When Sean Connery returned as James Bond after a 12-year hiatus, he tarnished his legacy. Craig, who has reportedly signed up for two more films, would do well to heed the lesson
Legacy matters in cinema. Last week, a US judge allowed a James Bond fan to proceed with a lawsuit against MGM for failing to include the rogue 007 projects Casino Royale (the 1967 version) and Never Say Never Again in a complete box set of movies about the suave super spy. Lawyers for Mary L Johnson, of Pierce County, Washington, argue that most reasonable people would expect these films to be included in a comprehensive collection of Bond movies. And they probably have a point, at least in the case of Never Say Never Again.
Never Say Never Again will always be part of Sean Connerys legacy as 007. The Scotsman returned to his most famous role in 1983, 12 years after his previous appearance in Diamonds Are Forever. Unfortunately, the film, directed by Irvin Kershner, was produced independently of official rights holder Eon Productions and regular Bond studio MGM, and has never been able to shake off a reputation as the black sheep of the series.
In 1983, Eon and MGM were still bumbling along with a past-his-best Roger Moore Connerys second replacement as Bond. So it was hardly helpful for a competing 007 to arrive in cinemas especially one battling classic villain Ernst Blofeld (Max Von Sydow) and the evil forces of Spectre just as the main series released the middling Octopussy.
The early 80s battle of the Bonds is instructive because it reminds us that the 007 producers have struggled to maintain quality levels at times. If Moores Bond was firing on all cylinders, Never Say Never Again would not have been able to exploit available space in the public imagination for an alternate version. But by 1983, after a decade of increasingly tepid Bond films, fans were willing to forget that Connery hadnt been any good in the role since 1965s Thunderball either, and welcome him back with open arms.
This weeks news that Daniel Craig may be returning to Her Majestys secret service will most likely prove just as popular the actor is widely considered the best Bond since Connery in his 1960s heyday. But should he learn from his predecessors mistakes?
If Connery had signed off after his fourth turn in Thunderball, his run as 007 would be even more fondly remembered than it is. Instead, the spiky cool of the early Bond movies evaporated as the series indulged in increasingly over-the-top plots that moved away from Flemings novels, and added hokey one-liners. Casual fans of the series forget that You Only Live Twice, with its nutty screenplay by Roald Dahl, spawned more Bond spoofs and send-ups than all the Moore movies put together.
Connery isnt the only screen spy to have outstayed his welcome. Matt Damon would have been well advised to quit playing Jason Bourne after 2007s The Bourne Ultimatum, a film that could not have been more climactic if it tried, yet somehow ended up as the third movie in a five-episode saga.
Craigs four-movie stint as 007 may not have been perfect the insipid Quantum of Solace (2008) saw to that. But as box sets go, it is probably up there with the original Star Wars trilogy, Christopher Nolans triptych of Batman films and Peter Jacksons Lord of the Rings trilogy as an example of high-quality episodic cinema. If Craig walked away now, his legacy would be assured.