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M.J. Daugherty Written by M.J. Daugherty
Nov. 14, 2005 | 9:43 PM

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THE CURSE OF BOND: Why Daniel Craig is doomed as 007

by M.J. Daugherty

Unless you’ve spent the last few weeks living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the big news by now: a new actor has been picked to play James Bond.  Pierce Brosnan and the franchise’s producers have negotiated a cease fire in their media snipe-fest.  The public handicapping of various actors’ chances of having their martinis shaken not stirred is finally over, and fans are breathing a sigh of relief now that they know their hero is in the hands of?Daniel Craig, an actor who is better known for allegedly hooking up with Jude Law’s ex-fianc?e than he is for any of his work.  Actually, that sigh of relief seems more like a shriek of panic. 

To be fair to Mr. Craig, he is a solid character actor who has been saddled with some forgettable roles in his career.  Other than Tomb Raider, most of his work has been in small independent features and costume dramas, and even in that movie, he wasn?t exactly playing the lead.  So it’s totally understandable that he (and those who love him) would greet this opportunity to become a household name with excitement.  His mother couldn’t even wait for the official announcement, and spilled the news in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Guardian in which she gushed that “It will be life-changing.”  There’s no question that his life will change as a result of playing Bond, but unfortunately, it may not be in the way that he had hoped.

To say that proving himself as Bond is going to be an uphill battle is like saying the Titanic was a pretty big boat.  The naysayers have already begun to sharpen their knives, complaining that he’s not a strong enough choice to take over the role from Pierce Brosnan, the most popular Bond since Sean Connery.  Critics have grumbled that he?s not charismatic enough or attractive enough, and even that he has the wrong hair color to play Bond.  At the heart of these issues, however, is a shortcoming that Craig will never be able to overcome.  Simply put, he is not Pierce Brosnan.  To make his job even more difficult, Craig is stepping into the role at a time when the franchise is undergoing something of an identity crisis, one that has been brought on not by the changing tastes of the audience, but by the filmmakers themselves. 

The next movie, Casino Royale, is the first James Bond film in 18 years to be adapted from the original series of books by Ian Fleming.  Published in 1953, Casino Royale was the first book to feature the super-spy character, and it gives readers some insight into the origins of Bond?s persona.  When producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman bought the film rights to the series in 1961, Casino Royale was not part of the deal, as it had already been adapted for TV shortly after its publication.  The company that did hold the rights eventually offered to co-produce the film with Broccoli and Saltzman, but the producers turned them down, as did Sean Connery when they later approached him to appear in an independently produced version.  It was finally turned into a feature in 1967, not as an official Bond movie, but as a comic spoof in the vein of Austin Powers.  The makers of the 2006 film have made it clear that they intend to stay true to the plot and tone of the original book, hoping to lure new fans to the franchise; yet by doing so, they run the risk of alienating the existing audience that has kept it afloat for so long. 

**Warning: the following paragraph contains spoilers.  Read it at your own risk!**

The problem is that while Casino Royale is a great Cold War espionage thriller, it just isn’t Bond, at least not the Bond that fans have come to know and love.  The filmmakers claim that they are styling it as a prequel about how Bond became Bond, but that argument doesn?t quite hold up given Craig?s age (37, older than Sean Connery was when he first appeared in the role).  Then again, prequel or not, this more idealistic Bond may not work for audiences already attuned to the conventions of the series.  In the book, he falls in love and gets his heart broken into a million pieces when the girl turns out to be an archetypical bad news Bond girl - a twist that today?s audiences will no doubt see coming from a mile away.  There are no witty exchanges with Q or Moneypenny (in fact, those two beloved characters aren’t even in the book, although the filmmakers do appear to be making some room for them into the movie).  Bond doesn’t even get any fun gadgets to play with.  For many fans, however, the final proof that this isn’t the real James Bond can be found in the way that he handles the bad guys.  Instead of an action packed climax, this Bond resolves his problems over (gasp!) a card game.  Frankly, it will take a lot more than adding in Judi Dench as M to put this story in line with the established world of the series.  If the filmmakers aren?t able to satisfactorily reconcile the differences between the two, Daniel Craig’s fate as Bond may be sealed before he even steps in front of the camera.

Then again, he should have known that it wouldn’t be easy when he took the role.  No actor has ever fared well by replacing a long-standing Bond (something that those moaning about how the role should have gone to Clive Owen or Hugh Jackman ought to bear in mind).  Look at what happened to George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, both of whom stepped into the role at times when the producers were seeking to shift the tone toward a darker and more realistic portrayal of the world.  For Lazenby, the result was disastrous, and the producers pulled the plug on his career as Bond after only one movie.  Dalton fared a much better, and churned out two decent (if slightly unpopular) movies before deciding that it wasn?t fun anymore and calling it quits.  But, although he was perhaps the strongest actor ever to take on the role of Bond (watch any of his ?classical? pre-Bond work if you doubt it), Dalton’s persona got stuck on “man of action” after playing 007, and he had a hard time going back to the sort of dramatic projects in which he was more at home.  If Craig isn’t careful, the same fate may await him. 

Of course, it is possible to play Bond and continue to have a thriving career outside of the role.  Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan both managed to balance their duties as Bond with well-received turns in other movies at the same time, but some of that success was due to their cashing in on the good-will audiences had for their years of service as Bond.  Even after leaving the franchise, it took Sean Connery several films and a lot of extremely hard work to completely shake off the image of 007 (some argue that he still hasn?t).  It still remains to be seen whether Pierce Brosnan will be able to replicate his success.  Craig does have one thing going for him that no other actor playing Bond has previously had: he is not a traditional leading man.  This quality may allow him to slip into more ?charactery? roles to help separate himself from Bond, but then again, it?s hard to know if audiences will want to see him as anyone else.  Popularity as Bond doesn?t guarantee popularity outside of the role.  Audiences liked Roger Moore well enough during his time as 007, but how many people can name one movie that he?s done since then? 

All that aside, it is possible that Daniel Craig may surprise everyone by proving the critics wrong.  Heck, he may win over even the most cynical of fans, and turn out to be the greatest Bond in the history of the franchise.  Casino Royale?s director Martin Campbell has successfully tackled the rebirth of Bond before with GoldenEye.  Of course, that was the start of Pierce Brosnan’s reign as Bond, and fans were excited about seeing him in the role after his work on the TV series “Remington Steele.”  They knew that he had all the qualities they wanted in their hero, and more importantly, they sensed that he understood and respected the unwritten law that came with the privilege of playing Bond.  They trusted him to fix the flaws without messing up the parts that worked. 

If Daniel Craig hopes to win over skeptical fans of the franchise, he’d be well advised to follow Brosnan?s example.  Instead of talking about moving the character “somewhere he’s never been before,? he?d fare a lot better by reassuring fans that when Casino Royale is finally released “James Bond will return.”  Because in the end, they really don?t care who is playing him as long as they know that the 007 they love will continue to live on.