I've become a James Bond afficionado over the last several years. I like all but one of Pierce Brosnan's outings (the one with Robert "Bigbee" Carlyle was awful) and Daniel Craig was excellent in Casino Royale.
I will stipulate to Sean Connery's stature as the Bond, but those films really haven't stood up over the intervening decades. The special effects are horribly dated and the "high" tech is too dated not to distract. We are forty years past the prime of the Connery as Bond era. I can take Roger Moore or leave him; his wit was appropriately dry and there was precious little he could do with mediocre scripts and an overreliance on exotic settings as the world grew increasingly smaller and more generally accessible to film audiences. Timothy Dalton was a good actor stuck with producers content to try and keep the Moore Era going.
This brings me to Brosnan as Bond. GoldenEye was the first Bond I had seen since Connery that I regretted missing in the theaters. Brosnan was helped with the installation of Judi Dench as M. Dench, a wonderful actress with tremendous screen presence, was able to transform the perception of M16 as a bunch of Oxbridge guys idling around their clubs in London into a more sanguine, real world context for Bond's character. Q branch was slowly dialed back throughout Brosnan's run. Brosnan's Bond eased off the Casanova thing and became a bit more John LeCarre and less Ian Fleming. Anyone who has ever read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or The Looking Glass War could see that.
Brosnan's decision to exit came at a good time. I thought Die Another Day was, all-in-all, a decent spy flick. The bit about genetically turning a diminutive North Korean into a dashing anti-Bond was a bit ludicrous, but none of these movies are supposed to be docudramas. Brosnan hit each note well, never winking at the camera and giving Bond the appropriate vengeance and urgency without going over the top.
Daniel Craig was a terrific pick to succeed Brosnan. He handles the action scenes well and taps easily into Bond's not-quite-socialpathic lack of empathy. If you've seen the movie, you're probably muttering something about him falling for Vesper and trying to give up M16 for love. That's true; however, Casino Royale was about Bond's first gig as a 00 and was peppered with his struggles to adjust to the realities of his new life. By the end of the film, he has survived said love, betrayal and getting his nuts crunched repeatedly as part of his progress.
I haven't seen the new one, YET, but I will in the next week or so. I understand it's a direct sequel to the last one. I can't wait.