At the start of the 1973 James Bond film “Live and Let Die,” there is a funeral march through New Orleans. Mourners weep and a band blares sad gospel music as a coffin is carried down a French Quarter street. But — in typical 007 fashion — it turns out to be a trick.
One of the marchers discreetly stabs a besuited bystander, an enemy of his boss, Dr. Kananga. The dead body is placed in the (actually empty) coffin and the teary procession transforms into a spirited Mardi Gras parade. Music! Dancing! Murder!
That scene perfectly describes my feelings about Daniel Craig finally bidding adieu to the James Bond franchise as production on the 25th movie begins this week: It’s the happiest funeral ever. After all, over the past 13 years this guy has ruined Bond.
Since Craig first donned the spy’s tuxedo in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” the franchise has turned increasingly homogeneous, dreary and frankly skippable. The granddaddy of super-spy films is now one of the most mediocre action series out there — and Craig is largely to blame for it.
Are there writers and directors and co-stars and stunt coordinators who effect the final product, too? Duh. Are times a-changin’ too fast for Bond’s Aston Martin to keep up? Debatable. But these films are, first and foremost, built around the demeanor of their star. And Craig’s MO is Danny Downer.
During his reign, 007 has become a bitter curmudgeon who jets ‘round the world pouting and going rogue in seemingly every film. Huh, kinda sounds like Craig himself.
The 51-year-old actor complains ad nauseam about how the role has him in a creative headlock, and that he’d rather take on more challenging parts. He once said he’d prefer to “slit his wrists” rather than be paid millions of dollars to play an internationally beloved character again. Fine. He’s not the first Bond to air such grievances. But when the infinitely better Roger Moore wanted a raise, he didn’t carry the toxicity of negotiations into the scene. Craig does, and it shatters the mood.
What separates Bond from Jason Bourne and “Mission Impossible”’s Ethan Hunt is his wit and quintessentially British sense of humor. Without that, he’s just a cardboard hottie with a gun.
Moore was a master of the punchline and eyebrow raise, and Sean Connery had an infectious grin. When Timothy Dalton took over the role in 1987’s “The Living Daylights,” people thought he’d be too brutal. But next to Craig, he’s Mr. Rogers. In the opening action sequence of that film, Dalton parachutes onto the yacht of a beautiful, bikini-clad socialite and commandeers her giant wireless phone.
“I report in an hour,” he says, as she hands him a glass of Champagne.
“Better make that two.”
Now that’s a Bond you wanna have a beer with. Craig, on the other hand, is a Bond you want to ghost on Tinder. Even in his two decent films — “Casino Royale” and “Spectre” — he’s constantly brooding and disgruntled, and comes off unintelligent.
What drew audiences to 007 in the good old days — the exotic locales, the Bond girls, the impossible gadgets — are unfortunately passé in an increasingly savvy and connected world. You don’t go to the movies to gawk at a bit of skin or an island with a volcano on it. A tiny tracking device is less cool in a world where you can buy a drone on Amazon. But we are still devoted to our favorite characters and personalities.
As the hunt for a new Bond begins, producer Barbara Broccoli should jettison the series’ off-putting darkness that’s made the world’s most famous spy into a sneering hitman, and choose a likable, funny, debonaire actor. Let’s try slapping a “cl” in front of “ass.”