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Daniel Craig’s James Bond Legacy: Giving 007 a License to Feel | Commentary

The humanity at the heart of Craig’s five films is unique to the Bond franchise

Spoiler Warning: This story contains spoilers for Daniel Craig’s James Bond films, including “No Time to Die.”

The James Bond franchise has remained one of the most consistently popular film series of all time ever since the 1962 release of “Dr. No.” And over the course of 20 films, consistency was largely the name of the game.

While the times and actors changed, James Bond mostly stayed the same — a calm, cool, and collected superspy who traveled around the world fighting bad guys and flirting with beautiful women. That consistency was part of Bond’s appeal, even as the tone of the films largely chased popular trends in the world around them (the hyper-violence of Timothy Dalton’s ’80s action films, the space setting of “Octopussy” six years after “Star Wars” changed the world, and the Blacksploitation vibe of 1973’s “Live and Let Die”).

But sustained change finally came to the Bond franchise with 2006’s “Casino Royale,” the first of Daniel’s Craig’s five turns as 007. The last, “No Time to Die,” concludes Craig’s run in a fittingly emotional fashion, solidifying the actor’s series of movies as the most substantial collection of James Bond movies ever made.

With “Casino Royale,” the world was introduced to a very different iteration of James Bond than we’d met before. It wasn’t just the blond hair, but the vulnerability of Craig’s green 007. The “Layer Cake” actor’s take on the character was strikingly emotional – we watched as he genuinely processed what it was like to kill so many people, specifically through the eyes of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Not since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” had the franchise committed so fully to a genuine romantic relationship for Bond, and Lynd’s death echoed across Craig’s films in hauntingly unique fashion.

“Quantum of Solace” found Craig’s Bond on a revenge tear as death followed him everywhere he went; “Skyfall” delved even deeper into Bond’s past as the film examined his maternal relationship with Judi Dench’s M and where he fit into the world; “Spectre” added a family tie to iconic Bond villain Ernst Blofeld and connected the antagonistic dots all the way back to “Casino Royale” and then “No Time to Die” concludes Craig’s run of films in a heartbreaking fashion, considering whether a happy ending is possible for Bond.

Craig’s movies were unique to the franchise in that they carried over plot points and, most importantly, thematic threads from one film to another. That allowed Craig to follow a genuine arc for his character from film-to-film, as we consistently saw Bond try to retire peacefully, only to be denied a happy ending at each turn.

“Casino Royale” (EON/MGM/Sony)

“No Time to Die” opens with Bond living another one of these happy endings with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), attempting to bring closure to his grief over Vesper’s death only to be pulled back into the muck once more by Blofeld and Spectre.

But it’s the ending of “No Time to Die” that really drives home how remarkable Craig’s Bond movies have been.

Final warning: Spoilers for “No Time to Die” follow below.

By the third act of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “No Time to Die,” Bond learns that he’s a father. Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), Bond, and their daughter, Mathilde (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet), are all stuck on villain Safin’s (Rami Malek) island lair, and while Bond safely gets Madeleine and Mathilde off the premises before missiles lay waste to the facility, he ends up sacrificing himself for their happiness.

“Casino Royale” ended with Bond trying to live a life of peace and joy with Vesper Lynd, only for it to be snatched from him. So it’s only fitting that at the end of “No Time to Die,” Bond sacrifices his own life so that Madeleine and his daughter can live out the happily ever after he was so frequently denied. It’s a gutting ending, but one that’s right in line with the tragic nature of the character that Craig has fostered over the course of five films.

And “No Time to Die” seals the deal – Daniel Craig’s run of Bond movies are the most substantial in the entire franchise. While the quality varies as with previous Bond movies (“Quantum” is messy and “Spectre” falls flat on its face in the third act), the emotional throughline and the vulnerability that Craig brings to the character remains, and sets even the worst of Craig’s films apart from past installments.

There are plenty of Bond films from the likes of Roger Moore and Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan that can be categorized as forgettable. For all the panache and bombast of those classic installments, there’s little to the character of James Bond beyond the aforementioned surface-level hallmarks. That’s what sets Craig’s performances apart. His films are the first to actually make James Bond interesting as a character. He has regrets and shortcomings and conflicting emotions. We love Indiana Jones because he’s consistently out of his depth — a relatable quality. And in that vein, Craig gives the audience something to grasp onto when it comes to James Bond: humanity.

Where the franchise goes from here is unclear, but Craig and the team behind his five films set a high bar going forward. It’s no longer enough to have fast cars, big explosions and beautiful co-stars. These films showed us that while James Bond can still have the iconography and cool composure, he can also be a human being, and that’s far more compelling than watching Bond mindlessly punch, drink, and kiss his way through a story.

Craig gave the character a license to feel.