That old debate again

Brash, fun, bland, corny or broody. It doesn’t matter which Bond you like best because there will always be gadgets, gags and girls around Agent 007.

NOW that a new James Bond film is back on the screen, that age-old debate is bound to raise its head again: Who is the best Bond of them all?

The rough and ready original, Sean Connery, or the witty Roger Moore? Or, perhaps you prefer the more modern take by Pierce Brosnan?

Regardless, I can tell you what I think about Daniel Craig in the lead role – he’s not James Bond. Well, at least not the James Bond I know.

Six actors have played 007 (in fact, at least eight if you count the films not produced by London-based Eon Productions). Each of the actors infused – intentionally or otherwise – a slightly different interpretation to the role.

The first Bond movie I can remember watching was The Spy Who Loved Me. I didn’t understand at that time the fuss about having a Russian spy work with British Intelligence, but I understood everything else. The gags. The gadgets. And, yes, even at that tender age, I understood the universal appeal of the girls.

And Moore. I grew up when he was Bond, so to me, 007 was brashly confident, pun-fully witty, and cool under pressure.

In comparison, Connery was more macho and had chest hair. Despite being the original Bond (apologies to David Niven), I found him a bit old-fashioned and not as funny.

The late 70s and 80s were when I really got into James Bond. In quick succession, I was hooked on Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and then A View To A Kill. They were entertaining without being too cerebral.

And then, somebody decided that Moore was better off spending his time as a Unicef ambassador and had him replaced with Timothy Dalton, who was a very different kind of Bond.

Casting Dalton as Bond was similar to asking a Shakespearean thespian to play a comic book character or the captain of a starship.

Dalton is my favourite of all Bonds, even more so than his replacement, Brosnan, who was intended to be the quintessential Bond. Sometimes perfect casting doesn’t live up to the hype, and although Brosnan’s Bond was smart enough to adjust his tie while driving a tank through St Petersburg, he was too bland for my liking.

On the other hand, Moore was too cocksure, with danger sliding off him like he was laminated with a Teflon coating of corny jokes and double entendres.

Dalton, you believed was mortal, and he also knew that killing was not something you took lightly. It’s hard to say he brought realism to the role – in one film, he tobogganed down a mountain in a cello case and in another, he drove a tanker truck on it’s side to avoid a missile.

But Dalton did hint at what was underneath.

What is remarkable is how unlikeable the character of Bond should be. A killer and womaniser, a borderline misogynist with a whole luggage of psychological issues, to boot.

By all means, it takes a very special man to carry a Double-O licence. Probably one who would not quite fit into normal society, but makes room for himself with the help of one end or another of a Walther PPK handgun.

And yet, all this is forgotten in almost every Bond film, and we the audience are distracted by the bevy of gags, gadgets and girls that fill the screen. In fact, the fantastical sequences make you assume that Bond is equally a caricature and that his psychopathy is more comical than tragic.

Until Craig came along, in Casino Royale, that is. This was a new direction for Bond. A gritty hero who suffered pain and had a taste for revenge. And didn’t know how to have fun. Admittedly, the critics loved the new Bond, for exactly the reason that I didn’t: that he was serious, dark and broody.

There is context. The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy had been released in the years preceding Casino Royale. These two films changed the convention of the spy film with action that ran on a perpetual motion engine, and replaced humour with a man who had nothing to lose because – well, because he had nothing to lose, having lost his memory and anybody who cared for him.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace touch on similar themes of loss and a need for redemption or revenge. We see a man who has been entrusted with the highest rank an agent could have – the Double-O status – and watch him turn from a man who had never known love into one who had learned but lost it all.

Where is the fun? The gadgets? The bevy of scantily-clad ladies lining up to bed Bond?

Writer Paul Haggis was a double Oscar award winner, so his credentials are not in doubt. However, he knew he wasn’t writing a Bond film. When offered the job, he had reportedly said, “Do they know that if I write Bond I will ruin it for everyone … forever?”

This should have been anticipated. This is the swing of the pendulum, as each new incarnation tries to distance himself from his predecessor. So, a bland, polished Bond was always going to give way to something that was rough around the edges and twisted up inside.

Yet, I know I will watch Skyfall. It is still Bond, and there is adventure to be had, whatever the flavour.

Most importantly, the trailer hints at a return to the fun Bond of old. Craig’s suited James Bond leaps onto the back of a train being destroyed from the rear. As shocked passengers are taking cover from the carnage behind them, Bond quickly stands up and, without missing a beat, manages to shoot his cuffs from under his suit sleeves.

Welcome back, James.

> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.

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