WARNING: This story contains spoilers for the new James Bond film No Time To Die
That was the moment 007 producer Barbara Broccoli saw a leading man who did not yet know he could be a leading man. That was the moment when the command, poise, and character of one of culture’s biggest properties saw its future both assured and gilded.
Double-0 seven years later and Craig was anointed as Bond in-front of the world’s press on HMS Belfast, London. A year after that Casino Royale (2006) changed everything.
Not only has Daniel Craig now become the longest serving 007 straddling three decades of Bondage, being the most successful spy since Sean Connery. He was the first Bond to truly invest in both the internal mechanisms of the role and the external duties of Bond film production.
Read more: The road to No Time To Die
Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and even Pierce Brosnan were vastly different franchise emissaries in a wholly different era of Bond stardom. No less personally invasive, physically demanding and globally backbreaking than his antecedents, only Craig’s tenure can however justify the revelations and story leaps that No Time to Die makes for Commander Bond.
Roger Moore never became a twice-credited producer on a Bond film. But Daniel Craig did. It was Craig who suggested director Sam Mendes for 2012’s Skyfall. It was Craig who suggested certain title song performers. And it was Craig who could see the Bond scripts needed as much attention as the car chases.
Connery did later become more of a producing captain of his rogue Bond, Never Say Never Again (1983). But that 007 curio was never nominated for nine BAFTA film awards in the way Casino Royale was.
Until Craig’s era, we did not have a whole ensemble of Bond performers with the quality of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Javier Bardem, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, Helen McCrory and Albert Finney. In giving confidence to the role, Craig also gave confidence to the Bond producers, Bond audiences and Bond creatives.
It was no longer a tad de-rigueur to want to be in a Bond film. Craig and his films emboldened the calibre of people now attracted to 007. It is arguable whether leading cinematographer Roger Deakins would ever have worked on a Bond film (Skyfall) had it not been for Craig suggesting Mendes.
Likewise, Adele. And Billie Eilish. And Phoebe Waller-Bridge. And Cary Joji Fukunaga.
When Bond creatives EON Productions were able to cinematically launch Daniel Craig in 2006 via the one Fleming novel whose rights had so far eluded them, their 006th man literally hit the ground running. And leaping. And jumping.
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Under the steerage of director Martin Campbell — who had previously launched Pierce Brosnan in his 1995 GoldenEye debut — the physicality of Craig in the first fifteen minutes of Casino Royale updated action cinema as much as Bond editor Peter Hunt invented it in the 1960s.
Enter Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Instantly, Craig hotwires his Bond into the raw personality, evolving emotions and necessarily cruel thinking of Ian Fleming’s blunt instrument. Here now was a new Bond capable of both love and war.
By realising the internal mechanisms of Bond needed as much choreography and crash mats as the external jumps and kicks, Daniel Craig gave 007 the visible soul his forerunners and their eras could not. He brought out Fleming’s internal spy and laid him bare like never before.
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Until the Craig era we never had a Bond film’s explosive finale take place in his family home. Until Craig no Bond woman’s signature theme would be still recognisable four films later. Until Craig we never had a Bond mourning a dead M in his arms. And until Craig we never had enough strength of character and project to support the narrative refitting of prior films to hold more secrets and emotional resonance for future ones.
The whole of No Time to Die is testament to this — a soaring Bond opus whose pre-title sequence is more about Bond being punched by betrayal rather than henchmen, and concludes on a sunset end note with a 007 no longer that lone wolf, but a family man with decisions that now have different consequences to opening the Bollinger in an end-credit dinghy.
Just as the Bond films have always been reflective of the cultures of their time, the Craig years echo the new multi-arc Marvel-minded era of connected franchises, long-term storylines, and over-arching villainy.
Read more: Who could be the next James Bond?
Is it heresy to intrepidly evolve the Bond tropes for one film? Not at all. All the Craig films have centred upon losing families, finding new ones and tough childhoods. All of Roger Moore’s 1980s Bond films hinge upon daughters wanting to preserve their fathers’ legacies.
One vital beat of 1969's On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — and its recurring influence on No Time to Die — is a father’s love for his daughter. Bond is more prepared for Daddy Die Another Day-care than we think. Besides, Fleming himself was deeply affected by the birth of his own son.
The introduction of daughter Mathilde in No Time To Die works because Daniel Craig makes it work. He takes that weight of history the role has and with simple gestures (peeling an apple, lending a jumper, finding a lost toy) he makes it all credible. And narratively right.
And because the actor’s strength of performance in No Time To Die is arguably his best over any of his five Bond adventures, it all justifiably leads us to the one moment only Daniel Craig has ever earned in his time as Bond: to play the death of a spy.
When James Bond perishes as a new father with new-found responsibilities at the climax of Bond 25, that is not the Bond franchise shaking and stirring itself up for the sake of it. It is a part acknowledgment that after twenty-five films, the character and series have total licence to surprise and to explore. It fully endorses how Daniel Craig has allowed the Bond character to thrive like never before.
And in ending on a note of such unfamiliar finality for the Bond franchise, Craig has oddly gifted it a smarter future. Not only is No Time To Die exceeding box-office expectations and pandemic trepidations, and proving how the Bond producers’ decisions to hold tight was correct for all manner of industry and entertainment eco-systems. It also leaves the franchise with a much stronger deck of cards.
Amazon circling co-ownership of Bond’s studio rights is a better prospect for the theatrical movie Bond than assuming streaming and calling everything ‘content’ is where cinema’s future will be. In an era of Marvel domination and forthcoming big fantasy TV prequels, Amazon could well be the big tech brother 007 needs.
Bond always begins again. But now both Craig’s occupancy and departure has raised the bar of expectancy for the next fella. He will not be the next Daniel Craig. He will be the next James Bond.
And he will be anointed with a new set of criteria and necessary strengths the previous guy bequeathed the thinking and machinery of Bond movie making.
As Moneypenny notes to 007 in Spectre, “I think you’re just getting started”.
No Time To Die is in cinemas now. Watch Daniel Craig reflecting on 16 years as 007 below.