The worldwide release of the latest Bond film, Spectre, has the usual Bond starwatching and debates roaring again. Who was the best Bond? Who was the worst Bond? Who will be the next Bond? These are all questions which fans of the film franchise have been asking ever since United Artists announced the release date. This article will focus on the Bond actors in the canon films (produced by Eon and sanctioned by Ian Fleming), with my personal assessment based on their body of work. This is in chronological order.
Sean Connery: 6 Films (First: Dr. No, Last: Diamonds Are Forever)
Overview: Connery is the quintessential Bond and, to most long-time fans of the franchise, the gold standard. In any debate about who is the best, Connery will always be mentioned. He possessed all the things needed to be a 60s and 70s film superstar – the looks, the build, the attitude, and a fiery look in his eyes. If you could equate Connery of Dr. No to today’s film stars, the closest you could likely get would be Christian Grey – he had a particular debonair style to him which made him quite unique, and his ability to deliver the classic “shaken, not stirred” line, combined with his innate natural tongue-in-cheek approach to Bond, makes him entertaining and exciting at the same time. Yes, Bond wasn’t Mr. Politically Correct back then, but Connery remains the one actor who can make a womanizing secret agent look like something every man would aspire to be. Perhaps the only knock against him was his being featured in a very entertaining, but non-canon Bond movie, Never Say Never Again.
George Lazenby: 1 Film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
Overview: Lazenby often gets a bad rap because of his being the “lost Bond.” He played the super spy when Connery couldn’t be inked for this film. The reality is that Lazenby was, in fact, quite capable as an actor, though the story itself was certainly written for a more Connery-style character. For a one-off Bond, Lazenby really should be regarded as more than just a footnote – sometimes your backup player is who needs to carry the franchise when the star isn’t available. That’s exactly what Lazenby did with a very entertaining portrayal of the actor which did the books justice. Too bad he wasn’t in more.
Roger Moore: 7 Films (First: Live and Let Die, Last: A View to A Kill)
Overview: Moore vs. Connery – the Bond debate which will never end. Roger Moore is what purists would call a “Bond’s Bond.” British to the core (Connery is actually Scottish), Moore combines suave sophistication with the sort of dry British humor which personifies the secret agent. His roles in movies such as Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me actually inspired other secret agent movies, and reportedly was the inspiration behind some of the settings in Pixar’s The Incredibles. Though he is often criticized by some fans of the franchise as being “stiff,” the reality is that Moore’s wittiest deliveries are often in the tensest of moments in a film. The lone check against Moore was his overly candid assessment of A View to A Kill, which he once described as the worst Bond movie ever made.
Timothy Dalton: 2 Films (The Living Daylights, A Licence to Kill)
Overview: Dalton has been often decried as the actor who nearly killed the Bond franchise. That’s a rather unfair assessment, though Dalton’s own acting style was decidedly incompatible with the Bond concept. Too stiff at times, too loose at others, Dalton was noticeably uncomfortable with the role, and appeared in many scenes to be portraying a character which was not in his wheelhouse. While Daylights was a reasonably decent film which appeared to suffer more from ponderous dialogue and minor editing gaffes, Licence to Kill was a train wreck in every sense of the word, right down to Bond’s “rogue” status. When viewed objectively, Dalton’s acting ability was solid; it was the fact he appeared to just not be the sort of actor who could pull off “Bond,” a role which requires a uncommon combination of traits Dalton simply did not possess.
Pierce Brosnan: 4 Film (First: GoldenEye, Last: Die Another Day)
Overview: Brosnan, the 1980s star of the action/intrique series “Remington Steele,” was actually an accidental casting! As the story goes, when Dalton refused to return as Bond for GoldenEye, it was Brosnan, whose then-girlfriend was a member of the studio staff, who was offered an audition. The producers were so impressed with his delivery, contract negotiations began almost immediately. GoldenEye was actually delayed several years by Dalton’s departure, but got back on track when Eon signed Brosnan, hoping for a bottom-of-the-ninth miracle. Brosnan delivered, as GoldenEye was both critically acclaimed and a box office smash. Brosnan had established himself as a Bond who was thrust into a new world with a no-nonsense female M in Judi Dench, and a far more liberated Moneypenny in Samantha Bond (Bond franchise irony there). That said, longtime fans of the franchise like to call attention to Brosnan’s somewhat inconsistent delivery (he did fluctuate between silly and serious a little too often), and the fact that he was nowhere near as buff as Connery and Moore. However, he did have some of the best and most timely lines in the history of the Bond franchise, including an instant classic from GoldenEye when talking about the singing ability of the mistress of Russian spy-turned-mobster Valentin Zukovsky, “who’s strangling a cat?” While Tomorrow Never Dies remains his most timely and entertaining film, he didn’t fare near as well in The World is Not Enough, and was hugely upstaged in Die Another Day, a movie which featured an overly star-studded cast trying to horn in on the Bond franchise renaissance, including Halle Berry, William Baldwin, John Cleese and Madonna, who actually had one of the all-time best lines in Bond history “I don’t do cockfights.”
Daniel Craig: 4 Films (First: Casino Royale, Last: “Bond 25 – 2018”)
Overview: Daniel Craig is easily the most polarizing Bond ever. You either love him, or you hate him. There is absolutely zero in-between. His acting style is far different from any Bond ever cast, not to mention his skill set a bit more limited (he reportedly didn’t know how to drive a manual-shift vehicle when signed), not to mention being the “blonde Bond” (Ian Fleming’s novels have all clearly indicated Bond is not a blonde). Those nitpicks aside, Craig has proven to be capable of handling a grittier, more “raw” style of Bond which Eon was apparently looking for. His debut in the franchise reboot “prequel” of Casino Royale wasn’t the best foot he could have put forward. It only got worse in Quantum of Solace, which had more a Rambo feel to it. Craig appeared to have saved his Sunday punch for SkyFall, a timely, intrigue loaded tale which brought Bond into the 21st century in many ways, from dealing with questions of internet privacy, to government meddling in intelligence matters, to terrorists taking the fight straight to MI6. Craig’s greatest issue, however, appears to be a rather fatal flaw, and we do mean fatal – women don’t seem to fare very well in his movies. In both Casino Royale and SkyFall, the “Bond girl” doesn’t make it, and even M is killed off.
The Best Bond?
This is always subject to debate but, for my money, I am going to go with the Bond nobody would ever think of: Brosnan. He came in at a time when Bond was at its lowest ebb and literally saved the franchise. Yes, his acting was inconsistent at times, and he appeared to be overly cute in his portrayal in some scenes, but Brosnan was the man who brought Bond out of the Mad Men era and paved the way for (gulp) Daniel Craig and his posterity to carry this torch. Had it not been for Brosnan, this franchise may have faded into obscurity. Tomorrow Never Dies remains, in my opinion, the most entertaining Bond film ever for a variety of reasons, not least of which being the super-villain, Elliot Carver, was a man with the power of the press behind him (nice dig at Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch), and GoldenEye is the movie which almost never happened had it not been for a thought-to-be-washed-up actor delivering lunch to his sweetie on the set. You can’t get more right place, right time than that, and that’s exactly what Bond is all about.
My nomination for the next Bond…
As Craig is expected to abdicate the Bond throne in 2018, there is rampant speculation on who could be, and should be, the next Bond, with names like Idris Elba, Henry Cavill, Jack O’Connell, et al. I’m going to go strictly objective here, and forsake the desire for political correctness in the name of genuine ability. While many people will think I have completely lost my mind with this suggestion, I’m going to go out on a limb and toss out a name nobody would ever think of, mostly because he’s already in a series, but also because by the time 2018/19 rolls around, he may be ready for some film time…
Tom Mison of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.
Yes, you read that right (and please stop sending me prescriptions for medication!) Mison has more than a few things going for him, not least of which being that not only is he British, but he’s also the sort of tongue-in-cheek actor who could pull off a rather credible Bond. I’ve often argued that portraying Bond requires a semi-Shakespearean sense of comedy, and Mison’s delivery in Sleepy Hollow is both dry and highly entertaining. He also has one very unique ability which most folks don’t think about – he’s successfully delivered British-style flair and wit to a prime-time American television series. That doesn’t happen every day.
So there you have it…my take on Bond. Your comments, as always, are more than welcome.