YES! Yes, yes, yes...hahahaha...now the whole world...will know...that you died...scratching MY BALLS!
-James Bond 007
Casino Royale. It's almost like the Bond Franchise is out to erase the Woody Allen and Co. movie as a 'blot on their honor.' After making movies using titles ripped from increasingly tenuous connections to Ian Fleming's actual Bond stories, they've thrown up their hands and gone back to basics with the title of the very first James Bond novel. They're telling us that this is a serious attempt to 'reset the series,' as well - that Bond is in for a complete revamp (again).
So how'd they do?
Well, it certainly is a new Bond. For one thing, he's blond.
Before you get the wrong idea, let me be quite clear: I liked this movie. Quite a bit, actually. I have a large number of problems with it, however, and while I'm going to try to be as even-handed as possible in terms of lines spent on each, that's going to be hard. The reason for this is that the things this movie does right, it does because it does them according To Formula, whereas many of its mistakes are its very own. Therefore, it would be pointless to go into great detail about why the film is good; it's more effective if I tell you 'here's where it Does The Job' because, really, it's a Bond Movie. It's aspiring to be a – or the quintessential – Bond Movie. It does have some good bits all its own, and I'll try to hit those.
Heehee, I got to use the 'big strong' tags up there. Perfect. Daniel Craig is Our Favorite Not-So-Secret agent, and in this movie we see him achieve that iconic Double O status which means he's licensed to kill. We also find out some of what it takes to get that tick on your file. Craig has an interesting challenge to pull off, here. He's explicitly playing Bond as an early-career agent, before he's acquired the savoir-faire for which Sean Connery made the screen Bond famous. In this, he hews quite close to the novels; his Bond has icy eyes and a cold expression, and famously cruel lips (which for some reason Ian loved to talk about).
He's a killer, after all.
So for mannerisms, he's going by the Book Bond. Ruthless, cold, almost no quirky, funny lines (and practically zero double entendres). Some humor, but all of the type that would tend to make ice water drizzle down your back if you were facing him.
Physically, he doesn't really match up to the book well, but matches early Connery; Craig is an impressive specimen, and they love showing him to us. Getting out of the Bahamas surf, tied to a chair naked, ripping shirts off on several occasions (with and without bloodstains), etcetera. If you're into pecs, you'll be allll over this movie.
If you're looking for any form of continuity to prior Bond franchises, just get off the train now. Let's see, it's Bond's first mission - but it's present day. There goes the books out the window. M is his boss, yes - but M is played by Judi Dench, who we clearly remember taking over from a prior, male M in a previous movie, in which she oversaw a different Bond who predated her in MI6. Uhhhh, okay, what? Right. It just gets worse. There's no Major Boothroyd (Q) at all, nor anyone who does his job; there's a group of anonymous 'support boffins'. BZZZT.
The less said about that, the better. The movie had really better stand up on its own. At least they explicitly called it a reset.
Bond Girl. Ah. The myths, the magic. Well, not so much here. The first one (Ivana Milicevic) is a married woman (which our James says he prefers) who doesn't last long as the object of our agent's affections. She's attractive, luscious and slinky, and there does seem to be chemistry, but there's not enough time.
Room service? Yes, I'd like a bottle of Bollinger and the Beluga caviar.
Very good, Mr. Bond. For two?
No. For one.
Then the real deal - Vesper Lynd, (Eva Green) from Her Majesty's Treasury, there to oversee James' spending habits during the all-important card game at the eponymous Casino Royale. In true fashion, she is disdainful, haughty, smart as only brunettes can be in these types of movies, and he has to win her affections despite her loathing for his profession and 'type.' Straightforward.
Personal preferences don't count, so I'll cut this short. I was titillated, but not enthralled with Miss Lynd. She was extremely predictable, which the best Bond Girls really aren't. She felt too much like a foil.
No, I fell in love with what I felt was the Real Bond Girl in the movie. I am referring, of course, to the brand-spanking-new Aston Martin DB-S. Oh. Oh oh oh. Sexual energy formed into deep emotional connections of love and...never mind, I'll stop. It is all I would ever wish for, and I actually screamed in pain when it met a horrid and violent end.
All Bond movies need baddies. This one is no exception. It has a plethora of them. In fact, it has a central bad guy, but it actually has so many of them I actually got completely confused. Point not in its favor. When the movie ends and you're trying to figure out precisely who did what to whom in the final twenty minutes, that's not a Bond movie, it's a David Mamet caper flick. Which this wasn't.
Mads Mikkelsen (did I spell that right?) does a good job as Le Chiffre, but Le Chiffre just isn't really...a Bond Villain, somehow. He's ruthless, but he's not in enough control to be a Bond Villain, even in the books. He's memorable, but not for the right reasons. He doesn't have a backstory. He just...is, and then isn't, and it's not satisfying...and then there's a cloud of other bad guys who you can't sort out.
Custy, what did it get right?
Oh! Sorry. It got a lot of stuff right. The intro was extremely strong; classic Bond. The intro animation and theme? Great. Good stuff, despite sharing a weakness of the later Brosnan movies - the reluctance to use the classic Bond theme during action sequences. It's relegated to the closing credits, pretty much. Come on, people, there's a reason it's a classic of the industry.
The movie starts off very, very strong; just down-to-earth enough to eclipse the over-the-top nature of the Brosnan series' worst excesses, but modern enough and tight enough to avoid the fluffy-shirt-wannabe crap of the Timothy Dalton series - the ones where you wonder why he still isn't sporting Prince Barin's mustache from Flash Gordon. The initial foot chase, with heavy Parkour influence, is well choreographed and very well photographed as well, and establishes Craig early as a burly guy who's good with his body - somehow, you just can't see Roger Moore doing that stuff.
The movie isn't afraid to harken back to earlier Connery-era classic 'intrigue in a hotel' mode later on, rather than going the route of the later Daltons and the Brosnans, where once the ride had started the only thing possible was to continue to escalate the adrenaline level. The middle segment of the movie is taken up entirely by the poker game (Texas Hold'Em? Oh, please) at the Casino Royale and the intrigues surrounding it; this is a refreshing change from horse-to-yak-to-train-to-fighter jet-to-Concorde-to-ship-to-blimp-to-submarine-to-helicopter-to-space shuttle progressions that prior Bond movies have felt forced to follow.
Judi Dench, of course, is awesome. I have one problem with her, which is that one of the primary dynamics between M and Bond is that of unspoken father figure. Bond doesn't trust anyone except M, because as an orphan, M is his father figure - and while having Dench as a 'replacement' M was fine, having her as the only M he's known removes that dynamic. It's a tad disappointing. But Dench is so good, I almost don't care.
The movie is entertaining. Whether you'll like it as a Bond Movie depends, as some have said here, on what your taste for Bond is. I think it's a strong Bond movie, but it went about 25 minutes too long for its plot, and it shows. It could have been much stronger with some better editing. The villain needed to be stronger; Craig is a good Bond whose portrayal is problematic for me because I'm a purist and he's mashing various Bonds from various sources in a manner that I can't ignore. They do make a strong attempt to explain some of the classic Bond's well-known attitudes and affectations, which they can by showing him at the start of his career, and that's fun to see. The action sequences are good, but the ones at the beginning are better than those at the end, which is unfortunate because it really should be the other way around. In the end, though? It felt a lot like the book Casino Royale - authentic, which I like, but...authentic tends to mean 'dull.'
Still, it should be seen in the theaters, just for the opening sequence and the last line, if you're a Bond fan. It's enough to make you tear up.