Understanding The Daniel Craig Bond Era | Tom Burroughes

Thinking through all the reviews that have now come out over No Time To Die, the final Daniel Craig James Bond film, and on which he was a co-producer, it is rational to blame some of what critics think has gone wrong on forces such as political correctness/Cancel Culture, etc, or Mr Craig’s vanity in wanting to go out with the biggest bang and to hell with the series. One might also criticise the existence of too many writers on the script rather than a central hand.

Other factors played a part in driving the Craig era, however, in my view.

Let’s start with Jason Bourne and the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible series of action films. These put Eon – the firm producing the Bond films – under competitive pressure. Bourne was all about jerky camera angles, huge focus on chases and stunts, non-CGI action, “gritty” realism, hardly any romantic storylines apart from the odd fling with a girl who winds up dead very fast, etc. Mission Impossible was much more exciting, had more flair, humour, romance and flirtation, and it had great villains. It seemed as if Cruise owned the “battlespace” once owned by Bond in the 1960s and parts of subsequent decades, albeit with notable breaks when Bond was going into self-parody (some of the Moore efforts, the last Brosnan flick).

Parody takes me to the person who probably did a lot to rattle Barbara Broccoli and the others, and prompt a turn for a largely humour-free, angst-ridden Bond: Mike Myers. The Austin Powers spoofs were so funny, so clever and on-target, that while some Bond fans claim to love the joke, I think Broccoli colleagues were actually pretty irritated and shaken up. Bond had become a punchline. Post 9-11, that was not good enough.

9/11 and for that matter, the global financial crisis, took us to scarier, more dreadful moments. But unlike the Cold War (Cuban Missile Crisis, etc), in the early Noughties confidence in Western institutions and values had fallen from where they were after the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The fall of the Berlin Wall brought the capitalist West a level of kudos again, but it is remarkable how little of the intellectual dividend in showing the disasters of Communism has endured. We’d “won” on economics for a while. On lots of other issues, the postmodern Left was making big gains, such as in universities. The victories under Mrs Thatcher, Reagan and the others were incomplete. It is worth noting that although the Secret Service had some credibility in tracking down and foiling terror plots, the fiasco over Iraq and the “dodgy dossier” in the UK did damage as bad as that of the Cambridge spies. The British Secret Service had lost shine. Fleming was no longer around to craft a brilliant hero and set of stories to restore morale and point to something better, if only in morale-boosting terms. The film-makers lacked, I think, the skills to tackle the task.  

In that environment, along came the new Bond.

The film-makers appear to have decided, partly because they want to distribute the product into China, for example, that they are going to avoid real geopolitics in thinking about plausible villains. They avoided references to Putin, west China concentration camps or radical Islamic terrorism. Instead, the films create ever more apolitical, fantastical bodies such as knock-offs of SPECTRE, with ever less credible motives (although least Ian Fleming’s Ernst Blofeld was driven by vanity and greed). To balance this increasingly desperate hunt for fake villainy rather than confront real ones, the character of Bond had to be made more “realistic”. In today’s movie business, to be realistic is to be joyless, and to constantly question the rightness of one’s cause. (Bond has his self-doubts in the original books, but they are to some extent within boundaries).

In this context, Daniel Craig appeared the perfect fit. In great physical shape, not conventionally graceful and good looking like the earlier Bonds, with a sort of scowling demeanour and grumpy attitude to the job (he’s always either being broken in as an agent or coming out of retirement, for goodness sake), not particularly good around the ladies (with odd exceptions), he fits the modern bill. While a few good elements were there (I liked Casino Royale), the general outcome is what we have had for the past 15 years.

Going forward, in a time of talk about Net Zero, Build Back Better, Great Reset, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Toxic Masculinity, Decolonising History, Critical Race Theory, and all the rest of this, we need a constructive way out that films can provide in lifting people up. Let’s go back to fun, zest for life, defeating the bad guys and doing the right thing without endlessly regurgitating old hurts. If Eon thinks we can repeat what’s gone on in recent years, the whole Kaboodle is over. Let the sods of earth rain on the coffin.

By way of background, Tom Burroughes is a business and financial journalist in London. This article was written from his personal point of view, with no necessary endorsement from his business colleagues.

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