Krissy and I got out to see Casino Royale this evening and as advertised, it’s pretty damn good: It’s got a rougher and more realistic edge than previous Bond flicks (I mean, within reason; it’s still a Bond flick) and Daniel Craig is, in a word, terrific, and puts a great new spin on Bond that I’ll be excited to see play out over the next couple of movies. If you’re a Bond fan, you’ll want to see it.
Having said that, I find myself unaccountably annoyed at the reviews I’ve seen of the film, many of which seem to praise Daniel Craig in part by taking a smack at Pierce Brosnan, Craig’s predecessor in the role. Apparently Brosnan was too light and fluffy, his smooth good looks and terrific head of hair sapping the series of its life and vitality by his last turn in the tux, Die Another Day.
Well. I’m not going to argue whether it was time for a new Bond or not — I suspect Brosnan would have been good for one more film, personally, but cashing him out after the last one was fine, too — but I will say this sort of revisionism at the expense of Brosnan is a little mean-spirited. It’s worth remembering that Brosnan’s turn as Bond saved the franchise, rescuing the series from the embarrassing aesthetic and financial train wreck it had become with the two Timothy Dalton films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Daylights did a fair amount of business (about as much as A View to a Kill, the last Roger Moore outing) but it was a flatly terrible flick, and Licence, which was even worse, was an outright flop, the first one the series ever suffered — it made $34 million in 1989; to find another Bond film that made less, you have to back fifteen years from there, to The Man With the Golden Gun, which when adjusted for inflation made rather more than Licence. Indeed, adjusted for inflation, Licence is easily the dog of the Bonds (to be fair, it did rather better internationally).
(Let me take a moment here to say: Poor Timothy Dalton. People like to blame him for the awfulness of this Bond flicks, but Dalton is a more than credible actor who had a great look, too. If we’re going to lay blame for the pure craptacularity of the Dalton Bonds, let’s put the blame where it deserves to be placed: First on director John Glen, a longtime Bond hand who had basically inherited the director’s chair beginning with For Your Eyes Only (he’d been a second unit director on previous Bond flicks, beginning with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and whose directorial style was workman like at best and borderline incompetent at worst (Licence and his post-Bond gigs Aces: Iron Eagle III and the appallingly bad Christopher Columbus: The Discovery). Second, on writers Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, both also long-time Bond hands (Wilson still is; he’s exec producer now) who didn’t give Dalton anything useful to work with. If Dalton hadn’t been given crap to recite and a hack director, he’d probably have been a fine Bond. But he was given crap in both cases, so there you have it.)
It’s worth remembering that GoldenEye, the first of the Brosnan Bonds, was as much of a reboot of the series as Casino Royale is touted as being. The producers shockingly went outside the Bond camp to find a new director (Martin Campbell, who, as it happens, also directs Royale) and new screenwriters (Jeffrey Caine, who was nominated for an Oscar just last year for his screenplay for The Constant Gardener, and Bruce Feirstein, better known as a humorist, and who gave the Bond dialog some real kick). The story also recognized that Bond had become an anachronism (you’ll recall M’s dressing down of Bond as a misogynist dinosaur) and thus allowed him to get over it and get on with being Bond for the 90s.
In no uncertain terms, the reboot saved the series: GoldenEye became the first Bond flick to gross over $100 million domestically and more than doubled the international take of Licence; what’s more, each subsequent Brosnan Bond film made more, both domestically and internationally, than the one before it. Die Another Day took in $431 million worldwide. We can certainly argue whether the Brosnan Bonds didn’t eventually get silly — I think casting Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in The World is Not Enough was asking the audience to swallow one whopper too many — but let’s not pretend they didn’t deliver the goods, both in terms of profitability and what people come to Bond films for: guns, girls and gadgets.
Let’s also note that Brosnan was a damn fine Bond. For one thing, he could act, which is more than you could say of, say, Roger Moore. For another thing, he had a great look, which does matter. And finally, he gave Bond something new: A bit (just a bit) of world-weariness, to contrast with Connery’s off-the-cuff sadism and Moore’s it’s-all-a-lark-ness. If you look, you can actually catch the Brosnan Bond thinking from time to time, which was a refreshing change.
Taking as given, as one must, that Sean Connery is the Bond archetype, I feel confident in saying that Brosnan was a better Bond by far than Roger Moore, who while showing some semblance of menace early on quickly degenerated into the effete creakiness that makes his later Bond turns all but unwatchable. He’s also rather better than poor Timothy Dalton, hobbled as he was by the hacktacularity of his films. He’s probably better than George Lazenby, too although it’s so hard to tell from only one film (and of course many Bond folks think Majesty is the best of the Bond films, story-wise). Daniel Craig, as noted earlier, is terrific, but we need at least one more film from him before we can really see if he deserves to settle into the “at the right hand of Connery” position. For now, Brosnan’s got it, and he’s earned it.
So: By all means, enjoy Casino Royale and Daniel Craig and the new direction the Bond series seems to be heading toward. But try not to dump all over Brosnan as you do so, even if you’re inclined to. If it wasn’t for him saving the series, the only Casino Royale you’d be watching is the one with David Niven and Woody Allen, and that’s just not the same. Trust me.