The latest James Bond movie ‘SPECTRE’ is currently packing them in at cinemas across the UK, auditoriums overflowing with viewers eager to see Daniel Craig reprise the role of the legendary secret agent for the fourth time.
Recent months have seen intense speculation as to whether it would prove to be four-and-out for Craig. While it had been widely assumed he would return for at least one more movie, many now-infamous remarks in interviews - most notably the sensational claim that he’d sooner slit his wrists than play Bond again - would clearly infer that Craig has reached the end of his tether as 007.
Sidestepping for now the question of whether or not Craig wants to make another (or indeed whether he is contractually obliged to do so), does the content of ‘SPECTRE’ indicate that perhaps it is the right time for the sixth Bond to hang up his tuxedo?
*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*
Film number four tends to be a curious one for all the Bond actors to reach that many. Looking back at the previous fourth outings of Bond actors - Connery’s ‘Thunderball,’ Moore’s ‘Moonraker,’ Brosnan’s ‘Die Another Day’ - it tends to be at this point that things get that bit more cartoonish.
‘SPECTRE’ certainly follows suit, being easily the most light-hearted of Craig’s films. And in the series tradition, it does boast some terrific action sequences, notably the epic Mexico City prologue and the spectacular chase sequences in Rome and the Alps.
Not unlike ‘Skyfall’ before it, ‘SPECTRE’ plays a tricky balancing act in both evoking the spirit and co-opting the iconography of earlier Bond movies, whilst also maintaining the grittier. more grounded tone established in ‘Casino Royale.’
However, it may be that ‘SPECTRE’ tries to have its cake and eat it too. The film boasts broader humour, fancier locations and more direct nods to Bond history - but at once the more nuanced, introspective character work of the last three films very much falls by the wayside.
It’s almost as if ‘SPECTRE’ can’t quite decide what sort of Bond movie it wants to be - but it feels as though the franchise as a whole is leaning away from the comparative realism of the past decade, and back toward the more more outlandish and colourful tone of yesteryear.
And if this is indeed the path Bond looks to take from here on, is Daniel Craig really the right actor to do so?
Craig has long expressed doubt in his comedic ability, telling Vulture back in 2013, “I can’t do shtick, I’m not very good at it.“ While he may be selling himself short, this discomfort with delivering witticisms is evident in ‘SPECTRE:’ beyond the early “bottoms up,” droll one-liners are in short supply, even in moments where they would seem entirely appropriate.
In another, notably Roger Moore-esque moment - falling from an exploding building directly onto a conveniently placed sofa - Craig seems ever more out of sorts.
There’s surely no denying that the Craig films have been the most revolutionary period in Bond history, breaking with series convention even more pointedly and effectively than ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ or ‘Licence to Kill.’ The more realistic approach was just what Bond needed after the infamous excesses of ‘Die Another Day.’
However, almost everything about ‘SPECTRE’ - from its deluge of pointed references to vintage 007 and its reintroduction of a classic arch-enemy (a problematic reintroduction, but that’s another discussion) - seem to indicate a return to the Bond of old; which now, curiously enough, would represent a new beginning.
Indeed, the final scenes (which of course we won’t spoil here) seem to indicate quite clearly that it’s the end of an era for 007. As such, would it even be appropriate for Craig to return for a fifth go-around?
Imagine if Pierce Brosnan had stayed on board for ‘Casino Royale’ - or if, as originally planned, Timothy Dalton returned for ‘Goldeneye.’ Would either film have proved such a shot in the arm for Bond under those circumstances?
If ‘SPECTRE’ should prove to be Craig’s swansong, it certainly wouldn’t be the worst note to go out on. But if he does return for a fifth film, some serious decisions need to be made about the tone: whether to fully embrace the return to old-fashioned spectacle, or to keep things grounded ‘Casino Royale’-style.
There can be little doubt where Craig’s rel strength lies - and even less doubt that, at this point, his enthusiasm for the role is waning. If he is to return as Bond once more, the next film had better make sure to offer the actor - and by extension, the audience - something to really get excited about.
Picture Credit: MGM/UA, Sony