their history, Blofeld seems like the one who would, upon realizing he wasn’t going to survive, would release Madeine’s DNA, thus bringing Bond down with him. Nothing about Safin’s story made me believe he’d pull the “Well, if I can’t win…” move.

The American who kills Felix also seemed bland. He’s a badass mastermind in Cuba, then only shows up one more time when he drives into a totally obvious trap. What’s the point? Combine Safin and Ash, give the denouement to Blofeld, and maybe you could’ve had a run-time less than the average bladder size.

So some good and some bad, but overall, No Time to Die hits its mark, breaeking the curse of final Bond movies (Diamonds are Forever, A View to a Kill, License to Kill, and Die Another Day are usually listed among each actor’s worst films). It works primarily because it was approached as a final Bond movie. I hope this doesn’t become a trend. Please, please, please don’t turn this into every new actor getting a four-movie arc to show his first and last missions as Bond.

In fact, maybe we could use a cleanser before we get another long-term Bond. Maybe it’s time for another George Lazenby. I’ve heard Idris Elba was in the running but he’s too old. Nonsense. Have him be Bond, but only for one movie. Then give one to Tom Hiddleston. By then, maybe I’ll be ready to invest in another long-term Bond.

So yeah, I guess you can figure out where I come down on the whole Daniel Craig vs. Sean Connery debate. It’s not entirely Sir Sean’s fault. We can do more with movies these days. Moviegoers can be expected to follow from one movie to the next. We waited thirty years for a sequel to Star Wars and were still able to pick it right up, debates over midichlorians and all.

In the 1960s, you couldn’t pull Goldfinger up on demand for a rewatch before seeing Thunderball. It’s hard to believe, but even TV shows had to be episodic, not serialized. You couldn’t expect your viewers to stay home at the same time every week and there was no way to catch up on missed episodes. 

Plus, you know, consensual sex is wonderful.

What Craig does get credit for, however, is playing the character as he should be played. No, I’m not talking about true to the Ian Fleming character (although he probably is), I mean truer to life, truer to reality. James Bond would be one fucked up individual in real life. Vulnerable and raw. The cool, quippy murderer who never thinks twice always rang hollow. Sure, that’s what was so great about him. But in the long run, Die Hard lives on longer than Commando because of how raw, how prone to mistakes, John McClain was in that first movie. All his choices had consequences. By Die Harder, he’s turned into Rambo.

Rambo, who started out as a visceral, psychological thriller about PTSD and the systemic failures for our Vietnam veterans. 

Bond pretended to go this route before. Good old George Lazenby showed a more human, more humane Bond. Complete with his new bride dying at the end, with the final line of, “We have all the time in the world.” It’s almost like they could’ve had a grittier Bond fifty years ago, but opted to go full schmaltz, first by ruining Connery’s legacy then prat-falling into the lap of Mr. Moore.

In the end, I don’t know if Daniel Craig is the “Best” Bond. Lazenby is still the only one who never had a bad movie. Think about that before you poo-poo my idea of having a few one-offs before giving the keys to the franchise to another relative unknown.

What Daniel Craig represents now, though, is the definitive Bond. He’s played Bond’s entire career, he’s shown us beginning and end. He lost a lover, he lost an M and ushered in a new (acknowledged) one for the first time in the franchise. And in the end, he sacrificed himself for the world, as we knew he would. Just didn’t expect it to happen with his daughter’s stuffed animal on hand.

Prior to last weekend, when I closed my eyes and imagined a generic Bond, when I read something from Ian Fleming or John Gardner or whoever the hell is writing them these days, he was still a lanky brunette with a comically long gun barrel, speaking with a Scottish brogue. Now he’s a gritty blond with piercing blue eyes.

But seriously, regarding Flatliners. Kiefer Sutherland in a trench coat? Really?

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