The Eon Production produced James Bond series started with Dr. No on 5th October 1962. The series has been going on for nearly 60 years. The titular character has been played by six different actors over twenty-five movies. In anticipation of the upcoming No Time to Die (Daniel Craig’s final Bond film), I will go through each of the actor’s eras and discuss how the series has progressed analysing both its ups and downs.
Sean Connery (1962-1971)
The run that started a series that would go on for fifty-plus years. With that being said I feel it is more inconsistent than most would give credit. But when it is good it has some of the best Bond adventures. My two favourite films in this run are Goldfinger and From Russia with Love. Both of these films work for mostly the same reasons. They have fantastic stories, classic villains, and exhilarating action. They are iconic of the era. In my opinion, these are some of the best films in the series. I will also say that the setting up of SPECTRE leading up to You Only Live Twice is very well done and almost like what we saw in phase one of the MCU.
That being said, I do feel like this era is the most dated out of the classic run. This mostly being exemplified by Dr. No. I feel this is seen in the ‘yellowface’ used to portray the villain and some ugly racial stereotyping at points. It, unfortunately, taints what is ultimately a pretty solid movie.
His weakest film in the role is his last (official) film, Diamonds are Forever. This ultimately feels like he came back for the paycheque. It’s a lazy story and not interesting at all. For the third time in eight films, they reuse Blofeld and it’s just a boring film for the most part.
George Lazenby (1969)
I find George Lazenby’s era in this series very interesting. Given he only appeared in one film and it was his first acting role. He also was somewhat concurrent with Sean Connery as he took over again for the next film Diamonds are Forever. There is a surprising amount of people who will write off Lazenby’s film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but I feel that it does have a lot of merit to it.
It was very much the first Bond that showed consequences to his actions. This mostly being seen at the films climactic scene. With Connery’s first batch of films we see him very much as the spy and not the person as much. This film is notable for being the first time Bond has fallen in love (and not just used a woman to help with a mission or as a sexual object). Teresa (as played by the late Diana Rigg) is a much stronger female protagonist for the series. There are lots of elements in this film that would be carried over into later films. The lesser emphasis on gadgets would be used in the Craig era. So would the more emotional elements of the plot exploring themes like loss and consequences.
Roger Moore (1973-1985)
The Roger Moore era of James Bond has arguably one of the most iconic portrayals of the character. His portrayal is a lot less serious than that of Connery’s. He is more prone to quip at various moments and his films are more fun and are made to entertain the audience.
A recurring element of his films was that they reflect what was popular at the time in cinema. This is mostly seen in Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker. Live and Let Die reflects the blaxploitation era of cinema by using elements of that in its story with its use of a more urban setting. The Man with the Golden Gun uses elements of martial arts cinema in its story. It also (oddly) has two cast members from The Wicker Man (released the previous year) in lead roles. Those two cast members being Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland. Moonraker has sequences set in space that reflect the popularity at the time of both Star Wars and Close Encounters of The Third Kind.
In my opinion, his finest hour as Bond was in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. The film is incredibly fun and contains elements that would be synonymous with the Moore era of the series. That being it is over the top villains, its use of gadgets, and its (in retrospect cheesy) romantic scenes. The film is very exciting. It is the one I would most recommend out of the Moore films in the series.
His weakest film was his final film as the character. That being 1985’s A View to a Kill. Despite having great villains in Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin and Grace Jones as May Day it just is not an interesting film. It also does not help that due to his age Moore could not convincingly play the character anymore. By the end of the film, he has quite literally thrown in the towel.
Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)
Timothy Dalton’s era came at an interesting time for the franchise. He took over the role from Roger Moore after he bowed out. Dalton brings the franchise back to a more realistic tone in a way. He starred in The Living Daylights and License to Kill.
License to Kill is, in my opinion, the superior film. This being because it does something different. In this film Bond goes rogue after disobeying M’s orders and pursuing a personal revenge mission. The film takes on a much darker tone and is surprisingly violent. There are some shocking moments in this film such as a man being nearly mauled to death by sharks. The film is incredibly tense as Bond goes on a mission for revenge. There are some fantastic action scenes that are well directed and covered. Overall it is an intense film and one of my personal favourites of the entire series.
Pierce Brosnan (1995-2002)
After a legal dispute stalled the next film, Dalton left the franchise. Pierce Brosnan stepped in for 1995’s GoldenEye. It also sees the first female M (played by Judi Dench). This is one of the franchise’s most widely acclaimed installments. It also spawned one of the most popular video games of the 1990s. It is not hard to see why this is. GoldenEye is a very fun and exciting adventure for the series. It has an interesting story with lots of fun twists and turns as well as some truly excellent set-pieces. My favourite of which being the tank chase. I really enjoy this film.
I will say though that I actually prefer 1997s Tomorrow Never Dies. In my opinion, the one issue I had with GoldenEye is that it felt very reminiscent of the Dalton era instead of defining Brosnan’s era. This movie feels like it’s more suited to the way Brosnan plays Bond. While the story is mediocre. The film, however, has a lot of style and personality to it that I really enjoy. Michelle Yeoh is great in this as Wai Lin (the films ‘Bond girl’) and she brings a lot of fun physicality to the role. It’s an entertaining film packed with action.
Die Another Day is by far my least favourite entry in the series. It does have some positives. However, you can still tell that Brosnan is trying his best and that is commendable. The story is ridiculous and borderline nonsensical at points. The writing is at times almost laughable. There is also too much CGI in this film that looks incredibly dated. The film’s theme is horrendous. It feels like a movie that is trying to be much more cool than it actually is.
Daniel Craig (2006-202?)
Daniel Craig has technically portrayed the character for the longest amount of time. In my opinion, he has the two best films in the entire franchise. Those being Casino Royale and Skyfall. What I feel these films do perfectly is to ground Bond in a way that I didn’t think that he had been grounded before. They are brutal, violent, and intense.
Casino Royale provides an epic origin story for Bond and is easily my favourite in the franchise. This is more a film about James Bond instead of Agent 007, in my opinion. What I really like is that we do not hear the classic James Bond theme until the end. By that climax, he has become the agent we know. I also like how this film is painful. In multiple scenes, you feel the impact of the beatings and fights. I am still surprised that the BBFC gave it a 12a.
Skyfall is effective in a similar fashion. We have a Bond story where he is almost matched by the antagonist (played excellently by Javier Bardem). We also get a great depiction of the almost mother/son relationship between Judi Dench’s M and Craig’s Bond. I think that this provides the emotional backbone to the film. The film is extremely gritty and as with Casino Royale you feel the impact of all of the violence in the film. It’s also the most emotional Bond film for me. It also has easily one of the best Bond themes with Adele’s title song.
His two intervening films are a mixed bag. 2015’s Spectre is an interesting film with the long-awaited reintroduction of the organisation not seen since the Connery era. It has dazzling action sequences and is shot beautifully. Craig is on top form as Bond and does a fantastic job in the film. As do the rest of the cast. However, the uninteresting plot and deeply questionable writing become the issue here. 2008’s Quantum of Solace is an absolute mess of a film. A hyper-edited disaster, in my opinion. While Craig and Dench are ok in their roles the film around them is deeply flawed. The editing and camera work is awful and the writing makes the film both annoying and very boring to sit through. It also feels deeply inconsequential in the totality of the storyline of Craig’s adventures as Bond.