Sean Connery

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?

Taking Stock of the Bonds

Time to weigh in on a controversy I wasn’t aware even existed.

I always thought there were certain universal constants. Some facts or central truths that everyone could more or less agree on. That the Earth rotates around the sun, for instance, or that we should all use the Base-10 numbering system.

Or that Sean Connery is the best James Bond.

But it turns out that that last little tidbit isn’t quite as commonly accepted as counting to ten. I recently observed a conversation between my wife, someone tangentially required to be a Bond fan, and a friend of mine who proudly professes herself as a fan of the franchise. I say I observed this conversation, and did not partake in it, because it would have been hard to enunciate with my jaw upon the floor.

“Who’s your favorite James Bond actor?” the agent of Blofeld friend asked.

“Well, my husband says there’s only one answer to that question,” my wide responded. “I know I’m supposed to say Sean Connery, but I’ve always really liked…”

At this point, I think I blacked out. I tried to focus through the haze in my vision, the buzzards flying through my ears. My wife couldn’t have just listed the worst Bond of all time, the one who had made a mockery of the character and the franchise, as her favorite.

“And for looks alone, you’ve gotta love…”

Did she just do it again? Reference my second-least favorite actor? Has she seen the same movies as me? Is it too late to reference George Lazenby in the Pre-Nup?

So I guess it’s now on me to write the definitive list of the six James Bond actors from best to worst. I won’t countdown from last to first, because there shouldn’t be any suspense at the top of the list. I won’t rank (or even reference) every movie, because if I wanted to write 50,000 words and waste fifty hours of my life, I would’ve just done NoNoWriMo . And even if you put a Golden Gun to my head, I wouldn’t be able to recount what happened in The Man with the Golden Gun.

  1. Sean Connery.

Let me put it simply for anyone that is confused: Sean Connery is James Bond and James Bond is Sean Connery.

Go find a James Bond book. Any book. It doesn’t have to be an Ian Fleming one. Now read a passage and try to envision anyone other than Sean Connery as the person performing those actions. It can’t be done. He is the definitive version.

                Does it help that he went first? Sure. Does it help that he never shot laser beams in space? Absolutely. Does it help that he was named the Sexiest Man Alive twenty years after leaving the role behind, at the age of sixty? That certainly doesn’t hurt.

When you ask a random person to describe James Bond’s traits, the most common answer is suave. That’s all Connery. Despite our little imagination check two paragraphs ago, it’s not how the character was written. Ian Fleming put a certain vulnerability to the character. He was a flawed man in a flawed world.

But the James Bond that we have come to know is a non-powered superhero. The only time he is vulnerable is when a Russian lady is kicking at him with a poisoned knife or if Goldfinger has a laser pointed at his crotch.

And how does Bond react in that laser scene? Roger Moore would have hammed it up with a few puns. Daniel Craig would have stared down Goldfinger until the opponent withered. Pierce Brosnan would’ve just chilled out and waited for a machine gun or explosion to save him because he’s too attractive and cool to die.

But Connery shows his mind racing while his forehead is sweating.

“You expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond,” Goldfinger responds in one of the greatest lines in cinematic history, “I expect you to die.”

But Connery talks anyway. He uses his wit before resorting to weapons or gadgets or… whatever the hell Roger Moore uses.  What people who grew up with the later Bond actors don’t realize is how understated the character should be.

Some people have said Connery was the least believable Bond in the fight scenes. They’re probably right, but the character isn’t supposed to be a hulking stuntman.

The one major drawback to Connery was that he clearly stopped enjoying it after Thunderball. He kind of mailed in You Only Live Twice, before leaving for one movie and coming back for Diamonds are Forever. And really, we can’t blame him for that last one.

  1. Daniel Craig. I haven’t seen SPECTRE yet, and if it’s as good as Skyfall, I might be willing to put Daniel Craig as 1a.

Remember what I said about Connery creating the movie version of Bond, but not following the book version? Well it took fifty years, but someone finally played the literary James Bond, and that’s Daniel Craig.

The character is supposed to be dark. He should be focused on the task at hand. He should always be wanting out of his lifestyle, but knowing there is no way out. If he’s ever reckless, it’s because he assumes his own mortality, not because he’s an invincible, cavalier playboy.

The definitive Daniel Craig exchange happens not long into his first movie.

“Do you want it shaken or stirred?”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”

Oh, snap! Did he just pull the rug out from every other actor? Because he’s right, James Bond should never have been focused on how his martini is watered down. He’s got way too fucking many things to keep track of and keep his eyes on.

I’ll be honest, when I first heard there was going to be a blond Bond, I thought it was a horrible idea. They should all look as close to the source as possible. But by the time his third movie rolled around, I couldn’t imagine anyone taking over for him.  I fear whoever’s next might get the Lazenby treatment.

In fact, I would have loved to see Sean Connery play the caretaker in Skyfall. Even though Albert Finney did a great job, It’s obvious the roll was written with Sir Sean in mind.  It would’ve been a cool bury the hatchet/pass the baton moment, but alas, it was not to be.

Allegedly, one of the myriad of reasons they didn’t pursue Connery for the roll was that they didn’t want the sideshow to distract from the main actor. And while that would have been an issue for any other Bond actor, I think Daniel Craig could have held his own starring against Sean Connery. Hell, he held his own against Judi Dench, the best M in history.

My only hope is that Craig is serious about not coming back for a fifth movie. If he wanted to come back, I’d welcome him back. But if he ends up coming back only for the money, he might be tempted to mail it in.

  1. Timothy Dalton. This will be the first surprise on the list for most people.

Timothy Dalton only had two movies, and one of them might be the worst Bond movie of all time. But he was a precursor to Daniel Craig, someone who gave Bond the seriousness and gravitas he deserves, but at a time when people had come to expect nothing but camp from the character.

I feel sorry for Timothy Dalton, as he came into the franchise at a horrible time. Not only was the Cold War wrapping up, but the rights to the character were going through legal issues. The six-year gap between License to Kill and GoldenEye almost killed the franchise.

But it wasn’t Dalton’s fault.

In fact, I’ll put The Living Daylights up as one of the top five or six Bond movies of all time. The Living Daylights had it all. Just enough gadgets and explosions without going overboard. A James Bond that is unflappable and smooth.

Then came License to Kill. Ugh. It was 1989, and although the Wall hadn’t come down when they filmed it, the whole glasnost and perestroika thing was going on. How could they make Gorby the bad guy?

So instead, they made it a personal vendetta story. Yes,  I like my Bond dark, just like my coffee. But a rogue agent stalking and killing someone without the backing of the British Secret Service? That’s not dark roast, that’s ground-infested sludge. Bond is a secret agent, not an assassin.

So there’s Dalton for you – one really good movie, one horrible movie, then a legal battle which ensured he couldn’t prove which one was really him. It’s worth noting that Quantum of Solace was Daniel Craig’s second, and worst, film. How much higher esteem would we have for Dalton’s run as James Bond if his third movie had been like Skyfall?

  1. George Lazenby. I might be the only one who feels sorry for Timothy Dalton’s luck and timing, but EVERYONE feels sorry for poor George Lazenby. He never stood a chance.

When Sean Connery announced he would not continue the James Bond role, one of two things was going to happen: either they’d stop making the movies or else he’d have to be replaced. Since they opted for the latter, somebody was going to be the guy that replaced Connery. It didn’t matter what George Lazenby did, or how well he did it, he wasn’t Connery. There’s a reason that almost every Vice President who took over for a dead (or resigned) President didn’t win the next election.

Except for Teddy Roosevelt. And poor George Lazenby is no Teddy Roosevelt.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the last Bond movies I got around to seeing. I assumed it didn’t fit in the grander scheme of movies. It was an anomaly, the answer to a trivia question. George Lazenby was Pete Best. He was New Coke. Why should I bother?

But then I watched it, and guess what? It’s a damned good movie! And George Lazenby? He was solid. I wouldn’t say he knocked it out of the park, but he certainly doesn’t come across as a model who had never acted before, which is precisely what he was.

Then Connery came back for one more movie (not counting Never Say Never Again), and that movie was a sizeable step down.

And in the end, George Lazenby can say one thing that none of the other actors can say – he never made a bad James Bond movie.

  1. Pierce Brosnan. So disappointing to have this guy down this far.

After GoldenEye, I thought the franchise was back on solid footing. Bond was back kicking ass and pleasing every lady in sight. He had just the right amount of smugness. Sure, they had to make the plot based on the Cold War, but this was the first post-USSR movie, so cut them some slack.

I couldn’t wait for him to return.

Maybe he should’ve pulled a Lazenby.

What followed was three movies that were interchangeable. A mishmash of the same tropes and same mailed-in performance. I think it was a trilogy called The World Dies Again Tomorrow.

Am I being harsh? Quick, which one was the one with Denise Richards? And was the one where he got captured in North Korea the same one that had Michelle Yeo? Or was that Terri Hatcher?

That line of reasoning doesn’t hold true with the other actors. If I asked the average fan which Sean Connery movie had Oddjob and which one happened on the Orient Express, it wouldn’t take an search.

My biggest problem with the Pierce Brosnan movies is that they turned the character into an action hero. Instead of Bond needing to investigate and unravel a conspiracy that slowly led back to the main villain, it was “Here’s the bad guy. This is where you’ll find him. Now go bang some chicks and blow some shit up for a couple of hours, then get a machine gun and shoot everything.”

I know the actor isn’t responsible for the plot and the script that’s put in front of him. This is an argument that people who like the Worst Bond Ever (see below) point out.  Certainly it’s not Pierce Brosnan’s fault that they made the character windsurf down a Melting-Ice-Hotel-Tidal-Wave.

But I have to think they cater some aspects of the script to how the actor wants to play the character. Maybe if Pierce Brosnan had said “Hey, guys, how about if I put the machine gun down and just kick somebody’s ass this once?”

So a brilliant start and then three duds. Even Roger Moore waited until his fourth or fifth movie before he started going through the motions.

Some people still swear by Pierce Brosnan. The next time someone says he was a great Bond, ask them what they liked about him. Then have fun seeing what percentage of their answer comes from his first movie.

  1. Roger Moore. Wow, what can one say about the actor who played the character in more movies than anyone else? Here’s what I say – let’s include Never Say Never Again, so at least “most movies as James Bond” becomes a tie.

Some people say Roger Moore was good at first, but just hung on too long. To them, I say that Man with the Golden Gun was only his second movie.

Others will point out, as I did with Pierce Brosnan, that he can only read the lines that are given to him.

It’s certainly not Roger Moore’s fault that they decided to go into space and make Jaws a recurring character. I doubt even an android love-child of Humphrey Bogart and Robert de Niro could make Octopussy watchable.

But seriously, Roger Moore, get that fucking smirk off your face. James Bond doesn’t smirk, he doesn’t pan to the camera, and he doesn’t speak exclusively in puns and double entendres.

The best example of Roger Moore at his worst was A View to a Kill, his final movie. It should be a damned good movie. Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as the bad guys, with the final fight scene on the Golden Gate Bridge. What’s not to like?

Other than Grandpa Roger Moore bumbling around, completely unbelievable with actresses one-third his age, desperately looking for a camera he can do a half-assed breaking of the fourth wall into.

What if the producers had decided to pull the plug on Roger Moore one movie earlier? Put Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan in that movie and look how much more kick ass it would be. An actor that played a “Not Taking Any Shit” James Bond would’ve added much more gravitas to the batshit crazy that Christopher Walken can play so well.

Let’s take the definitive Roger Moore line from A View to a Kill:

After sleeping with Grace Jones the night before, Christopher Walken asks him if he slept well.

“A little restless, but I…,” eyebrows raised into the camera,  “got off… eventually.”

Wow. I made better ejaculation jokes in eighth grade.

Ian Fleming is rolling over in his grave.

Let’s see how later actors would’ve reacted to that script and that scene.

Timothy Dalton would’ve looked at that script, and said, “I’m not saying that. I’ll just say fine.”

Pierce Brosnan would’ve asked if he could just take out a gun and shoot Walken.

And Daniel Craig’s scene would’ve gone something like…

“How’d you sleep, Mr. Bond?”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”