As we approach the end of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond, a few thoughts on the early threads for his character and where they went.

Slight spoilers for Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace lie ahead.

By the time the 25th James Bond movie, No Time To Die, is finally released in cinemas, the incumbent 007 – Daniel Craig – will be celebrating 15 screen years in the role. Furthermore, at the age of 53, he’ll be just a few years shy of Roger Moore in his final appearance as Bond (A View To A Kill), and we’re promised that the new film will wrap up the entire Craig era. An ending of sorts.

Like the rest of you, I’ve not seen No Time To Die, and thus I’ve no idea how successfully or not it manages this. I add my name to the list of people who found Spectre’s attempts to retrofit things a little clunky (although I still enjoy most of the film), and aren’t from the outside looking in entirely convinced that everything needs to knit together. But I’m very much looking forward to the new film, and very happy to be proved wrong.

I’m also one of those who thinks that the Daniel Craig era of Bond has got an awful lot right. Even revisiting the least-well received – his second outing in Quantum Of Solace, for all the issues with the movie that could happily fill an article, the fact that it followed immediately on from Casino Royale was very much a tick for me. Because what it allowed Craig to do was build on what had been set up in the previous movie: a raw James Bond, and a very blunt tool. This couldn’t have been more of a contrast from the 007 of the 1990s.

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In fact, an early career 007 was the premise on which the 2006 James Bond reboot was built (and had been chatted about even at the start of the Brosnan era). That we’d get to see an agent just prior to being awarded his 00-status, and to see him a long way from the more refined secret operative we saw through the Pierce Brosnan films that preceded it. The movie ecosystem Casino Royale landed in too was one where blockbusters were going dark, and they needed to be less glossy and more gritty. Casino Royale successfully redefined the 007 movies against that backdrop (Batman Begins landed the year before), but also gave us instantly the most dangerously-feeling Bond himself since Timothy Dalton’s take on the character went rogue in Licence To Kill.

We see elements of that in Quantum Of Solace. A James Bond who – much to the frustration of Judi Dench’s M – keeps killing people when he’s been specifically asked not to (it happens more than once in the film). In the midst of the muddled plot and the easily-beatable villain, there are real flickers of a different 007. Not just driven by revenge and guilt from the story before, but actively dangerous and guided by his clouded interpretation of duty, certainly not the take his employers subscribe to.

The younger, unvarnished Bond then. The one that had been wanted by the producers for some time. Even by the end of the film, there’s a lot more to give there: threads from Casino Royale may have been resolved, but this is still a James Bond wrestling with just where he fits in (having just been given his job back).

By the time we get to the next Bond adventure though, the deservedly hugely successful Skyfall, the potential of following a damaged, less experienced Bond seemed quickly in the rear view mirror. Gone without us seeing the path to a 007 far more assured of his position. Still his own man, but not the loose cannon that in Quantum Of Solace in particular he comes across as being. It feels like we missed a part of the story I’d really like to have seen.

I was first drawn to just what an opportunity had been passed up here by the Twitter account of Oscar-winning director Peter Ramsey. He briefly touched on this a year or so back, and I’ve long had on my list doing the first two Craig Bond movies one after the other to take a proper look as a result. When I got to the films again, I found myself softening a little towards Quantum. Sure, there’s always been fun in the crossover of characters – Leiter, Mathis and Mr White – but the direct continuation of Bond’s own journey really struck me. I was reminded that even at the end of Quantum, Bond was a long way from complete. By Skyfall, a lot of gaps appeared to have been filled in.

Now there are reasons for this, of course. The narrative of Skyfall called for a slightly evolved version of Craig’s Bond, given just what he was going to be put up against. But also, there’d been an unexpectedly long gap between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall’s release. The two years between Craig’s initial 007 films kept some momentum going, the four years between films two and three slowed things down. Craig had never portrayed a young Bond per se, but it’d been four years since he’d donned the tuxedo by the time Skyfall started filming, and the prolonged gap did make fast-tracking him to being a more experienced 007 fairly logical.

The delay between Quantum and Skyfall was enforced for non-movie reasons, with huge financial difficulties at parent studio MGM leading to a high profile postponement of the latter movie. And, when it did finally go ahead, a primarily British-set adventure was required because the budget just needed to be pulled in a bit. MGM was over its initial cashflow issues, but it was hardly flush with readies. If there’d been a more determined plan for a Casino Royale 3, if you will, this the extra passage of time eroded it.

Furthermore, I do wonder if the creatives were spooked by the grumpy response to Quantum Of Solace.

Whilst Casino Royale was swamped with acclaim (it earned a sizeable number of BAFTA nominations, and not just technical ones), the editing, plot and villain of Quantum came in for sharp criticism. Sure, the film ably did the necessary box office dollars, but as a movie and story, it felt like a very notable step back. It also didn’t take long for Daniel Craig for one to be open about his disappointment with the end result (the rushed nature of the movie in large part down to a writer’s strike that limited just what they could do with the material once the greenlight for the film had been given), and he wasn’t alone.

Perhaps it was felt that some course correction was required: the old adage that the decisions made over the next film are in part a reaction to the response to the last.

Whatever the reason, it’s led us to a point that by the time we got to Daniel Craig’s fourth Bond outing, Spectre, he was no longer the untrusted, raw weapon for the Secret Service. Instead, the ecosystem around Bond had to be ripped up to manufacture the conflicts with 007’s employers. We moved from Bond being out of control and part of the problem, to 007 being more the loyal company man and MI6 itself fully under the microscope. An inversion of where we were with Casino Royale.

Logical, perhaps, it just feels that in screen time terms, we got there rather quickly.

Which leaves us now awaiting the first James Bond movie in six years, No Time To Die, and the fifth for Daniel Craig. Given this is widely expected to be his last 007 adventure, it’s a fair bet that it’ll be an experienced Bond, perhaps primed for another reboot to bring that rawness back.

For as much as I’ve very much enjoyed his tenure, and respect the fact that he’s brought a different edge to the role, I do still lean towards feeling that an opportunity was only partly taken with his casting. Imagine for a minute if it had been possible for James Bond 23 – that became Skyfall – to have been up and running in half the time, closer to the original plan. I can’t help but wonder if it’d been an opportunity to further flesh out the character as a novice double-0, still feeling his way into the job and still making his mistakes.  Of course, given that Skyfall currently stands as the most successful and one of the most acclaimed James Bond movies of all time, I can’t suggest that parent companies Eon and MGM would agree. I’d imagine most of the audience is perfectly happy with what they got too.

Where Bond goes next we’ll have a clearer idea of over the next year or so. After all, the casting of the next 007 is going to be a real challenge given what Craig has done with the role. Furthermore, he’s now the longest-running continuous screen 007, even if circumstances have led to us only getting five films to show for it.

But we all know that James Bond is certain to return. What’s less certain is will the recasting of the role lead to another more dramatic press of the reboot button, to perhaps take us back to the less refined, more broken version of Britain’s most famous secret agent? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll be there day one for No Time To Die, and with considerable enthusiasm. This era of 007 has shown the potential of taking a riskier path. Hopefully it all ends as well as it started…

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