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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Best Bond Since: Dalton?

I said earlier this week that Timothy Dalton (right), a talented actor with ample stage and film experience, might have been the right Bond at the wrong time. That's probably true to an extent. Is history about to repeat itself with Daniel Craig? I personally don't think so, but here are my thoughts on why the comparison might be apt.

Dalton replaced Roger Moore, who arguably stayed a little too long in the role and certainly took James Bond in a campier direction than his predecessors. Perhaps as a reaction to Moore and an intention to turn the series toward a more serious direction, the producers tapped Dalton for 1987's The Living Daylights, which I consider a reasonably solid contribution to the franchise and a vast improvement over A View to a Kill, Moore's swan song. I think where Dalton's faults ultimately lay were in his approach to the role: He was too serious where Moore was not serious enough. Dalton was a believable secret agent, but he lacked for the sophistication and playfulness that are trademarks of the Bond film series. In my opinion, he was a Boy Scout turned ruthless secret agent who offered plenty of grit but not enough cool. Bond needs a good bit of both.

Is Craig walking into the same situation? Not exactly, but it is fair to say that each actor who has replaced a "legend" as James Bond has struggled to fill 007's shoes. George Lazenby replaced Sean Connery and failed so miserably that Connery returned for one last film. Dalton's demise was not completely related to his performance, but he too did not escape Moore's shadow for long. I certainly consider Pierce Brosnan as a legend in the role, and for my money he is second only to Connery as Bond. At the same time, Brosnan is passing the torch to Craig at a time when the film series has strayed to far toward Moore territory again. Die Another Day did not showcase space stations and laser rifles, but it did display Brosnan windsurfing and driving an invisible car.

Here's where the difference lies for me: Craig just isn't Dalton. Both are talented actors, but from what I've seen so far, Craig exudes a level of cool and sophistication that Dalton never possessed. Some have called his arrival the introduction of Steve McQueen to the character of James Bond, and I think that's a fantastic move for the series. I think Craig will have a shot to have a lengthy run as Bond, but the proof will be in the pudding beginning this weekend.

Will Casino Royale be better than The Living Daylights? Well, I don't think any media will be likely to make the comparison because 19 years after its release, Daylights doesn't command a major presence in the franchise's canon. I imagine Royale will be a better film because of the efforts that have been made to reboot and improve the franchise itself, but don't overlook Daylights on the whole if you are looking to catch up on Bond films you've missed.

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