289 – Casino Royale

The first thing to consider about this twenty-first Bond screen foray is that it’s not a continuation of the first twenty. In fact, it doesn’t even take place in the same virtual universe – it’s as if those other twenty Bonds never existed. The film takes place in the present day, but it’s about Bond’s beginnings as a 00. So scratch the 1962-2002 Bond adventures, obliterate them from your memory banks, because they just plain never happened.

The film begins with a black and white scene that shows the two kills Bond (Daniel Craig) must make in order to attain 00 status. The two deaths starkly illustrate the types of killing Bond will need to do: One is a brutal drowning in a men’s room, and the other is a subtle shooting.

Then the real action kicks in, as Bond, in deepest, darkest Uganda, is tipped off about a rogue bomb dealer and winds up blowing up part of an embassy. Oops. He’s exiled by an unforgiving M (Judi Dench, reprising the role she’s had for five films, now), told to take some time off. Because, you see, he’s a loose cannon, a ticking time bomb, an egotist who just can’t separate emotion from his work. At any rate, we know that this setback won’t last long, and sure enough Bond’s traced his bomb dealer to a Greek magnate who looks like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, and from there he’s led to Miami and a thrilling scene at the airport involving a fuel truck and (of course) the world’s newest, largest airplane in, like, forever.

All of this leads up to the casino of the title, as Bond must play Texas Hold ‘Em (replacing baccarat from the 1967 version of Casino Royale) against high rollers, including the Bond Bad Guy, Le Chiffre, an odd-looking Eurocreep who weeps tears of blood. Other than the blood thing, he’s kind of bland, but his icy disregard of, well, everything lends a distinct air of haughtiness against which Bond can play. Accompanying Bond is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the typical smart/pretty Bond Girl we’ve seen in the last several films in the series. She’s supposed to watch over Bond and all the money he’s been staked in the game, but naturally she must keep emotional distance from the Lothario. Can she do that? My gosh, I do wonder.

Missing from Casino Royale are gadgetry (including Q) and bon mots typical of action heroes. Well, wait, the former’s not completely; we do see a nifty tracking device implanted in Bond’s arm, but that’s not as exciting as, perhaps, the invisible car in Die Another Day, or killer shoes, or something. Also gone, sort of, is Bond’s womanizing attitude. Well, it’s toned down, anyway; at one point, Bond tells Vesper that she’s not his type. What type? she wonders. “Single,” says the spy. Ah, so that’s how it’s gonna be.

Craig was pretty good, actually. It’s got to be monumentally tough for an actor to play James Bond nowadays; with each film, there’s more for the next guy to live up to. Roger Moore’s first entry was pretty darn good (Live and Let Die), but it still took him a little while to fully grow into the role. Timothy Dalton never did. Pierce Brosnan’s work improved as the quality of the movies themselves declined. Craig’s ice-blue eyes – those have to be contacts! – say a lot, from a character that plays his cards very, very close to his chest. I think the best thing to be said about Craig’s work here is that he acquitted himself rather nicely, and that if he does indeed continue with the role, he’ll get even better as he reaches his comfort zone.

And, for the first time in recent memory, the plot’s not too convoluted. Several of the Brosnan Bond movies were overplotted to the point of hilarity; there were so many exotic locations and minor characters that it was easier to sit back and wait for people to get killed so you could sort out who was, indeed, good. It’s a little easier this time around, although there are a couple of good twists in the final reel of the film.

As new Bond Girl Vesper Lynd, Green is appropriately alluring and clever, innocent but corruptible. Will she fall for Bond? Yes, probably. Will he fall for her, though? Ah, that’s a much tougher question. Regardless of how it turns out, though, you get a sense that Green is a good match for Craig; she’s not taller than him, at least, and they just plain look good together. They do seem to have a palpable chemistry on screen, which is more than one could say for, say, Brosnan and Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough. At least the makers of this one had the smarts to cast someone who could act against someone who could act.

There are two ways to judge a James Bond movie: against other Bond films, and against other action films; after all, Dr. No practically reinvented the action movie, and the subsequent Connery Bonds transcended run-of-the-mill action movies. Casino Royale is an excellent action movie, and it’s a highly entertaining Bond film in its own right; a fine first effort by Craig and better than several of those that came before it.

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One Response to “289 – Casino Royale”

  1. Frothy Ruminations » Blog Archive » 2008 Movies to Wait for Says:

    […] Bond. Cmon. And! It’s apparently the first one to be a direct sequel to a previous bond (Casino Royale, of course). I didn’t think I’d like Casino Royale, but it was pretty […]

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