Joe’s Take

I’d call myself a James Bond fan, but not an expert. I’ve seen every Bond film released after my birth starting with Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal in 1995’s “GoldenEye.” Because of this, Brosnan as Bond engulfed my childhood. It wasn’t just his four films, but also Nintendo 64’s “GoldenEye” is one of the greatest video games of all time. My friends and I played it constantly. I also had the “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “The World Is Not Enough” PlayStation games. So, Brosnan was 007 for me. I based the franchise on his movies. I also went back and watched four Sean Connery Bond films (“From Russia with Love,” “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice”), which I enjoyed. Watching the older films now and the Brosnan movies, it’s pretty easy to believe the character and franchise were pretty goofy. That’s what I believed and I had no problem with that. I looked for Bond films to simply entertain me and they did.

However, after the putrid “Die Another Day” with an older Brosnan, Bond clearly needed a new direction to breathe life into the franchise.

Enter Daniel Craig.

Whether audiences love or hate him, the game most definitely changed in 2006. He’s easily my favorite, but like I said earlier I’ve only seen 12 Bond films and three actors portray the role. That also doesn’t mean all of his films were great. His fifth run at 007, “No Time to Die,” was set to release in April, but the coronavirus outbreak pushed it back to Nov. 25. In the meantime, Rebecca and I will rank the four films already in the books from least favorite to favorite.

Jeffrey Wright, left, and Daniel Craig star in “Quantum of Solace” (2008).

4. “Quantum of Solace” (2008)

This was the most excited I had been for a Bond film. The trailer set it up as a revenge plot and I really enjoy watching that kind of story play out on screen. It was also the first time the films were connecting. The plot of “Casino Royale,” specifically Vesper Lynd’s death, carried over to “Quantum of Solace.” However, that wasn’t the whole plot. It was kind of thrown in because the story “Quantum of Solace” had was pretty dull. I don’t even really remember the plot that well. Something about water? Or maybe oil? Or both?

It just seemed so rushed after the successful “Casino Royale.” The film is forgettable and most importantly a huge step back from “Casino Royale.” The villain, Dominic Greene (Had to look that up), proves bland and all the good characters came from the previous movie, including Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and of course M (Judi Dench).

It has a few good scenes. One comes when 007 meets Leiter as he is being chased and they have a quick conversation before Bond has to take off. My favorite part is the opera scene when Bond compromises a private meeting knowing full well the bad guys will descend on him within seconds. Very impressive sequence, but not enough to save the film. When I saw it in theaters, I didn’t like it. I’ve watched it a few times after and have upgraded it to a shoulder shrug meh.

3. “Spectre” (2015)

From left, Daniel Craig, Christophe Waltz and Léa Seydoux star in “Spectre” (2015).

Remember three paragraphs ago when I said how excited I was after the “Quantum of Solace” trailer? Well, I bought into “Spectre,” too. The first trailer is awesome. It slows down the Bond theme, which builds the mystery and tension, brings back Mr. White who delivers one of my favorite lines in a Bond film, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond,” and gives the audience Christoph Waltz’s voiceover and silhouette. On top of Waltz, the studio announced Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista and Andrew Scott would join the cast. Also, Sam Mendes was returning to direct after the phenomenal “Skyfall.” I was pumped. Then I saw it.

“Spectre” is OK. Well, maybe a little better than OK, but history repeated itself. Bond followed up another great movie with an average sequel.

The sad part is the first five minutes of “Spectre” are awesome. Mendes uses a tracking shot that blew me away in theaters. I immediately thought to myself, “This is going to be the greatest Bond film ever!” It went downhill from there. After this, instead of just the first few minutes of an unbroken shot, Mendes decided to make a film that was made to look like one take. It worked out a little better for him.

This movie had more memorable parts than “Quantum of Solace” and was made much better. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is stunning. I also really enjoy Bautista as the main henchman Hinx. As always, he understands his role and limitations as an actor and makes the most of his strengths. He’s turned that into an impressive acting career. His fight scene with Bond on a train proves the only time where it seems like Bond is in a battle for his life. Seydoux as Madeleine also does a nice job as she does her best to help 007 fight off the massive Hinx. The best part is they don’t overpower him. They defeat him as realistically as possible in a Bond movie. I also like the Bond song, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.”

That being said, Bond’s vulnerability from “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” disappears, which makes no sense especially in this film. One of the main plots of “Skyfall” is that he’s too old. Three years later he’s invincible. How does that work? It also feels the need to connect every single film and it proves too much as the person responsible for all of Bond’s pain dating back to Lynd’s death in “Casino Royale” is a villain from past iterations of the MI6 agent’s franchise. Waltz plays Blofeld, who is also Bond’s brother. A two-time Academy Award winner, Waltz is wasted in the role.

I ultimately enjoy the film, but I expected more.

Javier Bardem, left, and Daniel Craig star in “Skyfall” (2012).

2. “Skyfall” (2012)

If you’ve made it this far, well done, because only greatness follows. “Skyfall” is not only one of the best films in the franchise, it’s one of the best films of the past decade.

Javier Bardem makes Silva an iconic Bond villain. He buys into the character and becomes a great matchup for 007. Mendes gives another tracking shot of Bardem’s entrance into the film and the Oscar-winning actor delivers.

Besides great acting, “Skyfall” has a strong plot. During the Craig era, the film succeeds if the writing taps into Bond’s vulnerability. The film starts off with M (Dench) giving the OK for Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to shoot the mark knowing the bullet could hit 007. It does and he is believed to be dead. His relationship with M comes into question and is further explored when her former agent Silva comes into the picture and reveals what she did to him. At the end of an awesome sequence where Silva shows what a cyanide capsule did to his face, she’s blatantly honest with Bond and it really strengthens their relationship. She showed she believes in him and knows he is stronger than Silva. Dench is awesome and receives a fitting end for her overwhelming service to the franchise. She plays M in all the Brosnan films and three of the Craig movies. I blame myself for her death because the first time I saw “Skyfall” I thought to myself, “Geez, I wonder how long she’s going to stay in this franchise.” Two more hours, Joe. Two more hours.

On top of battling his relationship with M, Bond is far from the top of his game. He fails all the tests and isn’t close to becoming field ready. His age caught up to him, but he still needs to prove his position and the way MI6 conducts itself are still valuable. Craig gives a great performance topped only by his work in “Casino Royale.” One of my favorite moments with him comes toward the end when Silva blows up his Aston Martin and he shoots this look of pure anger. It’s a small part, but it goes to show how well he fits the role.

“Skyfall” looks beautiful behind the cinematography of the great Roger Deakins. One scene that sticks out comes during a fight in a glass building. It looks gorgeous. Adele’s Bond song “Skyfall” is among the best and Harris proves very good as Moneypenny.

My only complaint is with a scene involving Bond girl Severine played by Berenice Marlohe. Bond sneaks up behind her naked while she’s taking a shower and it’s just plain weird and creepy. Ultimately, I fully admit “Skyfall” is a better film than “Casino Royale” but …

Eva Green and Daniel Craig star in “Casino Royale” (2006).

1. “Casino Royale” (2006)

Let’s go back to 2006. The previous Bond film was “Die Another Day” with its 2 million puns. Brosnan is out and some blonde guy is taking over the leading role. Believe it or not, some people were upset by the casting of Craig. He should be thankful his casting happened before Twitter boomed.

Bond films are known for their action-packed openings. “Casino Royale” has a double-opening and both are unreal. This movie had my jaw dropped within the first 15 minutes. First comes a beautifully shot black and white sequence where we meet Bond. He describes his first kill before his mark tries to tell him not to worry and that the second is (easier), but Bond shoots him before he gets the chance to finish his sentence. Bond then says, “Yes, considerably.” The amazing scene sets the tone and leads perfectly into my favorite Bond song, “You Know My Name” by the late Chris Cornell.

It’s immediately followed up by a sequence where Bond has to chase a mark, who knows parkour. Their methods are beautifully contrasting and the audience learns about Bond’s character without him saying anything. It learns he’s reckless and will not hesitate to use brute force. He still has a lot to learn as “Casino Royale” serves as a much-needed reboot to the franchise. It is either Bond from the beginning or a new 007 all together. No matter which theory you believe in the film works both ways. The stunts these two actors pull off during the chase are unbelievable. Most of the credit goes out to Sebastien Foucan who plays Mollaka and is a master of free running. Craig also did a lot of his stunts, making for some beautiful shots.

We’re just 15 minutes in and this movie is already awesome. Again, Bond’s vulnerability proves an asset to the film. He’s still learning what it takes to be a double-0 and it’s fun watching him figure it out in this film. The movie shows his raw talent, but he also makes plenty of mistakes brought on by his arrogance.

Eva Green’s performance as Lynd can’t be overstated. She has such an impact that she carries into “Spectre,” which is nine years and three movies after the release of “Casino Royale.” Lynd is the most formidable of the Bond girls. Green’s phenomenal chemistry with Craig drives the film. She’s the only true love Bond ever had and the one who taught him to trust nobody. The relationship is so vital to the birth of Bond and an understanding of the character.

Craig nails it too, mastering the physicality of the role and immediately making a name for himself. He has to do the most work out of any Bond actor as he has to grow and show a range of emotions.

Also, Jeffery Wright makes his first appearance as Felix Leiter and is phenomenal in his limited screen time. He chews up scenes and it’s amazing to watch. Credit to Wright’s greatness as an actor. His delivery is so unique.

“Casino Royale” also makes poker incredibly watchable. Granted, the hands the players get are absurd, especially the final hands, but it keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. The action sequences are very well crafted. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is a solid villain. Although he’s dangerous and the audience definitely isn’t rooting for him, Le Chiffre is vulnerable. The viewer understands the consequences that await him if he loses the poker game. Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) also fits in very well with Bond.

It drags a little bit toward the end, but wraps up with a great action sequence, Lynd’s emotional death and 007 dropping the line, “The name is Bond … James Bond.”

It relegitimized the franchise that is still going strong today.

Daniel Craig stars in “Skyfall” (2012).

Rebecca’s Take

When it comes to the long-running James Bond spy film franchise, I’m coming in from the cold.

I had seen only two Bond films before I decided to catch up on Daniel Craig’s run as the famed 007. Prior to 2012’s “Skyfall,” the only other Bond film I had watched was “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), with Roger Moore playing the secret agent. But I wanted to see all of Craig’s films before the release of “No Time to Die,” set to be the actor’s last time in the role.

What I discovered is Craig’s Bond saga is the perfect entry point for an uninitiated viewer such as myself. “Casino Royale” successfully rebooted the spy franchise, crafting a character arc for Bond that will span five films. In Craig’s debut, Bond had just been promoted to 007, which marked a fresh beginning for the character – and for someone like me coming into the already established series.

As a newbie, I may not be able to compare Craig’s Bond to past iterations of the character, which Joe can do. But I can look at the evolution of 007 throughout Craig’s run and highlight the good and the bad of each entry.

From least favorite to favorite, here’s my ranking of Craig’s four Bond films.

Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko star in “Quantum of Solace” (2008).

4. “Quantum of Solace” (2008)

Craig’s sophomore outing as Bond is a head-scratcher. Released just two years after “Casino Royale,” the rushed film tried to seize upon the momentum that his debut generated. But the disappointing follow-up was a victim of the writers’ strike. Its silly name and underwhelming theme song – “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys – didn’t help, either.

“Quantum of Solace” starts out as a direct sequel to “Casino Royale,” the first in the franchise’s history as Bond tries to avenge the death of his girlfriend, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). The film starts out promising with a thrilling chase sequence. And then – then I honestly can’t describe the plot of this film.

At a running time of an hour and 46 minutes, “Quantum of Solace” is a good 45 minutes shorter than the rest of Craig’s outings. And it shows in its lack of story development. The film aimlessly jumps around from action scene to action scene. With its grittier tone, “Quantum of Solace” tries to turn Bond into an action hero. But he’s a reckless one, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Craig does the best he can with the material, tapping into Bond’s darkness. But the film lacks the panache of “Casino Royale” and feels like a generic actioner. It also has a bland villain in Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric), who does little to inspire fear.

I like that the main Bond girl, Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), is driven by her own revenge plot, mirroring Bond’s vendetta. But then the film falls back on a classic Bond cliché by having 007 sleep with fellow agent Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton). A poorly used character, Fields’ only other contribution to the film is her death scene, a throwback to “Goldfinger” (I understood that reference).

3. “Spectre” (2015)

Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux star in “Spectre” (2015).

Like “Quantum of Solace,” Craig’s fourth Bond film suffers from not living up to high expectations following its magnificent predecessor.

Three years after “Skyfall,” the average “Spectre” doesn’t even try to capture the magic of the acclaimed crowd pleaser. That’s not to say it’s all bad – it’s just an OK outing in Craig’s Bond saga. Tackling an overarching narrative with some beautifully shot action sequences, the movie tries to connect the dots from the three previous Bond films, with mixed results.

The opening sequence – a five-minute long, uninterrupted take that follows Bond through the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico – is incredible. Director Sam Mendes was clearly practicing for the single continuous take technique he would perfect in “1917.”

Unfortunately, the film falls off from there. One of the problems is Craig himself. Having professed in interviews before the film’s release that he would “rather slash my wrists” than play Bond again, the actor appears to be going through the motions in most of his scenes.

The film also misses an opportunity with its lead villain. Christophe Waltz, who plays the menacing Blofeld, is barely in the film. How do you get the dynamic Waltz and fail to use him? The ominous Dave Bautista, who plays silent yet violent henchman Hinx, makes a better bad guy. The film also relies on a third-act reveal that doesn’t make sense.

“Spectre” splits the difference between its Bond girls. As Dr. Madeleine Swann, Léa Seydoux is Bond’s perfect match in love and espionage. The daughter of Bond’s one-time nemesis, Madeleine is smart, restrained and calculated – and set to return in “No Time to Die.” On the other hand, Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) – whose character was built up in “Skyfall” – is relegated to little more than working on a laptop here.

Daniel Craig, left, and Jeffrey Wright star in “Casino Royale” (2006).

2. “Casino Royale” (2006)

This is the film that breathed new life into the Bond franchise. In Craig’s celebrated debut, “Casino Royale” marked a course reset for 007, with a new actor at the helm. That made it easier for me to get to know the fresh-faced, self-assured agent who would go against his own rules, fall in love and suffer a tragedy that would shape his character over the next three films.

“Casino Royale” is tailored with elegance, much like the fine suits its protagonist wears. The film captured my interest immediately with its black-and-white introduction to Craig’s Bond. It has one of the best title sequences of the actor’s run: playing cards scatter around the franchise’s new leading man as Chris Cornell’s appropriately named “You Know My Name” plays. The film then establishes Craig’s action credentials with a daring and explosive pursuit, also showing the new 007’s hot-headed nature. The poker scenes drip with tension as the cool and collected Bond squares off against Mads Mikkelsen’s chilling villain Le Chiffrea.

My favorite part occurs after Bond sips a poisoned drink and runs to his beloved Aston Martin. He finds and swallows the antidote, pulls out a defibrillator and – with a little help – wards off his certain death. Then the composed spy calmly rejoins the poker game. “I’m sorry – that last hand nearly killed me,” a sarcastic Bond says.

Craig also capably portrays Bond as a passionate, devoted lover who forms a connection with the resourceful and sly Vesper Lynd (a terrific Eva Green). Craig and Green’s chemistry sizzles. Their romance – and how Bond changes because of it – adds weight to the devastating climax and sets up the foundation for the agent’s ongoing character development.

The film establishes Bond’s sweet, grounded relationship with MI6 head (Judi Dench). The mother-son-type bond is further explored in “Quantum of Solace” and reaches its emotional apex in “Skyfall.” Which brings me to …

Daniel Craig and Judi Dench star in “Skyfall” (2012).

1. “Skyfall” (2012)

When I saw “Skyfall” in the theater, I remember being blown away. First, as someone who had only seen one other Bond film up until this point, I could easily follow the film’s story and characters. That’s because although “Skyfall” was Craig’s third Bond film, it largely acts as a standalone. Second, with its breath-taking action, emotional story and excellent performances, I thought “Skyfall” was one of the best films of the year. And it still holds up for me on a rewatch.

Mendes’ first Bond movie features exciting and gorgeous action sequences. The film was lensed by Roger Deakins, who won this year’s Oscar for best cinematography for the duo’s collaboration on “1917.” You can see hints of what was to come in “1917” in “Skyfall.” The climactic showdown at the Skyfall estate – with homemade explosives and lots of dynamite – features beautiful blasts of orange flames, reminiscent of the flares during the nighttime bombardment in “1917.”

The story excels in developing Bond’s character. After being left for dead in the film’s gripping introduction, “Skyfall” tears down Bond and build him back up. Craig taps into the agent’s vulnerabilities as Bond faces his growing age and diminished physical prowess during his return to MI6. The film pits the fallible spy against the dastardly, delightfully over-the-top Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), the best villain in Craig’s run. It also addresses Bond’s childhood as an orphan, touched upon in “Casino Royale.”

That brings us to Bond’s relationship with M. Throughout the Craig films, Dench’s strong-willed MI6 head acknowledged Bond’s brazenness, but she held a soft spot for the agent. “Skyfall” confirms Bond feels the same way about M when he returns to protect her after Silva’s attack on MI6 headquarters.

Dench is brilliant as M finally gets her chance to shine. Dench allows us to see through M’s tough facade as the character accepts Bond’s help and the two hide out at Skyfall. We see her build booby traps and evade explosion after explosion as Silva and his men hunt her down. Her death in Bond’s arms still brings tears to my eyes. When I first saw the film, I was convinced Dench should have received an Oscar nod for best supporting actress for her triumphant performance, and I still feel that way now.

“Skyfall” put the Bond franchise back on top, reenergizing the spy series and realizing its full potential in spectacular fashion.