5 ways the Daniel Craig era saved James Bond

Last week director Sam Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli announced  the cast and title of the 24th James Bond film, Spectre. In the last fifteen years or so, the title announcement of a new Bond movie has become something of a worldwide event, with press swarming Pinewood Studios in London—where the event was held—like a pack of nameless henchmen.

As the event unfolded, new details were revealed that helped shed some light on the film’s story and cast, including the casting of 50 year-old Monica Bellucci. This is significant because Bellucci is seemingly the first actress to be cast in a Bond movie in a considerable amount of time that is age appropriate for Bond himself, played by 46 year-old Daniel Craig. I hate throwing around the term “Bond girl,” but Bellucci’s casting brings a fresh twist for a franchise that for over 50 years old seemed hell-bent on finding the youngest possible actress to boff Bond (although, to be fair, Blue is the Warmest Color’s Léa Seydoux also joined the cast).

Given that the series was a product of the 1950s, a time where women were often not considered equal to men, the James Bond franchise itself was built on stereotypes and filled with gender issues. The series’ creator, Ian Fleming, was every bit the chain smoking, womanizing adulterer that James Bond is in the novels and films. However, the last installment, Skyfall, like others in the Daniel Craig era, seemed to try and break away from some of the franchise’s sexist traditions by re-interpreting iconic female characters to think and act on their own. 

Here are some of the ways the Daniel Craig films have been a great step forward for the James Bond character.

1) The Daniel Craig films have had interesting, complex female leads.

James Bond has always been a weird role model for men to idolize given how poorly he treats women in the novels and films. Then again, on some level, that was the stereotype that Hollywood loved to perpetuate and to a certain extent still does—that women are disposable objects and not to be given a second thought. However, there have been times in Bond’s history where the series has tried to explore this thematically, such as Casino Royale.

In the film, Bond meets Vesper Lynd, played with stunning perfection by Eva Green. Their relationship could be summarized by one scene, where Lynd is introduced. In the scene, Bond is a bit cruel and harsh with Lynd, but unlike other female leads of the past, Lynd fights back. She is every bit as cruel and as harsh as Bond—their back and forth plays like a tense tennis match, our eyes glued to every syllable as if they were words bouncing off the court. Bond quickly learns that he cannot simply belittle or bed Lynd— she is a complex woman full of her own desires, with a fully realized personality of her own.

This brings us to Monica Bellucci. As Philip Bump of the Washington Times wrote, “The average age of the actor playing James Bond in all of the films is 43.5. That’s 14 years older than the average of 28.8 for the women whom he’s battling/rescuing/seducing/all-of-the-above.” We don’t know much about Bellucci’s role in the story, but given how Bellucci is an equal to Bond both in age and stature, there is hope that Bellucci won’t be so easily persuaded by Bond’s charms and that, like Vesper Lynd, she will be her own force to reckon with.

2) James Bond’s sexuality has been thrown into question.

For decades, James Bond’s sexuality has never been in question. After all, he doesn’t flirt with M or Q (or any other male character with just a letter for a name), and he has been pretty emphatically classified as straight. For over 50 years, he’s been venerated as the ultimate man’s man: The man women (allegedly) want to sleep with, and the man every man wants to be.

However, Skyfall did something that was subtle but revolutionary, the first hint in the character’s five decades that could imply otherwise. In a stupendous interrogation scene with Javier Bardem’s Silva, one of the greater Bond villains in a long time, Silva comes on to Bond. Instead of denouncing Silva’s sexual advances, he all but encourages them—implying Bond might very well be bisexual.

At first glance, Daniel Craig seemingly denied that Bond is bisexual. Craig told the press, “I don’t see the world in sexual divisions.” Although, upon closer inspection, one could argue that wasn’t Craig denying Bond’s bisexuality—but merely deflecting it. As someone who’s traveled the world and presumably slept with many people, it would make sense that Bond would have no discernible sexual preference. And when pressed further, Craig eventually agreed: “I think he’ll f**k anything.” This rings very true for a character who sleeps with as many women as he does. There’s nothing that would suggest he doesn’t sleep with just as many men.

3) The Daniel Craig films turned M into a central character instead of just a stock supporting female.

We all love Judi Dench—and apparently so do the Bond producers. When James Bond was rebooted and recast with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, Dench was the only cast member that returned from the Pierce Brosnan movies, which turned out to be one of the new series’ best decisions.

That decision was emphasized when Judi Dench was given a more substantial role in the Craig films. One of the best elements of the Daniel Craig Bond era has been the development of Bond’s maternal relationship with Dench’s M, which became the emotional foundation of the films. (To wit, characters in Craig’s MI6 often refer Dench’s M as “mum.”) It also helped that Craig and Dench had great chemistry together, which (spoiler alert) made Dench’s departure from the series in Skyfall all the more heart-wrenching.

However, Dench’s role was—yet again—given a tremendous boost in Skyfall, as the film’s Bond girl stand-in. In each of Craig’s Bond movies, he has had to suffer a loss—Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, Mathis (played by Giancarlo Giannini) in Quantum of Solace, and M in Skyfall. Although Vesper’s death could be seen as the most tragic, M’s passing felt the most profound. If any character has made an impact on Bond in this series—teaching him the virtue of compassion—it was M. There was something very melancholy not only about Bond losing one of the most influential women in his life, but the series losing one of its most iconic figures.

4) Since Casino Royale, the James Bond universe has become more diverse.

Fans and moviegoers not only can rejoice about Monica Bellucci’s casting, but also about the rest of the cast as well. Spectre is pleasantly diverse, bringing on board Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, who is of Filipino descent. The James Bond series has often toyed at inclusivity (see: Grace Jones in A View to a Kill, Halle Berry in Die Another Day), but the recent reboot has pushed the envelope further.

That includes the casting of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, who appeared in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as an ally to Bond. (And he hasn’t since betrayed Bond, unlike a certain operator of a cloud station in Star Wars.) Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths, To the Wonder) was cast as the female lead in Quantum of Solace, with British actress Naomie Harris later cast as Eve Moneypenny in Skyfall, a role she will reprise in Spectre.

Considering Bond’s globe-trotting profession, James Bond is traveling the globe, a diverse cast isn’t just good business for the film—it makes perfect narrative sense. As a secret agent, Bond would also encounter people from all walks of life—not just ones who look like Denise Richards and Rosamund Pike. It adds a believability to the expansive geopolitical universe that Craig’s 007 inhabits, which makes it all the more authentic when Bond is shown as more vulnerable and more human.

5) Bond’s women, including Moneypenny, are no longer subservient to him.

In the previous James Bond films, Moneypenny was a secretary that often lusted for Bond. As the novels and books were very much indicative of their time, this was frustratingly plausible, like Mad Men without the social commentary. As women often occupied subordinate positions, a woman was defined by her relationships to men, whether in her work or romantic life. For far too long, this was the dynamic between Bond and Moneypenny, who sat alone at her desk dreaming of her own Bond romance, waiting for him to whisk her away. Their whole subplot could be summed up with one question: “Will Bond screw Moneypenny?”

If you’re still skeptical if the filmmakers are going to flesh out Belluci’s character (or even Seydoux’s), remember that Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny first started out as a field agent, sharing missions with Bond in Skyfall. She was smart, assertive—often telling Bond what to do; during one pivotal scene, she actually turned down Bond’s advances for sex. It was invigorating to see Moneypenny re-interpreted as her own woman, someone who wasn’t dependent on Bond for validation.  

It’ll be curious to see what kind of role Moneypenny has in Spectre and if the filmmakers can find a way to give her something to do that isn’t ogling at Bond like a cat in heat—but Bond’s steps forward surely bode well for the franchise’s future after Daniel Craig steps down. As Craig’s tenure has proven, Bond fans like our stereotypes shaken, not stirred.

Photo via Skyfall/Trailer

Dan Marcus

Dan Marcus

Dan Marcus is a geek culture reporter based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in First Showing and Trek Movie.