In the wake of ‘Skyfall’ enjoying the highest financial returns and critical plaudits of any Bond film to date, it seems hard to fathom now that many fans were outraged when Daniel Craig landed the role. Craig’s casting in 2006’s ‘Casino Royale’ was pivotal to the direction change the series has taken of late, restoring a hard edge to the character that arguably hadn’t been seen since Sean Connery. However, while ‘Skyfall’ matched Craig’s first two films for character-based drama, it also revived some of the series staples, reintroducing Q, Miss Moneypenny, and a male M, all of which implies a willingness to re-embrace some of 007’s more outlandish elements.
This is a moot point considering Craig will be the fourth actor to reach four films in the role. It’s worth noting that a not-so-great precedent has been set by the films of his predecessors. As each successive film seeks to outdo the last, the fourth outing is when things tend to push credibility that bit too far, lapsing into outright absurdity.
Consider 1965’s ‘Thunderball.’ Connery’s fourth Bond came a year after what many still regard the definitive 007, ‘Goldfinger.’ Eager to go one better for gizmos and surprise reveals, the first five minutes alone of ‘Thunderball’ see Bond punch a grieving widow in the face, revealing ‘her’ to in fact be the supposedly dead husband, who Bond ensures is truly dead soon thereafter – before making a hasty exit via rocket pack. Still, even with its subsequent shark brawls and climactic underwater battle, ‘Thunderball’ is less excessive overall than its follow-up ‘You Only Live Twice,’ so we can’t be too hard on it.
However, we definitely can’t say the same for Roger Moore’s fourth 007. While the end credits of 1977’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ promised Bond would return in ‘For Your Eyes Only,’ the success of ‘Star Wars’ prompted a rethink: if audiences loved space, that was where Bond had to go. Hence 1979’s ‘Moonraker,’ which took little from Ian Fleming’s novel but the title and sent the superspy on a rocket to an orbiting space station on surely his barmiest mission, to foil a plot to literally exterminate all humanity; a bit extreme, I’m sure we’ll agree. And while Bond girls have always had a touch of innuendo to their names, Holly Goodhead really takes the biscuit.
Then there’s Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final 007, 2002’s ‘Die Another Day,’ which surely stands shoulder-to-shoulder with ‘Moonraker’ as the most oddball Bond movie yet. Its weirdness is compounded by its schizophrenic structure: the first act is genuinely unlike any Bond film, as 007 is captured, tortured, and perhaps most surprisingly bearded and long-haired once finally freed. It all seems to point toward a darker, more character-based film, much as Craig’s have been. Yet it spectacularly changes direction midway, introducing ridiculous sci-fi elements like genetic reconstruction, invisible cars and giant laser guns; piling on double entendres which are painfully unsubtle even by series standards (Halle Berry’s Jinx reports to have “got the thrust” of “Mr Bond’s big bang theory”); and set pieces that are just plain goofy. Never before had we seen Bond in a swordfight, or on a surfboard; hopefully we never will again.
As ‘Skyfall’ has re-established much of the traditional 007 set-up, can we expect Craig’s fourth film to follow suit and pile on the craziness? We might hope otherwise, given the largely grounded nature of his existing three; but let’s not forget ‘Skyfall’ saw a villain devoured by a komodo dragon, clearly indicating there’s room yet for Craig’s Bond to get a bit silly…