Amid a protracted take in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, Daniel Craig plays a pensive James Bond sat tied to a chair waiting for a lift to descend on a remote island. Flanked by henchmen and surrounded by servers and loose cables, Bond, like many of us, is at the confluence of the old and new world.
The lift opens to introduce Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), Spectre’s chief antagonist. While Craig’s Bond at this point has had a couple of outings revealing his pragmatic, dutiful nature, it is the slow crawl of Silva’s monologue that reveals the true nature of this version of Bond. Silva compares Bond and him to rats that have survived through cannibalised horrors, that this is what “she” made them, referring to M (Judi Dench).
Bond prioritises the mission. He is an agent, with agency, but this is not the Bond we once knew. The rebellion towards the mission is absent. He does not sample life’s pleasures at the expense of responsibility. There is none of Moore’s quintessential hijinks, Brosnan’s renegade nature, and no trace of Connery’s insouciant disregard. Even the lean Connery sports in the clip below would be unthinkable for a rigid tool of destruction.
This is a serious Bond, for serious times, when Hollywood promoted grit above plot. Where a masculine figure is defined to be excessively cut to the point of preened and perfumed, and far from reckless expression. This Bond rises from the waters like Ursula Andress in Dr. No, drawing a damsel in distress comparison that ought to be absent.
Silva exposes that he was once where Bond sits. A 00 agent at the behest of M. A mother for a mother country. Bond is held together with tape at this point, as Silva reveals the lies told to him about his field readiness. This Bond is barely fit for duty, in a state of disrepair like the building surrounding him.
Silva reveals that Bond failed his physical, medical, and psychological evaluation and was suggested for suspension. In a line that captures the tension between Bond and the feminine, Silva states “Mommy was very bad”. A homoerotic scene emerges between the two surviving rats in the midst of the tension. Bond is played here to have the upper hand, as he suggests it’s not the first time he’s experienced this.
In the larger view Bond is clearly a sympathetic element to a Mother that does not care for him and in fact weaponizes his need to serve a function. Coupled with Silva’s teasing, we see a Bond that delights in submission. There is, spare focus on the mission, no rebellion in Craig’s Bond, unless it’s to complete the mission. The driving force of an individual, is laughably absent.
The Masculine Relic
Silva lays out the scene, that Bond is part of the ruins, he is a relic. The Empire, England, all of this is retrograde. Brosnan’s Bond knew it, when Alex Trevelyan in Goldeneye on the brink of death suggests “For England, James?”, to which Brosnan’s version starkly utters “no, for me.” It is unimaginable that this subservient Bond would articulate such a self-focused line.
In the middle of the old and new world, Silva discusses how his technological influence can disrupt multinationals and spy satellites, how he chooses his own missions. For a split second, Bond is tempted by the concept. He has a flash of a life not under foot, but returns to type when Silva asks what is his hobby. He retorts “resurrection.” An ironic conveyance of personal value, in the most basic terms, and Skyfall does promote this very idea.
The Daniel Craig era Bond is held up as a masculine tool of destruction, but in that is somewhat disregarded as an individual due to this instrumentation of character. He wears Tom Ford and fights like Bronson and even has a deep emotional core, but this core only exists to stand in contrast to the no-nonsense, mission-first exterior. He is Jason Bourne in a tuxedo, moping when the pieces don’t fall into place.
In Casino Royale this Bond excelled in charting a new future for the franchise. The cold-blooded interludes in-between high-stakes mind games offered a perfect setting for Bond’s distanced calculating. The employment of reason in less physical terms highlighted an individual nature, as well as verbal sparring to match fights in bloody stairways.
Bond is a masculine icon. In the legacy of the films, men sought to be him and women to be around him, but Daniel Craig’s Bond lacks the individual nature required for being irrepressible. He is an extension of an organisation, and sparks of rebellion are extensions of being manipulated into uncompromising duty. This Bond is for England, but England no longer cares for him.
Despite looking the part, Craig’s Bond is submissive to orders; he does not skirt them. The classic scenario of MI6 not reaching him because he is with an exotic woman eludes this version. That’s the reward-based play of yesteryear. The franchise formula is repeated, but the charm is absent. A man does what he wants, not what he is told. That, as Silva rightly alludes to, is because he is a lapdog.
There is no amount of verbal framing, such as cockiness during the torture in Casino Royale, or the initial repartee with Vesper, that takes away from the fact Bond does not flirt with the mission. It is all he has. Where all Bonds previous would play cat and mouse with responsibility inbetween golf, seduction and Baccarat, Daniel Craig’s Bond is irrevocably dependent on it. He is nothing without an authority.
Bond’s threat was always in the fact that he would do whatever it takes, in line with whatever he wanted. He never boasted a big arsenal, often carrying a compact Walther PPK. Yet at the climax of Casino Royale, he stands over a body with a UMP45, a submachine gun, not like a charming individualist, but an eager, willing soldier, ready to follow the next order blindly.