Bond is back and he is better than ever, if you listen to the hype and the advanced publicity. Has Daniel Craig really managed to stick two fingers up at the doubters by turning in a debut Bond performance to match Pierce Brosnan’s excellent first outing GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995)? The answer is that although Casino Royale lacks the finesse and fun factor of director Campbell’s previous Bond, Craig delivers a performance that makes the Bond character stronger than ever.
Taking a backward step in the 007 world, Casino Royale is something of a reboot for the series with the super spy gaining his ‘00’, licence to kill status in the pre-credit sequence before being assigned his first mission. Forget that M is still Judi Dench and Bond is playing around with laptops, two factors which have to be overlooked if we are to believe that this film is supposedly pre-Connnery, here the famous secret agent is an ego-driven newbie prone to mistakes. He finds himself on the trail of millionaire banker to the world’s terrorist organisations, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). He must beat him at a high-stakes game of poker in Montenegro at Le Casino Royale where victory will leave Le Chiffre ruined.
…here the famous secret agent is an ego-driven newbie prone to mistakes.
Before all the bluffs and double bluffs around the poker table there are some high-octane action sequences that seem placed to give Bond fans their dose of thrills. So we have some fashionable free-running through a building site and embassy that is fun, but perhaps a little too long to justify its entire inclusion. There is also some Bond-on-top-of-car action as well. This leads up to the main introduction of Le Chiffre and the showpiece of the film: the poker game. Up until this point you may find yourself wondering what the fuss is about Craig. He has little control over his franchise character as he runs and shoots as usual — you would be forgiven for thinking this will be another case of all action, no substance.
Fortunately, things become much more interesting when Bond is paired up with UK Government Treasurer Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). At first sceptical of each other, it makes for great interplay and allows Craig and Green to explore their characters in the more leisurely paced mid section as the poker game unfolds. For once the romance is not merely a few throwaway lines in a single scene leading to the bedroom: Bond gets to show the most personal characteristics since the single George Lazenby outing, On Her Majestys Secret Service (Peter R. Hunt, 1969), in which he got married. We can probably thank the involvement of Crash (2004) writer/director Paul Haggis for that, and rightly so. The Craig Green partnership injects the zest into this, the 21st, 007 movie and the conclusion is made all the better for it.
For once the romance is not merely a few throwaway lines in a single scene leading to the bedroom.
On the bad guy front, Mikkelsen is more than capable of throwing the odd menacing glare across the poker table and gets to torture a naked Bond with a bit of old rope. Believe me, it is much more effective than it sounds. The other assorted henchmen and minor villains are gone before they get to have much of an impact. CIA agent Felix Leiter also makes a cameo appearance in the form of Jeffrey Wright, but there is no room for a Q. This seems quite deliberate to move away from the gadget-focused Brosnan Bond which reached its zenith of silliness in Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002) with an invisible car. This time the technology is left in the background as Bond relies on his gun more than ever.
So how does Casino Royale fit into the Bond canon of work, I hear you ask. Well there are no vast big boss headquarters that need to be destroyed and there is no direct global threat: terrorist funding in general is the demon that needs to be thwarted in a very contemporary take on current global politics. The jibes about the Cold War are present and correct thanks to M, and there are some excellent one-liners from Bond that will not make you cringe constantly. The action tails off in the second half of the film and the climatic finale leaves a lot to be desired if you are a wham-bam-bang kind of person. However, Casino Royale shows a lot of promise if Craig is given another opportunity to further take 007 into a more realistic world of espionage and away from the set piece shoot outs the series has relied on for too long. Good job Daniel Craig and Martin Campbell — carry on.