He's a bit of rough trade, is Daniel Craig. A lot different than Pierce Brosnan—who I liked more and more, but who was fatally undermined by his too-convincing turn as the foppish Remington Steele. Timothy Dalton was peevish—the sort of Bond who'd look at his watch and exhale noisily: A good actor, but no generosity of spirit. Roger Moore was probably closest to Ian Fleming's Bond, but he had no edge—and after Connery, no edge meant no sexual threat. And as Moore got older and fatter and looked less and less like his stunt double, he became the drag-show Bond--pure camp.
David Edelstein heralds the (yet-to-be offically announced) new James Bond, and neatly sums up the deficiencies of the last three, here.
It seems to me the "other" David (Denby) proclaimed that each generation took to the Bond it was first exposed to. I'm not entirely sure that is indeed the case. The first Bond I was exposed to, albeit vicariously, was Roger Moore. When I was a wide-eyed sprat, I listened as an older cousin regaled me with the closing details of The Man With The Golden Gun -- I was particularly impressed, as was my cousin, with the image of a statue slowly turning toward the villain, then drilling him with a single shot.
I didn't see a Bond movie until several years later, when my parents agreed to let me watch From Russia With Love, broadcast at prime time during a Thursday night (whenever I received approval to see something of dubious morality, my mother inevitably set up her sewing machine and got to work. Every time that blasted machine chugged away on a hem or a seam, it effectively operated as censor by running electrical interference with our little b&w TV's rabbit ears. Catching illicit thrills has never been more nerve-wracking). After all the Roger Moore photos in Time and billings in the local newspaper's "movie" section, I was non-plussed to see a somewhat "irregular"-looking Bond, as played by Connery.
This was not the only disconnect I experienced. Thanks to schoolyard hearsay, I was by now very familiar with Bond gadgetry -- wristwatches with circular saws, cars with ejection seats, helicopters that came in a suitcase, etc. This movie offered only a briefcase with a knife and a gun. I'd been told Bond was a seducer of women. This Bond was suspicious and mean, and didn't mind giving poor Tatyana, the gorgeous Russian dupe (and the sexiest of the Bond girls, for my money), what Ian Fleming would call "a smart cuff to the mouth", making do with such slight satisfactions until he could deal fatal harm to the movie's real villainess Rosa Kleb. Even with my mother's sewing machine censoring out the worst of the movie, I hardly knew what to make of this Bond. I wanted to like him, but he came across as a smarmy, bullying pussy-hound -- more or less a horrid combination of Clinton and W's worst personality flaws.
I didn't see Bond on the silver screen until I was in my early teens: Moonraker -- at that time the lamest of the Bond offerings. My friends seemed to think the previous movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, was the best of them all, and that the franchise was unlikely to ever repeat such a coup of thrills. When I finally saw it, I found my patience tested: I could buy into a high-performance car inexplicably rigged to double as a submarine, but what was an electro-magnet doing in a shark tank? Even Roadrunner cartoons had greater consistency (and entertainment value).
Still, I kept watching the Bond films, new and old, because the more I saw, the more I really, really wanted to like them. For Your Eyes Only probably came closest to my ideal, with a Bond who was still lean and had the capacity to be cruel, and who actually proved himself capable of charm and seduction. There were gadgets (sharks with homing devices!) and thrills. And yet the experience felt strangely flat.
I finally went back to the movie that got me all geared up on Bond: The Man With The Golden Gun. That flick is just plain weird. The narrative has no logical flow whatsoever. Kung-fu challenges, cosmetic third nipples, solar power that threatens to undo the world, a chaw-gulping redneck in Japan, an AMC dealership in Japan(!!) -- by the time you tally up all the absurdities, throwing in Brit Eckland and Herve Vallechez is almost like adding water to the broth. Still, in its very bizarreness it manages to highlight what makes James Bond appealing to a prepubescent kid. The adult world is freaky and deranged, making little intuitive sense, particularly where sex is concerned. There's danger everywhere, and anywhere you have rules, you have people defying the rules and gaining entire kingdoms in the process. So an amoral agent is introduced, to wreak customized havoc and bring a shard of resolution and safety to a cosmic experiment that threatens to spin out into entropy. It's so crazy, it just might work!
I doubt it matters who the next Bond is. Right now the movies feel dated and square the second they hit the screen. I think the only tactic that could inject new life into the franchise is, ironically, a return to its origins: the 1960s, when global nuclear war seemed both unthinkable and unavoidable, so we had to come up with something even crazier, called SMERSH or SPECTRE. Return to the skinny black ties, the dark suits with narrow lapels, the women with industrial coiffs. Make a commitment to nostalgia, and veer neither to the left nor right, because somewhere in that emotional quagmire is the James Bond who can once again charm, sicken and thrill a movie-going audience.