Sean Connery was ruthless yet aloof, Roger Moore was a ladies’ man having a ball, and Pierce Brosnan stripped James Bond of sexism, with George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton providing the shorter links to the long 007 chain. While they were at it, though, none gave out much about who Bond really was, apart from the fact that he had an MI6 licence to kill. It was left to Daniel Craig to build a character more complete than any of the previous Bonds. And this has been happening film by film, which makes Spectre, the latest release, as important as any of Craig’s earlier three.
Here are five ways how Craig has developed the Bond character more roundly than his predecessors have.
The earlier films dropped infrequent hints such as “Commander Bond”, which Ian Fleming’s readers could connect to Bond’s stint in the Royal Navy. Craig is the first screen Bond who has had a childhood; in Casino Royale (2006), Vesper Lynd deduced he is an orphan. For the past three years, it has been common knowledge that his family home (R.I.P.) in Scotland is called Skyfall, a name Fleming presumably never heard of. Fleming also wrote that Bond was raised by an aunt in Pett Bottom — much as it sounds like a Bond girl’s name, it’s a real village in Scotland — but the latest film throws new light on his upbringing. Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the criminal network SPECTRE, is something of a foster brother; his father having taken care of young orphan James.
Blofeld is to Bond what Moriarty is to Sherlock Holmes, if less frequent. Like most of the characters around the earlier Bonds, Blofeld used to be a caricature, only his hands shown in his first two appearances, stroking a white cat. The face, when it appeared in 1967, was menacing (Donald Pleasence), a far cry from Christoph Waltz’s pleasantness now. The earlier Blofelds were courteous with “Mr Bond” but the latest one has a brotherly reason to call him James. What remains unchanged is that James has deformed Ernst’s face for life.
Licence to kill
The double-oh prefix has been part of the Bond identity since Fleming’s novels but it was not until Casino Royale that fans got to know how the man won that licence. Bond is shown shooting down a fellow MI6 agent, Dryden, also a double-oh, but who has been selling information. Having killed Dryden’s contact earlier, Bond agrees with Dryden that the second kill is easier, then fires. The image of the assassin grows from there, many of the killings brutal.
Miss Moneypenny is the most significant of the caricatures demolished. The longest serving Moneypenny, played by the late Lois Maxwell with 14 appearances, had a crush on a flippant Bond and wept when he got married in 1969. Samantha Bond brought a self-assured Moneypenny, facing Brosnan’s Bond on her terms, but Craig’s Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) also has a background, a field agent whose first name is Eve. Moneypenny is now black, as is Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA counterpart.
M and Q used to be dull, elderly gentlemen, being around presumably because Bond needed a stern boss and an eccentric scientist to provide him with gadgets. The female boss who won’t give in to Bond’s charms (Judi Dench) is the standout feature of the Brosnan era, passed on to Craig’s Bond until her death. The eccentric inventor makes way for a younger, nerdier Q adept at hacking into computer systems. For once the man is more striking than the gadgets, although he hasn’t yet shown the cats he keeps at home.
The Bond girls
The earlier ones were eye candy and Bond treated them as such. Connery was insensitive after causing Jill Masterson’s death in Goldfinger (1964). Moore was unscrupulous, doctoring fortune teller Solitaire’s cards in Live and Let Die (1973) to get her into his bed. He did charm them all; in the 2002 documentary Bond Girls are Forever, one of them tells interviewer Maryam d’Abo (a Bond girl herself) that Moore created the impression “he might actually marry the heroine”. Lazenby had already done that, but the bride, Tracy, was murdered before Connery returned as Bond. It was Brosnan who first allowed his girls, just as he allowed M and Miss Moneypenny, to treat him on their terms.
Craig’s Bond girls, on the other hand, are vital to Bond himself. Vesper Lynd’s death to save him, which set him off on revenge in Casino Royale, continued to haunt him in Quantum of Solace, where he grieved once again, this time for Strawberry Fields. In Skyfall he offended a number of Bond purists by shedding tears for M, and in Spectre he keeps his word to a dying father that he would protect her. Although he remains a comic-book action hero, Bond is vulnerable to emotions for the first time.
6 films (1962-67, 1971)
The first official Bond, brutal yet charming, took no one seriously but himself. Bond for 7th time in the ‘unofficial’ Never Say Never Again (1983).
1 film (1969)
Connery took a break, and Lazenby stood in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only Bond who married his heroine, but she was killed.
7 films (1973-85)
The longest serving Bond brought in extra humour and glorified the now defunct one-liner. Unscrupulous, yet a ladies’ man.
2 films (1987-89)
A studious, seriously patriotic type, gone too early to have left a lasting legacy.
4 films (1995-2002)
He shook off Bond’s sexism, reported to a female boss and dealt with girls who were more than eye candy.
4 films (2006- )
From an orphan with foster parents to a Navy background and a fight against personal demons, a more rounded Bond than any other.