After yet another albeit brief 4-year hiatus, the second one the franchise has seen in recent memory, Bond, James Bond is back. And this time, everything is different, everything is new, and everything is personal. Casino Royale signifies a new era in the franchise that has lasted well over 4 decades, though this isn’t the first time the very first novel by Ian Fleming has been adapted to the big screen. The non-Eon produced version came out in 1967 but because of copyright legal battle’s Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli couldn’t get hold of the rights to make the film back then until now.
Casino Royale started it all for Fleming, it’s Bond’s first adventure as a newly appointed 00 and the film version casted the perfect actor to play the fictional MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig). What I admire most about Craig’s portrayal of an action icon is that Craig understands his Bond on a deep level way beyond what any previous actor to step into the role has. Craig is clearly built for a modern interpretation of Bond since this is the 21st century – he’s a tank, his muscles have muscles, he’s a ballistic missile who shoots first and asks questions second.
But beyond that, and the opening sequence post Chris Cornell title sequence (one of the best opening songs and sequences in the franchise), Bond knows he cannot keep up with the bomb maker so instead he uses his strengths to catch up – exploiting shortcuts and using his brain and braun to close the gaps. Busting through a wall of sheetrock as if he were The Incredible Hulk.
Each previous actor has brought something different and unique to the character that makes their specific era standout from the rest. Craig brings a sense of humanity to Bond. This version of Bond could exist in the real world – he’s pushed by emotion but never lets his guard down nor trusts anyone blindly unless your name is Vesper (Eva Green).
Vesper represents everything to Bond – his insecurities, his fear, his love. What has been trained out of him regarding opening himself up to anyone, Vesper is there to destroy that training. Every Bond film since Dr. No has had a romantic trope to the respective stories but Casino Royale makes Bond fall in love – the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It isn’t a rose-colored lust disguised as love; Craig’s Bond is the least sex-crazed womanizer out of the 5 previous actors. His main goal is to stop terrorism or the funding of terrorism by La Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). For Queen and Country, that’s what Bond is most concerned about or at least that’s what M (Judi Dench) tells Bond he should be concerned about, besides removing his rather large ego from the equation. He’ll only seduce women if it helps his cause – not because he needs it.
Director Martin Campbells returns to the director seat – he previously directed Goldeneye the other Bond film that signaled a new era for the franchise. Where Goldeneye and the Brosnan era utilized groundbreaking technology of CGI, the Craig era looks to be more grounded to reality, almost better than what the Connery era had done. In looking at the 6 actors who have taken on the mantle of James Bond, Connery stood atop the mountain while the rest clawed their way with their best efforts to the top, but none had fit the role quite like Connery – until Daniel Craig. In my mind Connery and Craig are 1A and 1B if a ranking was to decide the best Bond actor.
Seeing Bond have somewhat of a conscience rather than be a cold-blooded killer who doesn’t care of the body count, or the consequences gives a new dimension to the character that has been around for decades. It’s a fresh take on the character who also doesn’t give a damn if his vodka martini is shaken or stirred.
Casino Royale is a return to the former glory days of the franchise that released some of the best films. Despite the unfortunate absence of Moneypenny or Q, a familiar CIA agent makes his way back to the screen – Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Just like M was significantly upgraded with the casting of Judi Dench, Felix is upgraded with a new actor that instantly gives the character more significance in support of Bond’s mission.
Vesper isn’t your typical Bond girl, she’s smart, capable, and sexy – able to command the attention of the man that’s saving the world from funding terrorist organizations. She’s even useful when Bond is indisposed and near death.
A Bond film is nothing without a good villain, The franchise has had a mix of great, mediocre, and terrible villains. I’d say the last great villain was Goldfinger. Every subsequent film, the henchman has been more lethal and crucial to the story than the man or woman pulling the strings. All the while, showing or telling Bond their master plan while having Bond with his back against a wall. Craig’s Bond, in the first film works better when backed into a corner, he becomes more lethal surviving at any cost just to stop the bad guy.
Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre is the best villain since the Connery era but there is something to be left desired from him as his story is cut short. I suppose he’s just a plot device to set up a secret organization that hasn’t been seen since Diamonds Are Forever. Between Mikkelsen and Bond during the rousing game of poker, the tension is built in spectacular fashion with back-and-forth cuts between the two men. A pin could drop, and they wouldn’t blink. For a more modern era the villain’s tactics are updated to fit the world. There is no highly powered laser beam or an anaconda, or voodoo magic, or scorpion poison or Jaws used to intimidate and torture Bond. La Chiffre has his own torture methods – strapping Bond down and tickling parts where the sun doesn’t shine. None of it works, it just angers La Chiffre but it’s one of the best scenes in the franchise between villain and hero.
Much can be said of the Bond formula and how its stayed consistent over 45 years’ worth of films. As much as things stay the same with the franchise with how each film is structed from start to finish, just when you think Casino Royale is done, Bond gets the girl and they live happily ever after, the film kicks it into second gear that sets the stage for films to come – even destroying a building in Venice during a suspenseful fight to the death as it plummets into the Mediterranean. It may not be a giant explosion of three 18 wheelers or the destruction of an ice palace or a secret volcanic lair that’s action for action’s sake, the final sequence adds more to the human aspect of Bond, taking away what stripped his armor off.
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis
Directed By: Martin Campbell
Music By: David Arnold
Cinematography: Phil Méheux
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench
Release Date: November 16, 2006
Running Time: 2 Hours 24 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
My Score: 5 out of 5
Based On: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming