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Who Was the Greatest James Bond of Them All?

From Sean Connery to Roger Moore to Daniel Craig, our Bond Heads go to work

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This feature originally ran in November 2015 and is being re-published in honor of Roger Moore’s passing.

bond week Who Was the Greatest James Bond of Them All?Bond. James Bond. This week, Consequence of Sound is celebrating the legendary secret agent with five days of unique features leading up to the release of Sam Mendes’ highly anticipated Skyfall follow-up, Spectre. Yesterday, Sarah Kurchak explored the Bond Girl’s strange place in pop culture, and today, six staff writers argue for each of the six actors who portrayed Bond. Read on and see who you agree with…

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

A number of actors have delivered that line in the long-running 007 series, but who is your Bond? The arguments have been raging on for decades, and with so many different takes on the same character leading to captivating and occasionally off-the-wall performances, how do you choose? Do you want subtlety, or do you want a wink to the camera? Do you want a killer, or do you want a lover? Do you want all of these characteristics in your Bond?

Each of us was given the task to champion a specific Bond. You read that right. All six Bonds are defended here, with each actor representing something unique. Read on to see who stands where and with whom, and please let us know your choice for the #1 007 in the comments section below.

For Your Eyes Only,
Justin Gerber
Film Editor

In Defense of Sean Connery

by Cap Blackard & Eleanor Edwards

sean connery james bond Who Was the Greatest James Bond of Them All?

Sean Connery is invariably the most argued best-of-the-best Bond. The rationale generally boils down to he was the first; he defined the role. Heck, in many cases, Connery’s Bond likewise defined Connery. Unless you’re shouting “you’re the man now, dog!”, a bad Sean Connery impression is moreso an impression of Connery as Bond. Even after hanging up the PPK twice, Connery inevitably returned to his most iconic role and learned to Never Say Never Again.

But in the ever-changing visage of James Bond through the ages, it just so happens that against all odds they got it right the first time. Connery’s portrayal of 007 is the ultimate embodiment of the gentleman spy and truest to author Ian Fleming’s source material. In authenticity and iconism, Connery kills the competition.

Fleming’s books are a product of their time, and Connery’s Bond is the only Bond of that time. In fact, all later iterations of James Bond make an effort to undo much of what makes the Connery/Fleming Bond tick: masculinity to a fault, prejudices, and the cavalier Cold War vibe of the ’50s and ’60s. The vary nature of what spies are in the popular consciousness was defined by Connery’s Bond, and it’s an image that persists to this day. As soon as Bond started changing with the times, the campy spirit was retained, but the essence of Fleming’s character was irrevocably changed.

In the novels, Bond is described as “good looking in a dark and rather cruel way” — dark hair, rugged, plus his father was Scottish. Though Fleming had his own fanciful ideas of who should play Bond, Connery captures his literal descriptions sharply. He’s handsome enough to soften a woman’s guard and chilling enough to be a killer who henchmen fear. Bond is very much a product of his time, where the cunning killer can be admired in not just his dashing exploits, but his sociopathic attention to fashion, food, and finer things while reveling in the “sweet tang of rape.” In nearly every instance that Bond saves a woman, it’s easy to read Connery’s inner monologue as “I’ll shave her sho I can have shex with her laetar.” This might sound horrible to modern audiences, but it’s this unapologetic masculine fantasy that fueled Fleming’s Bond and remains ever the basis for all modern incarnations of the character.

Yet in spite of Book Bond being the stuff of Fleming’s self-indulgent daydreams, Connery’s Bond is more relatable — he’s fallible. He’s coldblooded certainly, but he shows signs of pain and struggle unlike later iterations who amount to little more than impermeable, super-heroic quip-factories. The only other Bond close to the mold is Craig, who makes good on Connery-style subdued puns and taking the punches that a life of spying doles out. However, Craig’s 007 is grounded in realism to a fault. Connery’s Bond would sooner die in the field than show signs of PTSD or be motivated by trauma and a brooding past. The only motivation he needs for risking life and limb while laying ladies is the satisfaction of knowing he’s in service of Queen and Country.

Connery is Ian Fleming’s James Bond.

In Defense of George Lazenby

by Justin Gerber

lazenby bond Who Was the Greatest James Bond of Them All?

Sometimes what makes or breaks an actor’s career comes down to an exact science. In the case of George Lazenby, a perfect formula was concocted. One miscast here, a bad director hire there, and maybe people don’t look back so favorably on the sixth entry in the Bond series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

After warranted salary disputes, Connery was out as Bond. Producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were insistent that they would be able to carry on without him. After a shave, a haircut, and a visit to Connery’s tailor, Lazenby convinced them that he was the next Bond. The Australian model had little to no experience in front of the camera, aside from his modeling gigs, but this was purely an attempt by Broccoli and Saltzman to show Connery how little he mattered in the grand scheme of Bond.

If we took a trip back to swingin’ 1969, we’d get a sense that Connery was the victor. OHMSS was a failure critically and commercially, with Lazenby getting most of the blame. Fortunately for him, and in turn we the audience, the years have been more kind to Lazenby’s solo effort than any other Bond movie from the ‘60s. It showcases the directorial debut of longtime Bond editor Peter Hunt, the best “Bond Girl” of them all in Dame Diana Rigg, amazing stunts, and gorgeous locations. It’s a scaled-back affair compared to most Bond movies, but it is what Lazenby does with the role that sets OHMSS apart. In a good way.

Connery’s Bond had become Superman. Once he flew off in a jetpack (Thunderball), the sky was the only limit. “A martini, shaken not stirred, and a mini-helicopter for my next entry. Thanks, Q!” His movies are still great fun, and in some cases they’re simply great, but upon his departure, the producers toned it down. Blofeld’s massive, hidden volcano lair from YOLT seems a genre away from his remote mansion in the Swiss Alps in OHMSS. Like the set pieces around him, Lazenby’s Bond is also toned down. He’s human again.

The argument that critics have about OHMSS is how much better it would be with Connery and that it works in spite of Lazenby. I disagree. We saw where Connery stood with the character in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, a performance he obviously sleepwalks through for his then record-setting payday. I’m not entirely sure that fed-up 1968 Sean Connery would have convinced us that Bond had fallen in love with a countess and was prepared to bid adieu to bachelorhood.

Lazenby does. His chemistry with Rigg is unparalleled.

I don’t think Sir Sean could pull off the denouement, where we find a defeated Bond holding his dead wife in his arms, lips pressed against her hair, barely able to suppress the tears.

Lazenby nails it. It’s arguably the best ending of any Bond movie (see also: Casino Royale).

You can’t say what will stick around forever and what will fade away (James Cameron made a movie called Avatar). That OHMSS is actually more popular today than it has ever been has a lot to do not only with the capable crew that surrounded George Lazenby, but the actor himself. Hate all you want, but you have all the time in the world to get on board.

In Defense of Roger Moore

by Blake Goble

roger moore james bond Who Was the Greatest James Bond of Them All?

“You know what’s the best thing about you British? Octopussy! Why I must have seen that movie … twice!” – Homer Simpson

See? People like Roger Moore’s Bond.

This is too bonkers not to acknowledge, but here’s some trivia that goes a long way in defending the legacy and craft of Roger Moore. When an increasingly expensive and ornery Sean Connery hung up his Walther PPK after 1971’s dopey Diamonds Are Forever, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were left struggling to find a new actor to play James Bond in their enduring action espionage franchise. They’d already promised Live and Let Die, that James Bond would in fact return. George Lazenby was met with scorn thanks to Connery’s popularity in 1969, and the thought of having to re-cast Bond again was likely terrifying. Actor after actor was tested; William Gaunt, John Ronane, Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates, countless unknown and forgotten names. There were even a curious amount of American options considered, including Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and god help us, Burt Reynolds.

All that is to say, we could have done much worse, much more unusual and strange, than Roger Moore’s moled mug. Moore was considered for Bond in Dr. No and even in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. So it was inevitable that Roger Moore would be Bond, but Moore didn’t want to be Sean Connery part two. He brought his own light heart and cutesy sense of humor to the Bond franchise. After all, at the end of the day, this is a franchise about a womanizing, gun-toting, toy-breaking English alcy with a license to do whatever the hell he wants. If you can’t have some fun with that, or not feel guilty watching his stories, what’s the point in having a Bond movie? Roger Moore saw the amusements and freedom in Bond’s bad boy ways.

Yeah, Roger Moore’s Bond films are relatively easy to take potshots at. He’s the corny Bond. The bell-bottom Bond. The James Bond that gradually turned 58 on screen and could barely do anything without the secret service of a stuntman.

But damn it Roger Moore always got his man, always kept the Bond films fast on their feet, and kept the franchise alive and steady for 12 bloody years. With his raised eyebrows, blue eyes, and sandy brown hair, Moore’s Bond may have been a prep-school spy, smirking all the way, but the popular notion that he was a lame Bond is rubbish. Live and Let Die was a cracking crime Bond with shades of voodoo mysticism, and Moore made for a nimble action star right off the bat. He could go steely like in For Your Eyes Only or damn near vaudeville like in Moonraker and Octopussy. Moore was whatever the series needed.

And, despite conventional wisdom, Moore gave a totally perfect Bond performance in The Spy Who Loved Me, displaying charm, charisma, tension, and a then-perfected simper for Bond. Dalton and Brosnan never had a perfect Bond performance … Roger Moore viewed the Bond films for the escapisms that they are, and while it may have rubbed diehards the wrong way, his take on the Bond persona was certainly not wrong. Moore was more tongue-in-cheek than cloak-and-dagger. Moore, above all, looked like the actor having the most fun playing James Bond, constantly happy to put on a smile and get into international treaty-breaking trouble throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In Defense of Timothy Dalton

by Clint Worthington

Timothy-Dalton-james-bond-BW

In many ways, it’s harder to evaluate the Bonds with shorter tenures (your Lazenbys, your Daltons) due to the sheer lack of material you have to work with. Even Roger Moore took a couple entries to find his footing; how can we expect that of poor widdle Timmy Dalton?

Dalton’s Bond, or “pre-Craig” as I like to call him, brooded and glowered long before Daniel Craig spiced up 007’s pathos with a sexy speedo in Casino Royale. With piercing eyes, clenched teeth and a square jaw, Dalton’s Bond was brawny and efficient, taking a much more no-nonsense approach to espionage. Critics complain about his muting of Bond’s womanizing nature, which I actually think ages his films better: The Living Daylights shows Bond as a monogamous protector, while Licence to Kill has him maintain a professional partnership with his Bond girl to the very end. No empty misogyny here – just a professional going about his job, with his walls occasionally broken by the right woman.

Dalton threw himself into many of the stunts in his two films, and it shows. His Bond carries a tremendous physicality and dynamics that the goofier Bonds lacked. Whether Dalton is hanging from the top of a speeding army jeep, fighting off a henchman on the back of a cargo plane, or rolling a semi onto two wheels to dodge a missile, his Bond’s lean, intimidating demeanor lent his set pieces a needed intensity.

People unfairly accuse Dalton (and Craig, if we’re honest) of taking the fun out of James Bond, to which I heartily disagree. While he doesn’t have the winking-at-the-screen cheekiness of Moore, Dalton’s sense of humor as Bond is a bit more enigmatic, using his signature grumpiness to his advantage. The Living Daylights makes great use of this, turning the womanizing Bond into a hen-pecked boyfriend to hilarious effect — such as when he’s forced by Kara to turn back to grab her cello from her apartment, despite being on the lam (“Why couldn’t you have learned the violin?”). Dalton’s Bond quips grimly to amuse himself, which ironically makes his terrible puns more palatable. Moore quips to desperately show off to the audience.

It’s a shame that the late ‘80s rejected Dalton, since hindsight shows he was made for that era. 1989’s Licence to Kill, a more violent film clearly meant to cash in on the era’s love of bloodier revenge thrillers like Commando and Lethal Weapon, would simply not have worked with a campy Bond like Moore.

Even though he only had two entries in the series, Timothy Dalton is the best Bond. Sitting at the tail end of Bond fatigue, following an extremely popular (and long-running) Bond in Moore, and taking a dramatically different take on the super-spy, Dalton faced an uphill battle. Despite these challenges, his two entries offered a welcome change from the overt, tired camp of Roger Moore’s run into something a little meaner.

In this time of taking Bond a little more seriously, it’s worth it to take a look back at Living Daylights and License to Kill to see a Bond that predicted his stoic successor by nearly 20 years.

In Defense of Pierce Brosnan

by Michael Roffman

Pierce-Brosnan-Bond

Pierce Brosnan is James Bond in I Deserved Better Than This.

Could you imagine if Brosnan’s gorgeous Irish mug graced the posters for 1987’s The Living Daylights or 1989’s License to Kill? They should have. He was all set to play the blockbuster secret agent; that is, until the wonderful folks at NBC caught wind of the casting and decided to renege on canceling Remington Steele, essentially trapping the actor and forcing him to send back the prized contract to the Broccolis. Dick move, right? And to think, this pre-dates all the Leno/Letterman drama by about half a decade.

But as we all know, the role went to DALTON!, who starred in two brutal, ruthless installments before stepping off the series, which would experience some legal schmegal mumbo jumbo between the producers and the studio for a few years. When the lawyers finally stopped strangling one another, and pots of tea were cordially shared, Brosnan was announced as the next Bond on June 7, 1994. Here’s the thing, though: By this time, the world had waved bye-bye to the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War altogether.

“He’s useless!” “He’s a has-been!” “We don’t need him!” People didn’t say these things — maybe they did; Facebook wasn’t around then, so who knows — but it was inferred that James Bond was something of a relic. Writer Michael France obviously didn’t care, which is why he was able to write the Ian Fleming-less story for 1995’s GoldenEye. A film that conquered the box office and won over critics, like the late Roger Ebert, who declared that Brosnan was “somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete.”

It’s important to discuss GoldenEye when we talk about Brosnan as Bond. The film not only features the actor’s strongest performance as 007, but remains one of the franchise’s most beloved outings. Director Martin Campbell saved the series from obsolescence, a feat that would land him the same job a decade later with 2006’s Casino Royale. Meanwhile, Brosnan became the Broccoli family’s poster boy, successfully reuniting James Bond with the living rooms and bedrooms of children everywhere. Allow me to explain…

In 1997, Brosnan’s Bond popped up in two separate places: In August, he landed on the cover of video game boxes for Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye 007 and re-surfaced four months later in Tomorrow Never Dies. Which one do you think fans remember? Well, unless you have a hard-on for Jonathan Pryce, you probably didn’t even finish reading the film’s title just now before losing your thoughts to the countless afternoons you wasted protecting Natalya Simonova. You’re probably not even reading this sentence. Stop! Come back!

Odds are you likely recall Brosnan’s Bond as a video game character. That’s not a fault of his own, but simply a matter of circumstances. In addition to GoldenEye 007, which many critics call the greatest first-person shooter in video game history, Brosnan appeared in video game adaptations of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, in addition to two standalone entries, 2002’s Nightfire (his likeness) and 2004’s Everything or Nothing (his likeness and his voice). Strangely enough, the latter would be his final appearance as Bond.

To be fair, this fate was probably for the best: Tomorrow Never Dies was good, but forgettable; The World Is Not Enough was maligned by one of the poorest casting decisions in the series; and Die Another Day … well, let’s not even go there. In hindsight, Brosnan never really got a fair shake after GoldenEye, his single greatest achievement as Bond, and still, a healthy (and fairly wide) margin of fans are quick to remember the N64 game over the actual film itself. To be fair, that isn’t exactly a tragedy when you actually think about it.

Namely because Brosnan became something bigger than Bond. Youngsters who weren’t particularly fans of the franchise likely remember playing his game at a friend’s house, or even owning it for themselves. (This isn’t hyperbole. The game is that good.) Those who do love the franchise will never forget the game, especially since there hasn’t been an ideal substitute, not even the ill-fated remake starring Daniel Craig. That’s a powerful, unique hallmark to own in the 21st century and one that no other Bond actor shares. Though, does that make him the best?

Well, not if you owned a Playstation.

In Defense of Daniel Craig

by Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Daniel-Craig-james-bond

You can’t address Daniel Craig without bringing up Pierce Brosnan, really. And even as somebody who also quite appreciates Brosnan as a good Bond who came around at the worst possible time, it’s still hard to deny that Die Another Day is the kind of rogue blockbuster that made quite a bit of money and also very nearly killed the franchise. In a fashion, you could even argue that it did.

After all, Casino Royale looks like few other Bonds, or even like many of the action films of its time. The mid-2000s added grit to the spy movie, and with that, allow me to address the other spy who had a massive impact on what Bond would become in the modern era: Jason Bourne. While Bond wouldn’t fully embrace the gritty, paranoid nihilism of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films until Skyfall, even Royale established Craig’s Bond as a different kind of super-spy, one with a dry contempt for ostentatious gadgetry and one with no shortage of emotional demons.

That arguably two of the best Bond films came out of that final idea is heavily indebted to Craig. While Craig might have preceded the true rise of the soulfully burdened anti-hero with The Dark Knight by a few years, he absolutely anticipated the kind of Bond that the times would want: bruised, violent, ramshackle. A Bond who sometimes gets the people he loves killed and endures based not on a continued zest for witty rapport and shaken cocktails, but instead for vengeance. A Bond who gets brutally tortured and cackles with mad laughter throughout. A Bond who doesn’t just fire popguns at faceless baddies, but kills them with his hands. A Bond who learns that the people who made and trained him are so often no more innocent than the enemies he’s dispatched to eliminate.

It’s incredibly strange to think now, after the runaway successes of Casino Royale and Skyfall, that Craig was unwanted by many longtime fans when he was initially cast. He was smaller, less chiseled, and without the poshly debonair appeal that numerous past actors had milked to one degree or another. But Craig gives Bond something that I’ll argue none of the others truly did: an inner life. We can quarrel all day over the value of giving every modern character an origin story, but the newest Bond films have never overdone it like so many of their contemporaries. Craig’s Bond comes from somewhere, even if it’s unclear. He had a life before Bond, one that continues to follow and even plague him. He’s not simply a superhero flying off into the wild blue yonder of his next adventure between installments; his James Bond is beholden to the past right up to the moment it becomes his present.

Craig is perfectly deadpan, even as he finds moments of the Bond wit in wearier form, and fits the profile of a more complex kind of Bond: the man becoming him, not the man he is. He’s the Bond who feels his fistfights when he wakes up in the morning, the Bond who still dreams of the friends and lovers he’s lost even when the credits have rolled. Craig lends Bond a soul and humanity that the films arguably required if they were to continue into a new era.

Breaking Bond

Numbers Are Forever

Well, the fine folks over at GB Showplates decided to get all smart on us and analyzed some key Bond data. What they came up with was a key infographic that delves into the life and loves of our favorite secret agent. From high speeds to high profits and lady luck to the number of kills, now you can really decide which Bond the world is not enough for — all backed with science.

bond info graphic Who Was the Greatest James Bond of Them All?

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