With the new Bond film in 2006, it was necessary for the franchise not just to recast Bond but to some extent to reinvent him. Martin Campbell came in to direct his second film after overtures from Quentin Tarantino were rejected. The idea was to take Bond back to the original Ian Fleming conception with his very first novel Casino Royale.
After Die Another Day, Eon productions and audiences had come to the conclusion that things had gone too far. Pierce Brosnan had fulfilled his contract and though he was offered the opportunity to return, he was done. The race to find another actor was on and many were considered and rejected. When he was first announced Daniel Craig was not a popular choice, mainly because he was blond. There were petitions and the usual nonsense. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had written the last two Brosnans, delivered a script which was then punched up by Paul Haggis. The film effectively became a prequel, with Bond earning his 007 status in the pre-credits sequences via a hit. Immediately, there is a change in tone. The violence is brutal and physical and yet there are emotional consequences. 'Made you feel it, did he?' his target says. The whole film has something that a Bond film hasn't had since On Her Majesty's Secret Service: a character arc. Craig's Bond is a killing machine who then learns to open up and falls in love, only to revert back to his 'half monk, half hitman' status by the end of the film.
There's no Q, though he'll be reintroduced later and the humour is organic, coming from the characters rather than musical stings or ludicrous camp. This means that though the Craig Bonds would garner a reputation from grim seriousness, they were - unlike the Moore Bonds - actually funny. Not groaning so bad it's funny, but laugh out loud funny. The dialogue is witty and takes on the sexism in a way that the other Bonds never bothered with. The story represented something of a departure, in that it fairly faithfully stuck to the book, only updating the incidentals. Now Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is a financier of terrorism but following a failed shorting on the market he must recoup his funds in a high end poker game at the eponymous casino. Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) is the treasury officer sent to keep an eye on Bond and Giancarlo Giannini plays Mattis, a shady go between and fixer. Bond's CIA friend Felix Leiter meets him for the first time, played with hangdog melancholy by Jeffrey Wright.
So what we have is in essence a Bond Begins, the Christopher Nolan Batman series had been inaugurated the year before Casino Royale was released. From the explosive Parkour chase to the torture scene, the film escaped the usual cliches. The shady post-9/11 politics replaced any easy verities with M (Judi Dench, the only holdover from the Brosnan films) insisting that bond take account of the big picture. Bond is a blunt weapon, leaving a trail of dead bodies with hardly a tightening of the jaw. For the first time since Sean Connery shot an unarmed man in Dr No, it is apparent that Bond is a complete bastard.
It is only with his encounter with Vespa that he begins to open up. Eva Green's performance is fantastic. She is smart and sexy and like Bond she too has a character which changes credibly as the film progresses. She challenges Bond and gets the better of him while at the same time proving adept at the humorous quips. There is chemistry between the two of them. She is not simply a sidekick or insultingly shallow eye candy. And she is fundamental to the plot. Bond's misogyny is also apparent at the beginning and the end. How do you trust someone when the person you most trusted betrays you? It is bizarre to care that Bond gets the girl, and even more crazy that you are moved when he loses her.
And that's the shock here: there are actual characters with an actual plot. Dalton and Bronson gave it a good go, but it is with the reset that Bond films are actually recognisable as films. Part of the reason could be to do with heightened competition. Both the Mission: Impossible and the Bourne franchises have taken over the action stakes and now with comic book movies beginning to enter into the blockbuster action/comedy marketplace, Bond was no longer the only option for this kind of shenanigans. Plus long form television has begun and with an appetite has increased for a story that spans credibly over the course of several films. The Harry Potter series has also shown that once you capture an audience in this way and keep them going for a number of films. The capper is the ending, which feels as if it is setting up the whole series. Not since The Matrix has the last scene kicked so well. Craig has created a totally new Bond - completely his own - and has earned the right to the iconic line. As the song says: we know his name.