Not only are all eyes are on new Bond, Daniel Craig, to see if he will live up to 007s before him, but will this movie be a reinvigoration of the franchise? Will Casino Royale follow in the footsteps of Batman Begins and Superman Returns to bring cinematic life back to a classic hero who’d seemed a little long in the tooth? Many feel that last Bond, Pierce Brosnan, was the quintessential 007 who probably showered in a tux and drank martinis for breakfast. But now we’re in the age of the complex secret agent. Jason Bourne, Sydney Bristow, even MI:3’s Ethan Hunt don’t just shoot the bad guys and play with cool toys–they have issues. Enter Daniel Craig, whose films so far (with the exception of his bad guy role in Tomb Raider) have all been outside the mainstream, but as one of the hit squad in Munich, and a suave London gangster in Layer Cake, he’s proven that he can bring the kind of intensity and depth that Bond has been missing lately. Though the movie tries to reboot the story by having Bond only newly-raised to double-O status, Casino Royale is not exactly an origin story, nor does this Bond seem inexperienced in any way. This movie is more of a reinvention by way of realism. Gee-whiz gadgetry is replaced by introspective dialogue; and white-cat-stroking super-villainy by staring contests around a poker table. That’s not to say that there isn’t the requisite action quotient and macho flamboyance. In fact, the thrilling, “how’d they do that?” opening chase sequence was inspired by the trendy, urban, extreme sport of parkour (i.e. running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop). However, when the opening titles rolled with nary a naked female silhouette in sight, I knew that things had changed.
Bond’s central mission in this movie is surprisingly simple: he’s to play in a high-stakes poker tournament organized by the bad guy that MI6 want to capture. I’m not actually sure that the mission makes much sense. In fact, a lot of the events in the movie don’t seem that well plotted-out. However, it all gels together because we really focus more on the mind games (interspersed with gun shots) and plot twists (which aren’t very surprising, but are heavy with emotional impact).
While many of the Bond trappings have been pared away (no Moneypenny, no Q, and far fewer gadgets), a few of the iconic Bondisms were actually minor plot points: the invention of his trademark Martini recipe, a spectacular stunt in the Aston Martin (he actually starts the movie in a Ford Mondeo) both seemed to be winks to the Bond legacy, as if to say, “Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten what makes him Bond.” Of course, there’s also the de rigueur presence of the Bond girl. This time she’s played by French actress Eva Green as more than a pretty face. Assigned to watch over him (and the government money that he’s gambling with), she’s pretty good with the flirty banter. She even breaks through Bond’s emotional armour and they develop quite a deep relationship. (That’s right. Bond is dating, folks!)
As I mentioned, there are not the typical Bond gadgets in this movie. This Bond doesn’t shoot anything from his watch. In fact, his main gadget seems to be his cell phone (which was probably more of a product placement decision for Sony’s benefit rather than something actually necessary for the plot). He doesn’t carry mini-pistols in his shirt cuff or anything like that, in fact, he seems to prefer mano-a-mano combat. This Bond gets beat up—a lot. Nevertheless, when he gets a gun in his hand, his shots are blink-quick and pinpoint-accurate. Bond’s traditional game of Baccarat is traded in for Texas Hold’em. While that is an obviously trendy decision (which the post-pubescent boys sitting behind me obviously really got into it as they kept pronouncing “Oh s***!” as each hand and bet was revealed. Of course the hands are going to be good. It’s a movie, idiots!) I still have to wonder if in 20 or 40 years, Bond playing poker will seem any more classic than a Rubik’s cube contest.
All in all, Daniel Craig and Eva Green came off very well. As reboots go, it sort of seems like this movie has made Bond a little bit more typical, though. When I watch the Bourne Ultimatum next year, or catch the next Mission: Impossible (if they have one) will I feel that Casino Royale was just another in a long line of standard action flicks for the new millennium? Craig has been signed on for two more films, and I’m sure he’s got it in him to do them, but now that we’ve brought some depth to the Bond film, I hope we can add back some vim to the next one. (4 out of 5)