Welcome to our monthly column, The Great Debate, where two genuinely intelligent critics quibble over whose opinion is more righter. For this edition, Film.com’s Max Evry takes on Hollywood.com’s Movies Editor Matt Patches to battle over which James Bond actor portrayed the greatest 007: Welshman/"Rocketeer" villain Timothy Dalton of the 1980's, or Englishman/"Mr. Rachel Weisz" Daniel Craig of the here and now. Sean who? Roger what?
Max Evry, Team Daniel Craig: Since you're the guest why don't you start off by making your case for Timothy Dalton as the greatest James Bond, a contrarian opinion if I ever heard one, but possibly valid.
Matt Patches, Team Timothy Dalton: Entirely contrarian, but really, who can pick just one great Bond? I understand every person who gravitates towards Sean Connery's iconic, original portrayal of 007, setting the bar with a mix of suave and deadly. I even get Roger Moore love — camp is a thing, and it can be enjoyed. But for me, Timothy Dalton stands out as the Bond who tried something new and found a side of the character who feels like a true spy.
He was ahead of his time — in my opinion, he does what Daniel Craig does today but with more British flair. It was ahead of its time. He shows true danger, and understands how every moment has to be used to accomplish his mission. Yes, even when he's sliding down a mountain on a cello case in "The Living Daylights."
Max Evry: "We have nothing to declare!"
Matt Patches: Both "Living Daylights" and "Licence to Kill" feel like the right mix of deadly spy Bond, gadgetry Bond, one-liner Bond and sexy man Bond. But in all of that, he feels like an everyman to me. I think my love for him comes a wee bit from him being tossed out after two movies and going with a more marketable action star like Pierce Brosnan for "GoldenEye."
Max Evry: Yeah, that was a little unfair. I think it was legal junk that kept the series down for so long that he eventually had to cede the role to Brosnan. But yeah, I agree that he was very much a forerunner to the modern era, but while Dalton was ahead of the curve, I think Daniel Craig is exactly the Bond we need now, and always wanted. I actually like Dalton's two Bond movies; he was in a similar position to Mr. Craig in that he was trying to ground the series after Moore had turned him into a self-parodying clown… quite literally!
Dalton made the character edgier, darker, but he never went as far down the rabbit hole as Craig did. In "Casino Royale," he's very much a post-Bourne-era Bond, a well-oiled machine who, to quote "The Terminator," "will not stop until you are dead." I just cannot imagine Pierce Brosnan, or even Dalton, getting tied to a chair and having his balls smashed by Mads Mikkelsen! Can you?
Matt Patches: Oh, I can. Dalton has the grit you are talking about. Or maybe I'm just good at picturing men having their balls smashed. Now that I think about it, I can picture Connery too.
Max Evry: Maybe getting fluffed.
Matt Patches: For me, Craig is, at times, too serious. I don't think my love for Bond is so narrow that I can't enjoy different interpretations and the removal of familiar elements that made past incarnations great (I do like Dalton after all), but while Craig can have his balls smashed by a thug, I don't think he could ride a cello down a cliff. An image I'll always smile at. And continually reference throughout this discussion because... never forget.
I do like levity in my Bond movies. I think Dalton delivers on both accounts. He rounds Bond like no one previous to him. I will say George Lazenby brought a surprisingly amount of emotion to his one and only film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," but I felt like I was watching real acting with Dalton.
Max Evry: It's a fair point. Craig gets off an occasional one-liner or two, but both films he's in pretty much throw all the shenanigans by the wayside, but I dug that. They strip the character down to his essential elements: brains, brawn and libido. By doing away with Moneypenny and Q and all the gadgets and stuff, it makes the new movies seem like less of a weird by-the-numbers ritual that Eon Productions performs around a burning pile of money every few years.
I know those things are making a comeback in "Skyfall," so we'll see how they bring them into the 21st century but I have confidence in that team. "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace" crafted this two-part story arc that didn't redefine so much as reinforce why we love this character: He's a lone warrior who does his job very well, and no matter how disillusioned he gets with espionage, at the end he's always back and ready for more.
Matt Patches: Yeah, but did Daniel Craig's Bond feed a bad guy to a shark? Because Dalton did in "Licence to Kill."
Max Evry: Ha, touche!
Matt Patches: I won't deny that I'm pumped to see "Skyfall." Part of that comes from the feeling that Sam Mendes sounds like a real Bond fan. Again, not someone who wants to be nostalgic and mimic past movies, but someone who has seen the blending of different performances and knows what is at the core of Bond. I don't think Bond is a lone warrior, but I think he can be. I don't think he's a humorless killer, but he's not a goofball either.
He's so many things, and I think Mendes gets that and might try it with Craig in "Skyfall." If he does, I think he'll be evoking what Dalton showed off in his films, especially "Living Daylights." As much as I love Connery, sometimes his Bond feels like a caricature. I feel similarly about Craig — especially in "Quantum," he feels a bit like a robot on a mission to act like James Bond. In the end, all of my favorite Bond performances have been when the actors humanize the guy but keep faithful to his occupation and preoccupations (ladddiiieessss). Oh, and when they ride cellos.
Max Evry: Always with the cellos, he is... I'll be the first to admit that "Quantum of Solace" was a couple of french fries short of a Happy Meal, but I never thought Craig was the problem. I think the consensus on that film is basically "Craig = Good, Marc Forster = Bad Director."
Matt Patches: You might be right. I may just have that outing's bad taste in my mouth. But that's one of two of Craig's films! And you think he's the best.
Max Evry: I do, I do, for similar reasons that you think Dalton's the best after two films! The Dalton movies were mos' def a step in the right direction, but still very of their time. Did we really need a movie where Bond fights Wayne Newton? Or a weird "Miami Vice"-style plot?
Matt Patches: Yes we did. Actually, I want to switch my answer at the very end. I'm going with James Bond, Jr.
Max Evry: Yeah, I don't think either of our non-animated guys ever skied through a plate glass window. Conceded!