Maybe for me it is the (over)familiarity of the characterization that makes it feel two-dimensional. Film history is rife with examples of the “darkening” of the male protagonist in order to demonstrate previously unexamined depths/emotions (and, thereby, keeping the male experience center screen). Post-WWII Hollywood films specialized in this as the leading men of the 1930’s went serious, e.g. Jimmy Stewart in Anthony Mann Westerns. This fatigue could also be the result of my being a queer spectator who experiences less identification with/sympathy for heterosexual male protagonists as they discover remorse (these are adult versions of the kids who bullied and ostracized me in grammar and high schools when remorse definitely was not on the menu, but should have been). The new sensitive/brooding male is not so new, and seems to be turning up with greater frequency of late, e.g., several reviews of Season 3 of TRUE DETECTIVE point out that in the #MeToo era, we now are overrun with a rash of male protagonists wondering about their past behaviors and present anomie. In one of the current episodes, there is even a visitation where the vision asks: “Did you confuse reacting with feeling? Did you mistake compulsion for freedom?” In today’s world, the lag time between new approach and its parodying is dwindling rapidly.
I (along with many others I believe) want to see what is beyond this “new male” (who has been around in various iterations for decades). SPECTRE was fascinating because Bond was an extreme victim of upbringing/training–he was the assassin as automaton ensnared in competing tentacles of control—MI6 and Spectre–the ne plus ultra example of how to produce toxic masculinity. Craig’s performance is great as he plays an automaton surface against an inner autonomy struggling for expression. What I am curious about is whether Bond 25 can build on this or will fall back on previous ways of conceptualizing male protagonists–especially ones who are government assassins.
I think it is also direction in the case of SPECTRE, particularly Mendes deployment of space. The visuals have room to breathe (so to speak) and so does Craig as an actor within the role.
In other films, the writing takes the lead as you note. For example, from TSWLM to AVTAK, the role of Bond was admirably tailored to Moore. He did not challenge the conception nor did it require him to stretch–he was Commander Bond: all he had to do was age. In Connery’s case, the writing provided a consistent Bond template from GOLDFINGER through YOLT, yet in YOLT Connery’s performance is tired, as if he can no longer be bothered to inhabit the character (hence the liberating feel of DAF Bond, which is conceived in a different key, though one which was a dead end as I have noted before). Maybe what we need is an animated feature: “James Bond in the Multiverse” where Never-Ending Cruise Bond can meet Retirement Home Bond and One-Shot Bond and Brooding Bonds #1 and #2 and Keep the Franchise Going Bond.