But his mission in "Casino Royale" is no different from that of the five actors who preceded him, each of whom brought their own strengths and weaknesses to the role. Many aspects of the screen Bond — different from the cold, brooding killing machine of Ian Fleming's books — have evolved over the years, usually to suit the tone of the films.
Early reports suggest that Craig has gone back to the basics, playing a Bond who kills with indifference, keeps the wisecracks to a minimum and hasn't yet decided how he likes his martini. Will this work for audiences used to Sean Connery's raw sexuality, Roger Moore's debonair wit or Pierce Brosnan's smooth sophistication?
Here's a look back at the previous Bonds and their best and worst outings:
- SEAN CONNERY (1962–1967, 1971): As the first cinematic Bond, Connery probably came closest to the literary one and defined the role for years to come. Smoldering yet unrepentantly sexist, filling the screen with a coiled intensity and violence, the Scottish actor is still considered the best of 007's many incarnations. His first four films still rank among the most successful in the series, and although his later entries showed signs of exhaustion, no one has ever quite filled the tux as well.
BEST: "Goldfinger" (1964). WORST: "Diamonds are Forever"(1971).
- GEORGE LAZENBY (1969): In his one outing, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," the second screen Bond ogles a Playboy centerfold, leaves the service to marry a criminal's daughter and ends the movie sobbing over her corpse. If anything, this movie and Lazenby's underrated performance displayed a humanity that has been mostly missing in all the other Bond films. However, no one in the end seemed satisfied: The box office was lukewarm, Lazenby left the series and the producers returned to gadgets and one-liners.
BEST: "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). WORST: We'll never know.
- ROGER MOORE (1973–1985): Moore embodied Bond for a generation of moviegoers, but the British star's seven-film run has split fans down the middle for years. Many of the films relied on outlandish gadgets and slapstick humor, and by the time the series swung back toward a more serious tone, Moore was noticeably too old. Still, several of his entries are pure, mindless fun, and his jet-setting, nonchalant style became an integral part of the character.
BEST: "For Your Eyes Only" (1981). WORST: "A View to a Kill" (1985).
- TIMOTHY DALTON (1987–1989): Despite being the first Shakespearean actor in the role, Dalton returned to the character's hard-bitten roots and lack of humor, changes that were met with indifference by fans used to Moore's bantering ways. Both his movies also tried unsuccessfully to keep up with the times, swapping world-conquering supervillains for terrorists and drug dealers. Dalton does have his fans, but he might be the one truly miscast actor in the franchise.
BEST: "License To Kill" (1989). WORST: "The Living Daylights" (1987).
- PIERCE BROSNAN (1995–2002) Brosnan fused the suave with the sadistic, making him a combination of perhaps three-fifths Moore and two-fifths Connery. He was a little too glib for some, but his four efforts were among the series' most financially successful. After a good start with "Goldeneye," he bowed out embarrassingly with "Die Another Day," which took the gadgetry to a ridiculous extreme. An invisible car? Oh, James.
BEST: "Goldeneye" (1995). WORST: "Die Another Day" (2002).
By Don Kaye