I run into people all the time and by run into people I mean talk to people on the internet who tell me about their first James Bond experience and then I run into people who tell me about their best James Bond experience. I don’t talk to a lot of people who remember the Connery days. Most folks on the internet grew up in the Roger Moore period or as Connery fans call it: “the dark times.” And to these folks I would say this: you have no idea what darkness is unless you grew up in the Dalton era. Dalton was so successful in the role that they all but ended the series with License to Kill. My generation has been fortunate in that we saw the Pierce Brosnan re-vitalization and the Daniel Craig re-invention, but if you talk to any die hard Bond fan they will tell you that understanding the Bond series is a lot like understanding Vietnam: you don’t know unless you weren’t there. People talk about the Connery years in ways that Americans talk about the founding fathers. Connery was great in the role don’t get me wrong and yes, he led the James Bond revolution, but to say that there can be no debate about the greatness of the franchise outside of the Connery years is to all but deny that anything after 1971 ever happened.
If you talk to a Connery purist their argument boils down to how revolutionary the Bond films were at the time. This could be said of any moment in James Bond history. Goldeneye defined a generation of Bond fans; it was the first Bond film I ever saw and I was mesmerized by the experience. Many who lived through the Roger Moore era have similar feelings. The Roger Moore era is divisive frankly for reasons passing understanding, but pop culture was just as defined by the Roger Moore films as it was by the Connery films. I’ve heard arguments that if you take the film as a standalone The Spy Who Loved Me is the best Bond film of all time and I think this is a very compelling argument. The problem is that you can’t look at Bond films as standalones. They are part of a continuum of awesomeness that has affected no less than three generations and over one quarter of the Earth’s population. That’s right. Over 25% of people around the globe have seen a James Bond film.
The thing about the Connery films is that they were just developing the Bond formula when they were making those films and just because they were first doesn’t mean they were the best. Casino Royale was actually the first Bond film ever made and numerous actors played the part of James Bond. There’s even an American version with Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre that’s pretty funny to watch if just for the American interpretation of the James Bond character. This is to say that if you are a Connery purist then you must admit the role that earlier attempts at bringing the character to life on screen had on the development of the Bond character. Roger Moore fans have to do this by paying homage to Connery and everyone who played Bond after them had to pay homage to both of them. There are detractors who believe that George Lazenby was the best Bond. It’s difficult to take these people seriously, but hey, I understand that even the Aussies deserve a voice let’s just make sure it’s in proportion to the one given to them by the British Empire.
Timothy Dalton became Bond for The Living Daylights, which is actually not a bad film. In fact, had anyone else been Bond it probably would be in the upper eschelon of Bond films. Had this been the beginning of the Brosnan era things would look much different, but we have to deal with history as it is not history as we’d like it to be. So, we find ourselves looking at the Dalton canon of films and the only thing one can do is shake their head. What they were thinking in License to Kill is anybody’s guess. Even in the Connery era they were hesitant to give Q too much screen time and let’s not forget Benicio Del Toro as some sort of West Side Story influenced character who either didn’t make it with the Sharks or didn’t have the heart to be a Jet all the way.
You can’t pick who you grow up watching on screen. I was blessed to grow up mainly during the Brosnan years. The Brosnan years were good to us. They gave us two solid films in Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies and two nice tries with The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day (even if parts of DAD are still unwatchable.) There were a lot of mixed feelings when the producers announced that Brosnan would not be returning to the role after Die Another Day and that the role would be given to little known actor Daniel Craig. I, like many in the Bond community felt like Brosnan had been given a bit of a raw deal, but then I saw Casino Royale and that changed everything.
Casino Royale is, in my opinion, the best Bond film ever made. It is the first Bond film to look at the roots of the Bond character and it is the only film to introduce an emotional side of the character to the audience. Let us not forget that the story in Casino Royale inspired the entire Bond series, so by getting back to basics the producers were acknowledging that in order to understand where Bond adventures had taken us we needed to understand Bond in a more personal way. This is why Casino Royale works. We get to know Bond as someone willing to throw everything he’s worked for and accomplished away for a girl he barely knows and ultimately sells him out. What’s worse for Bond is that he is so conflicted over his feelings for Vesper that even in the end as Vesper commits suicide Bond still believes he not only could, but should save her not for Queen and country, but for him. This is Bond at an absolutely raw level. He is acting without caring about the consequences and he is acting out of love. The closest we get to this in any of the other films is in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
The Pierce Brosnan era was what many of us grew up in. Brosnan has turned into a surprisingly polarizing Bond. Some characterized his performance as lacking emotional depth while others deemed him too smooth and not rugged. This is much in line with how many felt about Roger Moore. One would suspect that the reasoning of two generations of Bond fans would be largely similar in their perception of various actors and their portrayals of Bond. We’re curious as to your take. Who was the Bond you grew up with and what was that experience like? Who eventually won your affection as the greatest Bond of them all?