We've seen six different actors take on the role of Britain's greatest ever spy in the Eon Productions' film series, with each of them bringing their own personal touch to the title role. The argument over who was the greatest James Bond of all is one that will rage on and is certainly not one I intend to put to bed here. I would however like to put forward the case for each Bond's greatest ever moment, the high point of their time as 007. Unsurprisingly, this is far easier for some Bonds than others. Say what you like about George Lazenby, it's easy to pick out his best movie.
Goldfinger: Many will of course maintain that Connery is the quintessential James Bond and given the consistency of his work it's really hard to argue with such a claim. Any number of his outings could warrant the accolade of being his finest moment but for me it has to be Connery outing number three, 'Goldfinger'. This is not only where Sean is truly at his peak, but it's also where the Bond franchise as a whole hit its stride. Connery always had the bravado and swagger down pat, but in 'Goldfinger' the cocksure, tongue-in-cheek charm first came in to play too. This was the movie where Connery fully hones the character of Bond and ensures he has both the physical presence to outmuscle Oddjob, and the charisma to pull off the immortal "I must be dreaming" quip after Pussy Galore is introduced. The film itself upped the ante for Bond and built on the foundations of its two predecessors, adding in extra gadgetry, bigger effects and grander stunts. For me it remains the blueprint for all the Bond movies that followed, just as Connery became the blueprint for every man who has since taken on the role.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Lazenby was always on a hiding to nothing after the iconic Connery stepped down as Bond (for the first time). It's obvious that the Australian was not the best actor, he lacked the charisma and appeal of the rest of the 007s, but in retrospect his performance here is entirely passable. The film itself has grown better with age and possesses some quality action sequences and the first example of some background characterisation of Bond, the likes of which we did not see again until the recent 'Skyfall'. Lazenby's Bond possesses genuine vulnerability and depth which can perhaps get overlooked due to his quieter and less cocky demeanour. That closing sequence as Lazenby cradles his slain wife in his arms and assures a passing cop "we have all the time in the world" remains surprisingly powerful however.
The Spy Who Loved Me: All of Roger Moore's first three Bond films were extremely strong contenders here, but ultimately I went for his third outing, Alan Partridge's favourite, 'The Spy Who Loved Me'. Roger's smirking and quip-heavy Bond may not be everyone's cup of tea but if you're partial to his eyebrow-raising ways, it's here where Moore is at his very best. There are definitely moments of campy silliness, but it's thankfully nowhere near as frequent as in later Moore outings. Despite the wisecracks, Roger still delivers as a believably suave and unflappable spy and shares great screen chemistry with co-star Barbara Bach. His Bond is even less grounded in reality than Connery's, but it all adds to the sense of escapist appeal. From the iconic Union Jack parachute in the film's introduction, to Stromberg's oceanic lair and Bond's Lotus Espirit Submarine, it's a romping action adventure movie that gets the balance between gadgets, gimmicks and genuinely enjoyable story just right. Moore was never as dashing or debonair again.
Licence To Kill: Critics at the time weren't wholly convinced by Dalton's take on Bond. Many felt the dapper English gentleman spy of old had been set aside in favour of a more violent modern day action hero. For me however, Dalton's sombre and serious take on the role was just what was needed after the smirktastic (definitely a word) tone of the final few Moore offerings. In his second outing, Dalton delivered a far darker Bond who was driven not by patriotic duty, but by revenge. 'Licence To Kill' was considerably more violent and graphic than its predecessors and was in effect a gateway from the fun and frolics of the 70s Bond's into the modern day Bond of Brosnan and Craig. Bond diehards may bemoan the lack of one-liners and innuendos, but this was an interesting new take on the character and one which Dalton delivered with straight-faced aplomb.
Goldeneye: Brosnan's debut as Bond remains his high point by some considerable way. Re-watching 'Goldeneye' after a fairly long time reminded me not just how strong it was, but also just how quippy Brosnan's Bond remained. While he did bring a far more modern day Bond, there was definitely still the campy dialogue and gadgetry that were jettisoned come the second big upheaval that ushered in Daniel Craig. Still, Brosnan looked the part, handsome and suave throughout, and yet also has the cockiness required to pull off the role. Whether it's straightening his tie as he drives a tank through a crowded St Petersburg, or taming Famke Janssen's volatile Xenia Onatopp in a steaming bath house, he's never flustered. It was all downhill from here really as each new instalment upped the ridiculousness and moved away from the dynamic action of 'Goldeneye', but here Brosnan's Bond was exceptionally good.
Skyfall: It's no secret that many people doubted if Craig could pull off the role when he was first confirmed, but his debut 'Casino Royale' soon put any fears to rest. This was very much a 21st Century, post-Bourne Bond. It was 2012's 'Skyfall' though, a film which lest we forget made over a billion at the box office and is the highest grossing film ever in the UK, which proved his finest hour. Here was a Bond aware of his limitations and racked with self-doubt. Ice-cold and wary, he was a complex Bond the likes of which we had simply not seen to this point. We finally saw a glimpse of the man behind the super sleuth and Craig absolutely nails the role giving it just enough vulnerability whilst still completely looking the part in the scintillating action sequences. Craig arguably proves in 'Skyfall', especially during scenes such as the teary denouement near his ancestral home, that he is the most skilled actor to play Bond, even if he is perhaps not the best Bond per se.
Rob Keeling is a freelance writer and film fanatic based in Manchester. He covers all things James Bond for Yahoo and his favourite movies include Goodfellas, Back to the Future, The Godfather and Casablanca. Rob has written for a array of websites and magazines on topics ranging from The Hobbit to Die Hard. Follow Rob Keeling on Twitter.
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