A Unified Theory of the Daniel Craig Bond Films

Due to other commitments, my ongoing “Facts of Death” series, in which I laboriously examine the four existing James Bond films that feature Daniel Craig as the deadly spy, is on hold for the foreseeable future. However, seeing as production on Bond 25 (its official title is yet to be determined) is underway with a planned release in April 2020, I wanted to share with you my reading of the overarching trajectory of the Daniel Craig era to date.

For all of its fluctuations in tone and aesthetics, the Daniel Craig films have a fairly consistent sense of its protagonist’s psychological crises and construct a relatively consistent dramatic and thematic arc around it. The fundamental concern at the heart of the Daniel Craig Bond films is the notion of family, or, rather, the lack of it. In these films, “James Bond” is not a stable identity but a kind of constructed persona adopted by a man in a state of psychological and emotional turmoil, and the films dramatize its protagonist’s attempts to reconcile himself to himself.

In Casino Royale, we meet James Bond, one of the many “maladjusted young men” with a death wish swept up into the secret service to give his life on behalf of his country. An orphan with great ambivalence about authority and mistrust of personal relationship, Bond relies on MI6 as a surrogate family. Judi Dench’s M serves as the pivotal mother figure that he both rebels against and whom he seeks to impress. In the course of Casino Royale, Bond meets Vesper Lynd and contemplates abandoning his surrogate family to establish a life with her, and then recoils when that possibility is taken from him.

Quantum of Solace deals with the aftershocks of that loss, and over the course of that adventure, Bond meets his double, Camille. She, too, has lost her family. Together, they wander a family-less wilderness of grief and violence, and neither is able to wholly reconcile themselves to it or to each other. At the climax of Quantum of Solace, they find that the pain is too great to allow them to build a connection (family) with one another, and so Bond reintegrates himself with his surrogate MI6 family and once again submits to his “mother,” M.

Skyfall finds Bond questioning his submission to that surrogate family as, following a perceived betrayal at the hands of his “mother,” he becomes entangled in a battle with one of M’s previous surrogate sons. The course of the battle forces him to revisit the formative trauma of his youth, the death of his parents, which bleeds over into the battle of the present. He defeats his “sibling” and proves himself to be the “true” son, but the battle still costs him his mother.

Not unlike how Quantum of Solace traced the shockwaves of trauma from Bond’s loss of Vesper, Spectre follows where Skyfall left off, depicting Bond as grappling with the loss of M and the subsequent corruption of the secret service in her absence. Bond pursues her last wish as he hunts down the mysterious organization that orchestrated her demise. That quest for answers brings Bond into contact with another person in need of a family (“orphan” Madeleine Swann falls in love with Bond in part because he is a representation of her father) and brings him face to face with his archnemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Here, Blofeld is quite literally made into a sibling for Bond, a kind of onetime brother for the young, traumatized Bond, who, perceiving Bond as a rival, effectively orphaned himself and attempted to create himself anew. Having reconstructed his own origin story, this Blofeld overtly relishes the opportunity to rob Bond of any possibility of establishing a new family with Madeleine. At the end of Spectre, Bond triumphs over Blofeld by abandoning the role of state-sponsored assassin, leaving his surrogate MI6 family to build a new life with Madeleine.

Where Bond 25 proceeds from here, who knows? What little we know about Bond 25 suggests that his tranquil retirement with Madeleine will be short-lived. But, given the trajectory so far, I have a suggestion: if Bond 25 is to continue this arc, might it not make sense to see Bond become a parent? This has some level of precedent in the source material; Bond fathered a child in Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, although Bond was unaware that his child existed.

The Facts of Death: Quantum of Solace, Part IV

With the aid of M and Tanner, Bond learns that Dominic Greene is moving to Bregenz, Austria. The narrative mechanics by which M determines that the CIA have been working with Greene make for one of the better connect-the-dots moments in the Craig films, and it also features the film’s niftiest graphical interface, a large glass display-screen that doubles as a wall of M’s office.

The CIA has significantly more knowledge of Quantum than their British counterparts–Felix Leiter, who makes his first appearance in this film in this scene, will later note that they “know who Greene is” and express his reservations about cooperating with him–but the CIA also knows less than they think they do; they’re being duped by Greene, having been purposefully misled into believing that they might be able to get oil rights out of the Bolivian revolution Quantum is manufacturing.

The Americans come off looking very predatory in Quantum of Solace, with Felix Leiter serving as the the “Not All Americans” ally who lends Bond a hand later in the picture, but even Leiter’s turn only happens reluctantly, after Bond twists his arm. The film laces more than a few barbs at the USA’s foreign policy throughout the picture, but this scene fixates on it. Greene’s remark–“You don’t need another Marxist giving resources to the people, do you?”–is perhaps the most brazenly political moment in the entire Bond franchise.

Wright’s Leiter remains relegated to a largely passive role throughout Quantum of Solace. He sulks his way through the film, following the lead of his superior, the very greasy Gregory Beam (played with wonderful hamminess by David Harbour). In this scene, Beam tests Leiter by pushing him to identify Bond to Greene; Leiter tries to avoid it, only for Beam to call him out in front of Greene. Beam defends this uneasy partnership with Greene on the grounds of realpolitik–“You’re right, we should just deal with nice people,” he sneers to Leiter when Leiter expresses his reservations–and then bullies Leiter into submission by hinting that the success of Leiter’s career depends on his cooperation.

The Craig era continually underlines the notion that spies–and even their masters, like M–are just employees who are subservient to a larger bureaucracy that isn’t particularly concerned with their best interest and will gladly discard them whenever they become too inconvenient. There’s no longer an assumption that Britain and America are necessarily the “good guys” on the international stage.

The architecture of the Bregenz Opera House blends neatly into Dennis Gassner’s more stark, sleek approach to production design, and its watery stage makes for one of the most richly atmospheric locations in the Craig era. In the early drafts of Quantum of Solace, the opera house was to be the locale for the film’s climax, but rewrites shifted this setpiece to the film’s midsection. The notion of a criminal organization using an opera performance for their business meeting is blatantly absurd due to its transparent impracticality–it’s amazing that the crowd doesn’t shush all the members of Quantum who are talking about water rights and piping–it’s also the kind of brilliantly surreal conceit that Bond movies thrive on, transforming something as dull as an executive board room meeting into vibrant spectacle.

Bond isn’t dressed for the occasion, so he steals a dinner jacket from the opera’s cast and crew lockers (naturally, it is conveniently tailored to his physique). The theft of his black tie ensemble unfolds in a confusing string of cuts that marks the one “off” editing beat in an otherwise well-constructed montage depicting the build-up to a gala performance of Puccini’s Tosca.

David Arnold’s eerie cue for this sequence, arguably the highlight of the score, pays homage to John Barry’s “Space March” from You Only Live Twice, reworking Arnold’s sinister motif for the Quantum organization into an electronic-accented march that builds into the “Te Deum” from Puccini’s opera.

Bond identifies a Quantum member by noticing that only a few members of the crowd receive specialty gift bags. The bags contain ear pieces and a “Q” pin. The pin seems a bit too cutesy and seemingly conflicts with later dialogue from Greene that indicates that none of the Quantum members are supposed to actually see one another face-to-face.

As Greene and his entourage take their positions in his private box, Elvis becomes the focus for an odd moment–he gives another of Greene’s henchmen a kind of imbecilic, friendly look, only to be met with a dead stare. It’s yet another of the film’s many curious “gags” related to this character, and one occurs just a few minutes earlier, during the CIA meeting with Greene, when Elvis tries to start up conversation with Leiter and is completely ignored. The nature of Elvis’ relationship with Greene is never addressed directly, but is certainly affectionate (when leaving the box later, Greene will escort Elvis out of the room with his hand on Elvis’ lower back). Certainly, Greene has an unusual tolerance for his bodyguard’s incompetence. Taken with Greene’s desperately performative displays of heterosexuality when it comes to Camille, it is all too easy to read Green and Elvis’ relationship as coding Greene as being homosexual (or perhaps bisexual, given Greene’s desperately performative declarations of heterosexuality throughout the film). That said, both Amalric and Taubman (who plays Elvis) concocted their own backstory for the characters: Elvis is Greene’s cousin, and he had previously been destitute before Greene rescued him by bringing him into the Quantum organization.

The Bond production team originally hoped to utilize the Bregenz production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera as the setting for this sequence. The set for Un Ballo in Maschera featured a giant skeleton flipping through the pages of a book, an image very suited to a series as dominated by death-imagery as the Bond series is, but they were quickly informed that this would not be possible, and so the Bond team agreed to utilize Tosca instead.

The extravagant floating set for the Bregenz production of Tosca centers around a giant eye. Bond perches at the top of this ever-watchful eye as he observes the crowd, identifying himself (and the profession he embodies) with it. Quantum’s business meeting unfolds as of Tosca‘s first act reaches its climax, the “Te Deum.” During this spectacular moment, Tosca‘s villain, Scarpia, declares his love for the diva Tosca and his plans to coerce her into becoming his lover. The bold fanfare that accompanies Bond and Greene’s face-to-face encounter in the opera lobby marks the musical conclusion of the act. The subsequent montage of scenes from Tosca that are interspersed with Bond’s firefight with the Quantum assassins breaks with the opera’s chronology and mingles different moments from the opera, but will most directly fixate on Tosca’s murder of Scarpia at the end of Act II, foreshadowing Camille’s struggle with the predatory General Medrano during the climax of Quantum of Solace.

If you listen carefully, you can hear that this is the first time the organization refers to themselves as “Quantum”; this only happens one more time, towards the end of the film, when Greene mentions the name to Bond. The organization’s name was apparently chosen very late into production; scribe Paul Haggis stated that he was unaware of the name or the reasons for its selection.

Bond decides to interrupt the meeting, hoping to force Quantum out of the anonymity of the crowd, and does so with dialogue that is more blandly functional than clever (“Can I offer an opinion? I really think you people should find a better place to meet”). To identify the members of Quantum, he uses a nifty phone app that captures and reconstructs their faces from blurry photographs by assembling various angles into a composite face.

Mr. White has come to the Quantum meeting, too, but he’s sharper than the rest of his organization, and, accordingly, he gets the best line of the scene. Noting the departures of his colleagues, he turns to his companion: “Well, Tosca isn’t for everyone.” This turns out to be Mr. White’s last scene in the film, leaving a loose end which Spectre later picks up on. The original ending of Quantum of Solace actually featured Bond killing Mr. White, but the Bond producers deemed it to be too much of a cliffhanger and was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.

The impressionistic montage that depicts Bond’s tangle with Greene’s henchmen is self-consciously arty in way the series has rarely been, eschewing the thrills of well-documented action choreography for the thrills of montage. It resolves itself in one of the film’s more self-referential moments; Bond cornering one of the henchmen on the opera house’s rooftop recreates a similar moment from The Spy Who Loved Me. Unlike the baddie in Spy, this henchman does not cooperate with Bond, and Bond promptly drops him off the roof without a word.

The henchman actually survives, landing on the hood of Greene’s car. In keeping with this film’s penchant for overcomplicated plotting, the henchman isn’t one of Greene’s, but is actually the bodyguard of Guy Haines, a powerful advisor of the Prime Minister. When M learns, via Tanner, that the henchman was found shot, she naturally blames Bond (which isn’t entirely inappropriate, given that Bond did drop him off a roof and presumably intended for him to meet his demise).

M, recoiling from the news that the Quantum organization may have significant influence on the British government, tries to pull Bond back to Britain to debrief him. Bond refuses to let the trail go cold, and, when M attempts to restrict his movements, he effectively goes “rogue,” a choice that Craig’s Bond makes quite regularly throughout these films.

Bond learns that MI6 has shut him down when his company credit card is declined at the airport. Bond, ever courteous to service representatives, charmingly asks the attendant to tell anyone who calls about him that he’s headed to Cairo. We’ll very quickly find out he has other plans.

The Facts of Death: Casino Royale, Part XIV

Thus we arrive at the closing moments of Casino Royale, in which Craig’s Bond fully embalms himself in the armor of his constructed persona, and steps out into the world to confront sinister villainy as a state-employed thug in elegant attire.

Even though the ending of Casino Royale was always intended to function as a gateway to the sequel (the initial versions of which were being written by Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as Casino Royale was filming), Casino Royale‘s ending feels less like a cliffhanger than it does the completion of the film’s arc. This is certainly how director Martin Campbell felt, who declined to return for its successor due to a feeling that a sequel would not add much to his work on Casino Royale. Still, Quantum of SolaceSkyfall, and Spectre will each, in their own way, see this finale as a kind of pause rather than a full statement. The Craig era exists in a constant push-and-pull wherein Bond’s identity is asserted and subsequently challenged.

The conversation with M consists of an embarrassing amount of exposition, most of which serves to clear up the mystery surrounding Vesper’s motivations. These motivations have been relatively obscure and clumsily dramatized, and will still remain a bit hazy after this conversation (this murkiness surrounding Vesper’s motivations, and her boyfriend, provides Quantum of Solace with its foundation). M’s comments to Bond contain much supposition along with the few facts she provides. If this conversation achieves anything dramatically, it is to refocus the film around Bond’s relationship to M, who chastises Bond for being coldhearted while also knowing that she needs him to be exactly who he is in order for him to be useful to her and the state she serves.

The conversation does not serve Craig’s Bond especially well, reducing him to a grim-faced listener. The film tosses away the iconic, nasty closing line of Fleming’s novel, suggesting that it is included more out of obligation to the source novel rather than out of clear dramatic purpose. In Fleming’s novel, it was a searing final exclamation mark in the hardboiled tradition, a blast of misogyny that extended from Bond’s wounded masculinity. Here, it is stated and then subsequently challenged, overwhelmed by M’s musings.

Vesper’s cell phone enables Bond to track down Mr. White. It’s suggested this was her intention all along. Mr. White is clearly somewhat negligent when it comes to the use of cell phone tech. Giving Vesper his personal number and retains the same phone after this affair is concluded. You’d think he would at least have the same sense as a low-class criminal and use a burner.

The finale, staged at Mr. White’s beautiful lakeside villa, concludes Bond’s character arc by showing that he has been absorbed by the character’s iconography. The sequence serves as a purpose statement for Bond: he’s the killer who brings violence wherever he goes, hunting down the criminal elements that cloak themselves in luxury and wealth.

Bond sports an atypically rakish outfit. Given that the dinner jacket was already presented mid-picture, costume designer Lindy Hemming was tasked with effectively created a Bond outfit that could out-Bond the dinner jacket, and she settled on the three-piece suit, which nods back to Connery’s attire in Goldfinger. Where Connery’s gray suit was tasteful, Craig’s is ostentatious. This pinstriped suit is not the suit of a gentleman educated in “Oxford or wherever,” to borrow Vesper’s words, but the suit of a hoodlum. The gangster-ish effect of the outfit is further magnified by Bond’s choice of weapon, which might as well be a Tommy gun.

His smug delivery of the “Bond, James Bond” line rings out both loud and hollow. This is, as Fleming once described him, the man who is only a silhouette. Death will follow in his wake. Cue, for the first time, the James Bond theme.

The Facts of Death: Casino Royale, Part XIII

“The big picture.”

These words, lifted from Bond’s chastisement at M’s hands earlier in the film, reverberate with a darker significance as Bond murmurs them to Le Chiffre.

The “big picture” involves more than the details of the organization that employs Le Chiffre. The “big picture” suggests the entirety of the complex web of political power in which these individuals find themselves. With greater understanding of context also comes greater understanding of self, and thus the Craig films’ trajectory pairs its investigations into the shadowy corners of the “big picture” with ever deeper dives into the shadowy corners of Bond himself.

Craig’s Bond never comes to terms with his place as a pawn of state power, even if he craves the sense of purpose that comes with it. Bond often chooses to exceed or contradict the orders of his superiors to pursue his own impulses (this trait has always been part of the Bond character from his inception, but remains more prominent for Craig’s Bond, a man perpetually revolting against himself and the world around him). At this moment, having faced near-death at the hands of Le Chiffre, Bond will reject the role of a hired assassin to pursue an uncertain future with Vesper.

Bond recovers from his ordeal at Le Chiffre’s hands in scenic Lake Como (this being a Bond film, a standard hospital simply would not do), and the film takes the lull to fix its gaze on Bond and Vesper. The scenes that unfold here are, on a writing level, some of the weakest in the film, failing to properly showcase the complexities of these characters and their doomed romance.

Nevertheless, I remain entranced by Eva Green, who, even as she has to suffer the indignity of uttering incomprehensibly strange dialogue about Bond’s little finger, remains incandescent and enigmatic. Vesper has clearly begun to fray, though Casino Royale frustratingly fails to offer moments that truly allow for Vesper’s psychological state to take center stage. Vesper may be a less complex character in Fleming’s novel, but the equivalent material there does put Vesper’s emotional disintegration front-and-center. Still, Green makes the most of these little moments she’s given, underlining the way her guilt complex plays into Vesper’s idealization of Bond. 

M will suggest later to Bond that Vesper had made a deal with Mr. White for Bond’s life, and that Vesper likely knew through these days with Bond that her death was imminent. Thus, Vesper’s escape with Bond remains, for her, an excursion into fantasy before the end of her world, and we can observe moments where the fantasy is punctured by awareness of her own mortality.

I noted before that the plotting regarding Mathis fails to satisfy. This section certainly needs some notes of anxiety and menace, but the “Is he or isn’t he a traitor?” ambiguity leads nowhere. The film flirts with Hitchcockian suspense as Mathis provides Bond with a drink that may or may not be poisoned, but the scene never draws out the suspense enough to make it register.

The visible uncertainty that Craig brings to Bond’s admission to Vesper that he doesn’t know what a real job underlines the fragility of their romance. They have constructed fantasy versions of each other, each seeking an escape from their situation, one that the real world would likely shatter even if Vesper wasn’t carrying a secret burden. Vesper fully knows that it is a fantasy, but Bond does not.

When Bond and Vesper bid goodbye in the hotel lobby in Venice, you can see that Vesper knows she’s seeing Bond for the last time, that this is the last happy moment of her life and she wants it to sustain her through whatever follows. Vesper then becomes a prop, a cipher whose motivations are left to be explained by another character in the aftermath of her demise. 

The Venice section of the film had a different structure in earlier drafts of Casino Royale, allowing her the chance to speak for herself. Originally, Vesper’s suicide preceded the action climax. Bond found Vesper dead in their hotel room, along with a video created by Vesper in which she explained her actions, and then pointed him toward Gettler and the money. 

This structure was changed by Paul Haggis, who felt that that structure squandered the emotional momentum of Vesper’s betrayal. The final version does allow Bond’s emotional state to propel the action, but the gunfire and spectacle also has the effect of overwhelming the relationship between Bond and Vesper.

The overcomplicated mechanics by which Bond learns of Vesper’s betrayal are confusing and inelegant. Bond checks Vesper’s phone as he gets a call from M about missing money, then quickly calls the banker, Mendel, who is able to see that the funds are being withdrawn from a branch nearby. After this flurry of clunky exposition and coincidence, Bond leaps into action.

I very much like the sequence as Bond trails Vesper (she wears a red dress, a nod to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now). Bond, stung by the betrayal, instinctually returns to the role of a killer as he moves with purpose through the shadowy corridors of Venice (nicely lit by Meheux).

Earlier versions of the sinking house sequence were more subdued and might have been more dramatically balanced (early drafts had Bond facing off against only Gettler, not a group of thugs, thus making it a brutal brawl more akin to the stairway fight), but, likely in order to provide a stronger action climax, it became more complicated and grand.

The sinking house in Venice reinforces classic Bond formula (a climax in a imploding space, typically a villain’s lair, is a Bond staple, and one that all of the Craig films follow). The collapse of the Venician house serves as a metaphor for the collapse of Bond’s hopes for domesticity with Vesper, hopes which were always as vulnerable as a house suspended on the water.

The unfortunate effect of placing Vesper in the midst of this action climax is that, contrary to Haggis’ intent, Vesper becomes a prop, rather than its centerpiece. Confined to an elevator, she gets little else to do but scream as the house begins to disintegrate.

Gettler, the miniboss of the Venice setpiece, has an appealing retro look. He would have perhaps benefitted from some additional setup to make his appearance here more of an event, rather than justt serving as another unestablished character like Carlos from the Miami chase, appearing only to justify the existence of an action setpiece.

The geography and number of players remains murky throughout, so what gives this sequence definition and propulsion is the spectacle of Bond cutting his way through his surroundings with unflinching viciousness. He seems more Terminator-like than ever, yanking out a nail that has been buried in his shoulder with little concern. (One touch, visible if you break the sequence down shot-by-shot, is that Bond uses his Omega as a knuckle-duster, a nod back to Ian Fleming.)

Vesper defies Bond’s attempt to save her, choosing death rather than confrontation. The horrifying sight of her drowning is much more vivid and harrowing than Fleming’s version (suicide by overdose) could possibly have been if translated faithfully to the screen, further heightening the drama by making Bond an active participant, struggling but failing to save her.

Bond pulls Vesper from the water and begins administering CPR, only to recoil when he becomes aware of his actions. Bond’s identity crisis, emblazoned on Craig’s contorted, red-eyed face, has come to a head. Bond belongs neither to the service nor to Vesper. He gives in to his grief and moves to Vesper, cradling her lifeless form.

Thus Casino Royale offers an image that will become one of the recurrent motifs of the Craig era, appearing in Casino RoyaleQuantum of Solace, and Skyfall: Bond holding the body of someone he failed to save, while a solitary witness looks on.

Here, the onlooker is Mr. White.

The Facts of Death: Casino Royale, Part VIII

James Bond, released from the custody of the Miami police, disembarks from a helicopter at Dimitrios’ villa and stumbles upon an unexpected, gruesome sight: the body of Solange, tangled in a hammock.

M twists the knife:

“Quite the body count you’re stacking up. She was tortured first.”

Whether M is scolding him or testing him remains unclear. This same ambiguity will trickle over into Skyfall.

At any rate, Bond does not take it well. The camera creeps in on Bond’s face, allowing us to scrutinize Bond’s discomfort. Bond looks away as he nakedly lies to M about how much he had told Solange. Bond exposed himself, and, in his hunt for the villains, has now become indirectly responsible for the death of an innocent.

The Craig films are uniquely preoccupied with the death of women. In Casino RoyaleQuantum of Solace, and Skyfall, a grand total of five women die through their association with Bond. This trope becomes something of a crutch for the film cycle–indeed, Quantum of Solace will wholesale rehash Casino Royale‘s narrative beat with Solange, with similar chastisement for M–but it also creates this sense that Craig’s Bond, insofar as he remains 007, remains trapped in a repetitive cycle. He’s a variation on Scottie Ferguson from Vertigo: a man perpetually losing women who are really all the same woman. Spectre will release Bond from this cycle.

So it is fitting that this midpoint of Casino Royale, in which the film focuses on the character’s central dilemma, takes the form of two back-to-back conversations with the two most significant women of the Craig era, Judi Dench’s M and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Each, in turn, puts Bond under the microscope, confirming just who this Bond is, and beginning to investigate just who he might become. Both of these women will pull him in different directions.

The Craig era does not indulge the classic structure of Bond films insofar as the standard-issue “mission briefing” trope is concerned. This standard-issue Bond formula component still appears, but it is always repositioned or reworked. This sequence at Dimitrios’ villa, excluding the Solange bookends, may be the closest the Craig films come to giving us the standard-issue exposition dumps that characterize the traditional M/Bond briefing scenes.

M portrays Le Chiffre as a schemer who made a fortune on 9/11, painting him as a War on Terror profiteer (there was additional dialogue cut from the scene that took this to even further lengths). Bond’s thinks that M merely wants Le Chiffre dead (“Do you want a clean kill, or do you want to send a message?”), again underlining his short-sightedness. Bond thinks of himself only as a killer. M wants information.

When Bond suggests that M knew that Bond wouldn’t let the case go, M replies:

“I knew you were you.”

This ambiguous statement qualifies, on one level, as “trailer dialogue” (as previously noted, dialogue designed more to sound significant rather than have any real meaning), and M certainly has already delivered her share of it in Casino Royale. Nevertheless, this serves as a fitting expression of M’s caginess. She refuses to let Bond see what she genuinely thinks about him. It’s a power play and a kind of self-preservation; she needs to always be able to see Bond as a pawn, not as a friend.

The primary cinematic reference point for Bond and Vesper’s meeting on the train is Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and if Casino Royale‘s dialogue doesn’t achieve that same elegance, the chemistry between its leads is still tremendously strong and elevates the sequence. On the page, Vesper’s part is rather thin; Casino Royale reduces her relationship with Bond to a series of clear bullet point scenes rather than anything more organic. Eva Green, who is often among the best aspects of any film in which she stars, gives Vesper an enigmatic allure beyond the script’s meager characterization.

Bond and Vesper’s initial banter works well enough (“I’m the money” up to “What looks good?”), never becoming preposterously over-stylized, and Craig and Green play off of each other well. In Fleming’s novel, Vesper is little more than a glorified secretary, but in the film, she is smartly made an official of the Treasury who has the power to deny Bond additional funds. Thus the film’s Bond/Vesper relationship unfolds as an ongoing power struggle. Bond films gesture at this sort of give/take relationship all the time, but very rarely do they give the relationship the time and attention to let that dynamic play out with any sort of narrative weight. In this regard, Casino Royale sets the high-water mark for a Bond/Bond girl relationship.

When the scene takes a leap forward in time, we find that Bond has been explaining the rules of poker to Vesper (one of many such moments in the film; the filmmakers clearly did not trust the audience to be able to track with the twists and turns of the card game). This serves as a lead-in to an absurd, but memorable, scene in which Bond and Vesper both analyze and dress-down the other using nothing but the few details they’ve observed in their brief meeting together.

Bond’s observations about Vesper are much more plausible than her observations about him. He lightly touches on her childhood (she’s an orphan, he surmises), but focuses most on how she presents herself professionally, an attractive woman trying to prove herself in a world of men. In order to give her the upper-hand, the film has Vesper making some deductive leaps that, outside of the world of Bond fantasy, seem fairly absurd; she deduces just from the way he wears his clothes some fairly detailed notions of his biography.

Vesper notes that Bond wears his suits with “disdain,” which again reinforces the “working class” streak that characterizes Craig’s Bond. Vesper speculates that this stems from Bond’s school career (at “Oxford or wherever,” she states; per Fleming, Bond attended Eton and Fettes), where he was acutely aware that he wasn’t one of the rich kids surrounding him.

That said, whatever disdain Craig has for the trappings of wealth has not prevented him from pursuing fashion. His trendy look separates him from the more subdued, classically British attire that defined Connery or Dalton, who were the embodiment of Hardy Amies’ maxim that “a man should look as if he has bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.” Craig’s Bond, with his gelled hair and snazzy designer looks (in Casino Royale, he wears Brioni, and in the following films, he wears Tom Ford), could have stepped out of a photo spread from Esquire.

The scene would be considerably better if it didn’t pause to inject gratuitous product placement in regards to Bond’s Omega Seamaster, which may be the most egregious and offensive moment of product placement in the entire Bond canon. In terms of checking-off the elements of the Bond persona (Vesper talks about his suits, his watches, his work), mentioning his interest in expensive wristwatches would have been quite enough.

In summing up Bond’s attitude to authority–he’s an orphan, and thus inclined to seek for surrogate parents in the form of “Queen and Country”–Vesper effectively summarizes what will become the foundation of the Craig-Bond character. The Craig era concerns itself primarily with “Bond the orphan,” repeatedly turning to the question of Bond’s origins and familial drama. The dominant question of the Craig era is whether or not this damaged Bond can break away from the surrogate family structure he has found in MI6 and create a new, genuine family.

Bond’s smirk after Vesper exits never fails to make me smile. The element that best sells Bond’s attraction to Vesper is that Bond just seems to be having so much damn fun when they’re together. We’re having fun, too.