Playing the same role over and over again is no doubt taxing on any actor, at least creatively speaking (though Robert Downey Jr. seems to be having a blast). Daniel Craig had often made it clear that he wasn't interested in continuing to be James Bond for much longer, and after turning down a ridiculous sum of money, he has finally moved on from being known as 007.
Craig's stint as the world famous secret agent was filled with hits and misses, including early casting "controversy" (remember when the internet was mad that he was blond?), but his movies were undeniably a new approach for the character. Craig, along with the writers and directors behind his four films, ushered Bond into the modern era of filmmaking with a compelling, connected narrative and an insightful approach to the traditionally impenetrable hero.
Whoever takes up the mantle next has their work cut out for them, because Craig has added more to the Bond mythology than anyone before him, save for creator Ian Fleming and role originator/tastemaker Sean Connery.
Bond Has Actual Human-Person Feelings
Bond is traditionally known as a man of stone; he doesn't feel much, he womanizes without shame, and he kills without hesitation and without regret. But the beauty of Craig's Bond movies is that we see what he was like before all of that and how he ended up that way. To start, he's a man with actual emotions, best displayed in Casino Royale opposite Eva Green's Vesper Lynd.
The overarching theme of Craig's films are essentially how Bond became the man we know from pop culture; Casino Royale starts with Bond acquiring his status as a 00 agent, hardly the veteran we remember from any previous eras. Along with this comes a man that isn't yet an emotional icebox. We see him fall in love Ã¢ÂÂ and lose Ã¢ÂÂ Vesper, the first brick in the foundation of the wall that would build around him, until he was transformed into the Bond we're more familiar with.
It's no accident that Craig's Bond movies move closer to classic Bond as the films go on. Casino Royale is the movie that bucked the typical Bond narrative formula, but only in an effort to lead us to Spectre, the most traditional Bond film of the Craig era.
Bond Gets Real Character Development
As a result of his characterization in Casino Royale, subsequent movies were able to give Bond an actual character arc. Save for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (in which he marries Tracy Draco), Bond always ended his film as he began it: As the best agent in MI6. He very rarely screwed up, he always won, he always got the girl(s), and he always lived to quip another day.
This isn't the case in Craig's films. In the opening sequence of Skyfall, he gets shot and fails his mission. He not only loses Vesper, but he fails to protect Judi Dench's M. Most importantly, he reacts to these things.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service famously ends with the death of the newly minted Tracy Bond, but references to her death Ã¢ÂÂ or Bond ever being married at all Ã¢ÂÂ comes in only five of the 14 Bond movies (15, if you count Never Say Never Again) that came out between Secret Service and Craig's Casino Royale. The most significant of these mentions comes in For Your Eyes Only, which is still just only one fleeting scene at the start of the film.
But Vesper's death in Casino Royale Ã¢ÂÂ and later the death of M in Skyfall Ã¢ÂÂ looms large over Craig's Bond in every decision he makes. He becomes an increasingly erratic, unrepentant killing machine who thirsts for revenge more than he is a slick secret agent with Her Majesty's best interests at heart, making Craig's Bond outing far more personal than any of the actors before him.
Bond Has An Origin Story
In every incarnation of movie James Bond before Skyfall, we knew pretty much nothing about his family or where he came from. His parents are mentioned as deceased in the novel You Only Live Twice, but the Bond family history stopped there.
Skyfall managed to give him some context and motivation without actually delving into a superhero-esque origin tale, instead making these revelations part of a separate narrative that ties into a villain's desire for revenge on M and MI6. Some would argue that shedding light on Bond's past betrays the evergreen nature of the character, but it's a defining characteristic from Craig's Bond tenure that can now be used as a template for subsequent actors to follow.
Plus, it was a natural progression for the overarching narrative between Casino Royale and Spectre; we needed to have insight on all of Bond's history in order to allow the character to move into what we recognize as the prototypical Bond. Thanks to the fleshed-out history and character development of Craig's Bond, future films will have extra depth and pathos Ã¢ÂÂ even if it's a fairly standard Bond adventure Ã¢ÂÂ because of the legwork that Craig has done.
There's Continuity Between Films
One of the most important things that the Craig era did for Bond was to make sure all of the films were connected. While each movie still tells its own tale, they all weave in and out of one another, forming one large narrative that culminates with the reveal of Blofeld in Spectre.
Traditionally, each Bond movie was standalone; there were recurring characters like Felix Leiter, Jaws, Blofeld, and the MI6 crew of M, Moneypenny, and Q, but one story never affected the next. Again, the only real example is the brief scene in For Your Eyes Only in which Bond vows revenge upon Blofeld for Tracy's death in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
It's unknown how Sony will continue with the Bond franchise post-Craig. While Craig's films bucked the trend of past Bond movies by forming a continuity between them all, it's possible they'll treat each actor's tenure as its own series. Not necessarily a reboot, but its own sequence of movies that definitively connect to each other, if not the previous actor's.
No matter what the future holds for James Bond, Daniel Craig's influence on the icon can't be understated; he fundamentally changed what we should expect from a Bond actor, expanding the emotional depth. Bond isn't just a little boy's power fantasy anymore, but a well-rounded character with thoughts and feelings beyond simply women, killing and quipping.