His name’s Bond, James Bond. Gentleman Spy extraordinaire; Agent 007 on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He likes his martinis shaken, not stirred...and he is one of the most indelible characters in cinema history. (Literary, too, but I’m going to be perfectly honest right now: I’ve only read ONE of the original Ian Fleming books, and I have to say, I didn’t like it very much.) Several actors have taken the mantle of the master secret agent, and everybody has their own favorite or “best” choice. While, in my opinion, there are no BAD portrayals of Bond, some are obviously more iconic or generally well-done than others...and thus I present to you my lovely little list rating the cinematic Bonds from “least good” (“worst” implies they were actually bad) to best/top favorite. Now, before I begin, I should point out that a.) this is totally based on my own personal preference, and b.) I am ONLY judging by the long-running Eon film productions, so the very, very, VERY few Bonds out there not from these movies (in fact, I can only think of two, and neither are any good at all) will not be counted on this list. With that said, grab your Walther PPK (if you drink), your preferred cigar or cigarette (if you smoke), and straighten up your tuxedo...your mission is to read on, if you choose to accept it…
006. George Lazenby (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
Lazenby’s Bond is...hmm...I would say “loved or hated,” but generally it seems to be more along the lines of “mildy liked or completely despised.” Both, in my opinion, can at least be partially attributed to one simple fact: he only got the opportunity to appear in one film. Lazenby, at the time he got the part, was fairly inexperienced in acting of any kind, outside of a few commericals; this, and the fact he was following in the footsteps of the legendary Sean Connery, didn’t and still don’t hold up in his favor. Keeping this in mind: I, personally, believe he did a bang-up job! Lazenby’s Bond is a bit more stiff and distant than others, and while some have delegated this as a symptom of his inexperience, I honestly and fully believe this was a choice on both his part and/or the filmmakers. While he still rattles off one-liners and dry, darkly humorous cracks here and there (and the persona he takes on in-disguise during the film is just HILARIOUS), he retains a sort of smug and sneering attitude, and seems almost impenetrably composed, even in the darkest moments. With Lazenby, it’s all “in the eyes,” as it were; his eyes alone hold intense power and emotion, while the rest of his body and his face remains as icy and rigid as shards of frozen glass. He’s also given some of the best writing of any Bond film, in my opinion at least, to work off of, which may or may not have made his job a bit easier. All in all, I rather like his performance, and I really wish he could have done more than one picture...but, alas and alack, he did only this one, and for a good portion of it he is, again, in disguise, completely with a phony voice and many over-the-top comedic traits, so judging him as “truly Bond,” so to speak, is a difficult thing to do.
005. Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights & Licence to Kill)
There are two things about Dalton’s Bond that I will never understand: one, the movie that’s ACTUALLY GOOD between the two he did seems to be the one most forgotten; “Licence to Kill,” despite being horribly received in its day and still considered one of the worst of the franchise by most fans, seems to get a LOT more attention than the much better predecessor “The Living Daylights.” As for two? Well, a lot of people...and I must, again, stress A LOT of people...seem to believe Dalton to be one of the “darkest” portrayals of Bond out there, even comparing his Bond to Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman (also slightly darker than other versions before or since, given his more murderous attitude, but that’s another story) or Brandon Lee’s performance in “The Crow.” Frankly, I don’t get it; true, “Licence to Kill” is one of the most VIOLENT Bond films, but I would hardly call either of these movies truly “dark,” and Dalton, from my perspective, is not that dark at all. Quite the contrary: I find Dalton’s Bond to be one of the most lighthearted.
...Well...perhaps “lighthearted” is the wrong word; I guess the best way to put it is that Dalton’s Bond is LESS nasty, in my opinion, than previous Bonds before him, or even those after him. Bond, as portrayed by most people, is - if you really think about it - a pretty rough character; he’s misogynistic (how much so seems to vary), very stubborn, and lightly snobbish, with a somewhat trigger-happy nature. Dalton is actually quite the opposite: the stubbornness is there, yes, but beyond that, Dalton’s Bond is a REAL gentleman; he doesn’t just “talk the talk, walk the walk, and look the look” the way other Bonds do; he eats, sleeps, and breathes sheer chivalry. He’s much more in touch with his emotions than other Bonds, more empathetic and intellectual; he seems less like the kind of man to read a raunchy novel in the moonlight (or, shall we say, ENGAGE in one...in bed...with a lady), and the more the kind to read a fine Dickens story by the firelight. This is both Dalton’s greatest flaw and his greatest strength, at least for me; he brings a sort of playfulness and humanity to Bond that hasn’t been seen to such a degree since he left the role, but in doing so, we lose the characters most noteworthy flaws. Far from being the “darkest,” in my mind, he’s the “purest,” the least flawed and most White Knight-esque of the bunch. It’s a fine performance, and, in my book, an interesting take on the character...but I don’t think it’s nearly as dark as people seem to find it, and there are other Bonds much closer to Fleming’s original character. Also, much like Lazenby, his lack of screentime likely contributes to his lack of points; I still love him...I just love others more.
004. Roger Moore (Live & Let Die - A View to a Kill)
Some have called Moore’s era the “dark ages” of Bond, and to be honest, it’s plain to see why; Moore did about as many films as Connery, but both his portrayal of the character and the films, in general, took on a rather different approach. While the earlier Connery classics had, without denial, a rather over-the-top atmosphere, these films often bordered on the just-plain-ridiculous, and Moore’s Bond followed in suit. Moore seemed to exaggerate on the idea of the “gentleman” spy; he spoke much more crisply than Connery, and carried himself more airily. Rather than a cocky, trigger happy figure of virility, he came across more as a debonair, if equally womanizing, sort of chap, who could talk his way out of any problem with just a couple of quips and a twitch of an eyebrow. At the same time, however, Moore exaggerated the “tougher” aspects; his Bond carried a magnum revolver more often than a WPPK, and Moore was allowed to smoke fat cigars (his favorite blend of choice) as opposed to the cigarettes of Lazenby & Connery. In a way, this Bond became something of a self-parody. Now, with all this said, it probably sounds like I hate his Bond...but I don’t. Moore was different, yes, but different is not necessarily bad; he had his share of good movies in his time (“The Spy Who Loved Me,” as I’ve said before, is a classic in my mind), and he sank into the part easily and eagerly. Though he was a bit hammier than Connery, he had his moments of depth, and, to be fair, his melodramatic performances fit right in with the even more melodramatic tone the movies took during his run, and he still had all the qualities of Bond - both his flaws and his more praiseworthy traits - we’d come to love; he just expressed them differently. Under his gentlemanly veneer, he still had a sort of “trigger-happy psycho” side, but he gave Bond an edge that made him feel less like a greenhorn and more like a decades-experienced veteran...sometimes that edge worked AGAINST him (*cough* A View to a Kill *cough cough*), but that’s another story…
003. Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye - Die Another Day)
Brosnan’s Bond was essentially, and deliberately, a sort of “Sean Connery 2.0;” he was an immense fan of Connery’s movies, and wanted to try and bring the character back to those early roots, although both he and the filmmakers of the time were equally determined to try and update the character for a new age. In all four films, Brosnan did fantastically...although, granted, the films themselves were another story. “GoldenEye” was and always will be, in my opinion, another true classic of the franchise...but both “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “The World is Not Enough” were just sort of “okay” as far as movies go, and “Die Another Day,” in my blunt opinion, is one of the worst Bond films ever made; not even Brosnan could save it. With that said, Brosnan was perfect casting; his Bond was depicted as a slightly older 007, “a relic of the Cold War,” as stated by the now-female M, played by Judi Dench. He no longer smoked, but drank a good deal. Much like Connery, he was embued with a sardonic, slightly twisted sense of humor, and a charm and virility that was without compare. But with this flippant demeanor, there was a darker nature; while more calculating in his killing than some others, he was much more ruthless, even sadistic, than his predecessor, Timothy Dalton, and his heart and mind both seemed scarred by earlier times throughout the four films. It was a layered performance with a layered direction, and successfully updated the style of the earlier classic films; witty yet tormented, this Bond was definitely worthy of praise.
002. Daniel Craig (Casino Royale - present)
At the time I am writing this, the most recent Craig film is SPECTRE. Let this be borne in mind, since it is highly unlikely I will ever edit this list afterwards...unless new performers appear, of course.
Anyhow: I like to think of Craig in similar terms to Brosnan: whereas Brosnan was “Sean Connery 2.0,” Craig I would call “George Lazenby 2.0.” That may not have been the intention at all, and some may be confused about this, but hear me out: both Craig and Lazenby are similar, from my perspective at least, for their mastery of Bond’s “cold, priggish assassin” persona, as it were; while both have their more gentlemanly moments, both are also marked by a decidedly vicious and even cruel air. However, both are also capable of deep emotion, they just try their hardest to mask it. The big difference, to me at least, is in their sense of humor; Lazenby’s Bond can be a wee bit campy, but there is nothing campy about Craig’s snarkiness. His wit carries the dry, dark cynicism of Brosnan and Connery, but is much more reserved than usual; much like Lazenby, his facial expressions and body shape rarely change, outside the occasional twitch or slight shift...once again, so much of what Craig does is through his eyes alone. In contrast to the somewhat older, more experienced Bonds played by Moore and Brosnan, Craig’s Bond is something of a “greenhorn;” a lot of the coldness feels like an act, like a kid trying to act all rough-and-tough to impress or intimidate somebody else...it’s just an act this agent has gotten good at in a very short time. As the series has gone on, we’ve watched Craig grow into his role of the gentleman spy, but the trials and tribulations of his work clearly leave him scarred with each passing shot or explosion; it’s fun to have a Bond whom we can actually trace in terms of development. Also - and, again, this is judging from the single book I have actually read - I don’t believe I am alone in stating he is the quite possibly the closest film Bond to Fleming’s original concept. For these qualities and others, Craig deserves much praise…
...But there’s one Bond even better, and I think we all know who it is.
001. Sean Connery (Dr. No - You Only Live Twice; Diamonds Are Forever)
Of course it’s Sean Connery; it MUST be Sean Connery. Connery not only originated the character, he PERFECTED it. Every faction of Bond’s complex being is in place and in balance; other Bonds would exaggerate certain elements, but Connery managed to maintain a steady, sly equilibrium: he was suave and sweet, yet snappish and stubborn; he was calculating when he needed to be, and totally reckless when he wanted to be; his movements and postures were somewhere between a strutting rooster and a proud lion, and while he was more expressive than perhaps later Bonds would be, those expressions were limited, subtle, and fluid. He could use his wit as both a weapon and a wall, and while he had a silver tongue, Connery’s signature brogue added something of a rougher quality to his voice without any alteration at all. He was snappy and merciless with a punch or a firearm, but by the same token he was not an unthinking, trigger-happy maniac, and clearly valued human life. Then, his misogyny: while he undeniably seemed to find most women inferior to him (ironic, given the great number of deadly females he encountered throughout his films), he didn’t treat them like toys or worthless trifles, which often made it difficult to figure out, for the audience, the women involved, and perhaps even Bond himself, how genuine his affections (and more-than-affections) were. While others have taken on the mantle of 007 since, none have worn the tuxedo or carried the pistol better than Connery, at least in my opinion; he is, and always shall be, the “real” Gentleman James Bond.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave your thoughts below. But be nice...or else I’ll sic my sharks on you...farewell, fellow looneys!
P.S.: Yes, I know Sean Connery appeared in a non-Eon picture (Never Say Never Again) as well; I didn't credit it because, again, I was only judging the Eon film series, and that's also probably the only good non-Eon film out there...at least partially because of Connery. This is all.