If the new Belvedere Vodka commercial, starring Daniel Craig and directed by Taika Waititi, were a scene out of Craig’s latest film, it would be the best scene in the movie, or at least the one that everyone’s talking about. Then again, no one would mistake it for a movie scene. The commercial has a postmodern strike-a-pose viral aesthetic — it‘s two minutes of bliss frozen in time. As Craig saunters and dances through a swank hotel in Paris, it becomes the rare commercial in which a movie star isn’t being used to sell a product so much as he’s using the commercial to sell a shift in his own image. Yes, the extended spot is hawking vodka, and Craig probably got a paycheck that leaves most movie-star paychecks in the dust. Yet that’s all kind of beside the point. The commercial is Craig’s way of announcing who he is, or might be, now that he’s done with the role of James Bond.
Craig, of course, does have a film about to come out, so you could say that “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Sequel,” in which he returns to the role of the wily Southern gentleman detective Benoit Blanc, is all the image change-up he needs. Over the last 16 years, Craig has never just been James Bond. In addition to Blanc, he has played Mikael Blomkvist in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a hillbilly safe cracker in “Logan Lucky” and Iago on Broadway. Yet the Bond brand is so mythological, and Craig, because he’s a great actor, merged with it so powerfully that it can feel like the only role he’s done. When an actor has been stamped by that series, a question hovers over his future stardom: Can he escape the image of Bond even as it’s now intertwined with his DNA?
Sean Connery, the greatest actor to play Bond before Craig, took a long time to find his footing after he left 007 behind. When you look at the actor Connery ultimately became (in films as varied as “The Man Who Would Be King,” “The Russia House,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “The Rock”), his imperious and at times playful cutthroat magnetism was shot through with a post-Bondian élan. Craig, I suspect, will do a version of the same thing; he will build his post-Bond career on the identity he forged as Bond out of his natural-born bravura. This is the moment when he first serves that identity with a twist, shaken and maybe even stirred.
Here’s what’s such cool fun about the Belvedere commercial. Craig, playing “Himself,” gallivants through the hotel in a funky, hot, preening dance-club way that is so not James Bond, yet the joke is that it’s almost as if it were Bond doing it. Craig exchanges the rock-hard masculinity of Bond for a different kind of masculinity, one that’s a lot more sexually fluid. Yet if you look at his worn-granite face, he’s the same rugged king-stud dude. In the commercial, his face tells one story and his body tells another. The story the commercial is telling is about the dialogue between the two.
In the opening moments, the camera approaches Craig from the back as he stands on a bridge staring out at the Seine, dressed in a white suit and open white shirt. Why white? Because this comes after “No Time to Die,” where Bond died and (presumably) went to heaven. As the commercial’s terrific original song, by Rita Ora and Griggs, kicks off in a synth trance, the camera circles around Craig, letting us drink in the severity of his features, broken up by a quick throwaway smirk that lets you know he’s just playing.
Hustling himself through an army of paparazzi (in other words: still James Bond), he slips into the back of a Rolls Royce and then rolls out the other side, now wearing a black tank top, silver hip-hop chain, sunglasses, and a black leather jacket that looks like it was designed for a Kenneth Anger remake of George Michael’s “Faith” video. As he walks along the cobblestone bridge, the message is that Craig has been reborn — as the roughest piece of rough trade you’ve ever seen. But sometimes even rough trade just wants to have fun. As he tosses away the sunglasses, he stretches out his arms and does a little shimmy, feeling the beat, then struts forward, feeling it a bit more, grabbing a handkerchief from the hotel doorman and mockingly dabbing the sweat from his own face in an I’m-too-sexy way.
Waititi, the gifted director of “Thor: Ragnarok” and its sequel, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” is a filmmaker at once passionate and prankish. It’s clear that he conceived the Belvedere commercial as an homage to the great video that Spike Jonze made in 2001 for Fatboy Slim and Bootsy Collins’ “Weapon of Choice” — the one where Christopher Walken showed off his extraordinary dance moves as he bopped and shimmied his way through an empty luxe hotel. Walken was 58 when he starred in that video; though he had a song-and-dance background, a lot of people didn’t know it. The video played off the contrast between his scowling middle-aged features (and the whole Walken-as-robotic-hardass thing that had already begun to be parodied) and the amazing balletic grace of his moves.
The Belvedere commercial does a different version of the same thing. Craig, now 54, has a been-around-the-block furrowed aura that was part of his mystique as Bond. The sly comedy of the commercial is that a man who looks like this isn’t supposed to dance like this. Craig still looks like he’s about to kill someone, but in the commercial he snaps his fingers, he thrusts his hips, he struts, he boogies, he twerks, he sheds layers of clothing, he walks on water. He’s Bond, that quintessential creature of the 20th century, resurrected and reborn as an aging (and maybe ageless) 21st-century party boy. The commercial ultimately lands him back where he started (sipping an ice-cold vodka and saying “Finally,” as if those dance moves were the action he had to fight his way through to earn that drink). But Waititi caps it all with an inspired kicker, letting us know that Daniel Craig, with a quick flash of a gangsta grin-that’s-not-really-a-grin, will always be too cool for the room.
What this portends for Craig’s future is anyone’s guess. Could he do a musical? Why not? Will he play characters even icier than Bond? The world, at this point, is his oyster served with chilled vodka. But the real point is that Daniel Craig has happy demons inside him that he no longer needs to keep on a leash. As he lets them out, they could become part of who he is as an actor. What he’s telling us, with a wink, is, “You only think you know me.” And that nobody does it better.