I think Daniel Craig is an excellent action movie actor, but I am very happy to hear that he is moving on from James Bond. (And not at all surprised to learn that he hates the character and hates playing the character.) I think that he, along with Paul Haggis’s writing and Sam Mendes’s directing, have absolutely destroyed the James Bond franchise, to the point that the only hope to save the franchise is a complete reboot, and a new actor playing bond is a necessary piece to that.
James Bond is supposed to be a wish fulfillment fantasy. That’s both its inspiration and its appeal.
Ian Fleming worked as a secretary in a spy agency during World War II, where he got to watch other men go out on amazing adventures, but was never allowed in the field himself because he knew too many secrets to risk his capture. He desperately wanted to be one of those spies, and after the war channelled that frustrated desire into a character that could wildly surpass the real-life escapades he witnessed with every crazy scheme he could dream up. Everything from crippling an arms dealer through his luck in gambling, to recovering stolen nuclear weapons, to fighting a giant squid. (Yes, James Bond fought a giant squid in one of the books.
The fantasy of James Bond is that he kicks all the ass, plays with all the awesome toys, beds all the women, saves the world like it’s no big deal, and has a great time doing it. The most important factor about James Bond is that he has to freaking love being James Bond, so the audience can buy in to the wish fulfillment fantasy. Without that, there’s no point at all to the story or character. It’s just an arbitrary generic action movie with random things exploding and no emotional connection to the audience.
I understand that James Bond isn’t for everyone. Many people find his character, and particularly his relations with women, to be unrelatable, misogynistic, or gross. That’s fine. People have different tastes, you like what you like, and if you don’t care for James Bond I’m not going to try to convince you to change your mind. You are free to not watch the movies or read the books.
But here’s the thing: If you have complete contempt for the idea of James Bond, you probably shouldn’t be making James Bond movies. That’s a rather obvious point that Daniel Craig, Paul Haggis, and Sam Mendes seem to have missed. They should have simply said “I think James Bond is stupid, I don’t want anything to do with it, so instead I’m going to spend my time and energy making a movie I actually care about.” Instead, they decided to spend nine years, four movies, and hundreds of millions of dollars to create a deconstructivist takedown of the Bond mythos meant to subvert and destroy the franchise.
In the Daniel Craig movies, Bond’s an idiot screw-up who keeps making things worse. He’s constantly getting tortured and seeing the people he cares about killed due to his own incompetence. Instead of bedding all the women, he gets sexually dominated by men. And in the biggest inversion of what makes Bond Bond, it is clear that he loathes being James Bond and sees it as a horriffic burden.
There’s another serious problem with the Daniel Craig Bond movies: James Bond books and movies have always been, for lack of a better word, kind of dumb. (See the note above about Bond fighting a giant squid.) The villains have wild crazy schemes that don’t make a lick of sense, everyone acts bizarrely, Bond does ridiculously stupid things that would get him killed in the real world, somehow comes out of 100% fatal situations without a scratch, has unprotected sex with every beautiful woman on Earth with zero consequences, and always saves the day no matter how unlikely. But this is okay. A movie can get away with being dumb as long as it’s fun. You ignore the stupid stuff and come along for the ride.
But when a dumb movie takes itself seriously, it’s just painful. Cinemasins has an excellent rundown of just how insanely stupid/nonsensical/impossible Silva’s plan is in Skyfall. Now, we wouldn’t have cared about how ridiculous this was if we saw it in a Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, especially if it led to a car chase involving a tank. And we didn’t care about the stupidity of the end sequence in Skyfall when we saw it in the silly comedy Home Alone. But when this absurdity happened in a pretentious movie, I was rolling my eyes hard enough that you could have hooked a generator to my face and powered the projector.
Now, I understand that the Pierce Brosnan bond movies went too far in the other direction. The invisible car in Die Another Day was so silly that a reboot was the only way to recover from that. But the Craig movies way overshot this, to the point that they weren’t even recognizable as James Bond movies at all, and were just dripping with contempt for their own story, characters, and audience.
So I’m hoping the next reboot will get back to what makes James Bond the James Bond we grew up loving. We shall see.