Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in GoldenEye
This week, make plans with your TV, a martini and all four of Pierce Brosnan's James Bond movies.
Keith Hamshere / Getty Images
By Alex Lauer / April 6, 2020 5:47 am

For the record, I like every actor who has played James Bond. Yes, that includes George Lazenby. And yes, that also includes Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace, a movie which has the important distinction of being the last Bond before the insufferable new Q came into the mix. (Don’t email me.)

As a fan, I’ll happily jump in whenever someone starts up the timeless bar debate about which Bond is best. But the truth is, the James Bond movie franchise is great not because we, the audience, are split off into different factions, but because the various actors, and even the individual films themselves, fill different voids at different times. Sometimes you need a martini shaken, not stirred, sometimes you need a whisky, straight up, with a scorpion.

A week from now, No Time to Die, the 25th official Bond movie and Daniel Craig’s final turn as the spy, was supposed to hit theaters in the U.S. As a result of the pandemic, it has been postponed until November

But you know what? That’s actually OK, because after rewatching four Bond films recently, it occurred to me that Craig isn’t the Bond we, as a society, need right now — Pierce Brosnan is. 

Netflix currently has all four Pierce Brosnan Bond films available to stream, which are, for those who only remember him from the N64 cartridge, 1995’s GoldenEye, 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and 2002’s Die Another Day. And while I certainly went into this exercise in coronavirus escapism hoping to mainline nostalgia (Die Another Day is the first Bond film I remember seeing in theaters), I came away thinking Brosnan has got to be the most unfairly maligned Bond in franchise history.

In recent years, there seems to have been a general downward trend in public opinion of Brosnan’s portrayal of the spy, at least in relation to the others. (I won’t legitimize the supremely bad takes by linking to them here, but they’re not hard to find.) And while there is certainly a time and place for Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, this time, a time of global upheaval, collective anxiety and yearning for a time before, requires the Irishman.

What’s so special about Pierce, a man whose name sounds like a second-rate villain in a James Bond film? More than any other actor, Brosnan is the most reliable. You never doubt his ability to escape a sinking submarine or parry with an absolutely bonkers one-liner from a beady-eyed villain. The crises he navigates are not — like the ones Craig faces — realistic manifestations of contemporary fears. Rather, Brosnan tends to deal in suspend-all-disbelief cinematic extremes: stolen plutonium in Istanbul, villains with diamond acne, a steel-thighed Famke Janssen or Jonathan Pryce with frosted tips. Even when presented with the most traumatic circumstances (read: the scene in which he’s tortured by North Koreans in Die Another Day), Brosnan’s Bond emerges five minutes later strolling through a five-star star hotel with a castaway beard and exposed pecs.

While streaming in the age of quarantine has mostly celebrated movies and shows that mirror our collective existential dread, these Bond movies are pure, unfiltered escapism. And if you think for even a moment about your problems outside the movie, Brosnan has an arsenal of tools to draw you back in: rapid-fire quips, the most memorable garage of vehicles imaginable (Chainsaw copters! The Q Boat!) and an old-growth forest of chest hair.

The real kicker here, though, is that while Craig’s movies are more situationally realistic than the video-game landscape that Brosnan always seems to encounter (Why are there barrels of oil in every scene?!), Craig himself isn’t a very realistic person. He’s an extension of superhero culture. 

You know how many Google results there are when you search Daniel Craig James Bond workout? Over three million. You know how many for Pierce Brosnan James Bond workout? Just over 400K. I don’t actually know if that measure means anything anymore, but the point is, no one is researching how to get Brosnan-buff, and that’s a good thing. Despite all the extravagant trappings, he somehow feels more tangible, more relatable, as if you (or your uncle with the closetful of Hawaiian shirts and an affinity for using a leaf blower) were a secret agent. And that’s a comforting thought. 

And speaking of Hawaiian shirts, despite some claims that his films are littered with product placement, rewatching them didn’t drive me to consumerism. I didn’t get the urge to finally shell out for a Barbour jacket or a pair of Vuarnet shades. I didn’t even bemoan my 2004 Jetta and dream of an Aston Martin Vanish (that’s not a typo). Brosnan’s wardrobe, especially in the warmer-weather scenes, looks like he raided any upper-middle-class 50-something’s closet. He’s the one Bond who inspires people to put on their own damn vacation shirts and live their lives.

Of course, not all the praise can go to ol’ Pierce himself. There are some circumstantial benefits to his tenure. Sean Connery appeared in seven films over the course of a whopping 21 years (though 1983’s Never Say Never Again was admittedly a bit of an outlier). Roger Moore appeared in seven films over 12 years. And Daniel Craig, if he is really done this time, will have done five over 14 years. 

Brosnan did just four films, and packed them all into a brief stint of just seven years. While the casual viewer may take that as a sign he couldn’t hack it — we would argue that unlike other actors, he merely exited with grace before he aged out — what this outlier statistic really shows is yet another reason why these films feel so distinctive from the rest. Because the entirety of Brosnan’s oeuvre took place over the shortest duration of time, his movies were less at the whim of outside forces like filmmaking trends, social mores and audience desires. Whereas some of Connery’s and Moore’s separate outings feel as if they were made in separate decades (because they were) and Craig’s films sometimes seem to be catering to the producers’ idea of what modern audiences want (for better and worse), the Brosnan era feels refreshingly cohesive.

And yet, despite that, he is also the spy who transcends generations. I have a feeling Brosnan’s Bond would have been the best at Twitter and TikTok. I haven’t looked at the script myself, but his dialogue with Halle Berry in Die Another Day has to be at least 90% quips, comebacks and double entendres. Plus, I could watch Bond adjust his tie underwater at 60 mph in a six-second loop forever. 

Of course, the nature of the character (and the time in which these films were made) means there will always be room for justifiable complaints concerning female objectification. But with Brosnan, there tends to be a measure of self-awareness the helps strike a balance that none of the other Bonds have been able to replicate. Michelle Yeoh, Sophie Marceau and Halle Berry are treated as action heroes in their own right, and represent some of the best foils in the franchise. And don’t forget, GoldenEye is the first appearance of Judi Dench as M, the first woman to play that role. She comes out of the gates swinging with one of the entire franchise’s most memorable lines, “I think you’re a sexist misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.” It only gets better from there.

Maybe come November Daniel Craig will make his way back to the front of the pack. But what the world needs now is the perfectly coifed zaddy Pierce Brosnan — and a strong mojito.