We may go see the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, this weekend. I think Daniel Craig is an exceptionally good James Bond, but I still put Sean Connery at the top of the Bond l– James Bond — list.
When you think about it, playing Bond isn’t easy. He’s supposed to be a handsome, charming rogue who is irresistible to the ladies. He has to deliver droll lines with impeccable timing. He must look dashing in a tuxedo, play expert baccarat, and order a drink with style. He must seem intelligent, capable of acting as an independent spy, and able to respond effectively to the unexpected. And, most fundamental of all, he must be believable as an unstoppable, cold-blooded killer. The whole point of James Bond, of course, is that he has a license to kill and is perfectly comfortable with his role as assassin.
It’s the last point, I think, where most Bonds have fallen short. The pretty boy Bonds — and I put Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan in that category — never seemed credible as the ruthless, single-minded killing juggernaut. Connery always did. His Bond was a big man, sharp as a razor, who looked like he actually could win a fight to the death with Odd Job or Robert Shaw’s unflappable Russian killer. In the two finest Bond movies, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, Connery managed to bring all of the Bond elements together in one stunning package. You knew he meant it when he told some femme fatale that he had enjoyed her favors solely for king and country. If I were a supervillain or a supervillain’s henchman, Connery’s Bond would be the one I feared the most.
After the Connery era ended, the Bond series has veered in various directions. Many of the Roger Moore movies — and some of them were pretty good — focused more on over-the-top scenarios and humor, rather than the stone-hearted killer that is Bond’s core. Other Bond movies have gone too far in the direction of gadgetry, or absurd conquer the world schemes, or “Bond girls.” All of those movies, I think, also lost some of the essence of Bond.
I’m glad that the two Daniel Craig efforts I’ve seen so far have moved Bond back into his role as flinty-eyed assassin who will complete his murderous mission without much reflection. Craig, like Connery, also is believable as someone who would unthinkingly snap some stranger’s neck like a dry twig in order to complete his assignment. At some point, Craig’s Bond might be a contender — but for now, Sean Connery’s Bond remains definitive.