Movie Review: Casino Royale.
Someone I know commented that Casino Royale, the latest in the James Bond pantheon, was a lot like Batman Begins: A bold new re-imagining of a cinematic icon. The Best Bond – Ever! The Re-birth of the franchise! Swoon - he’s blond and blue eyed!
I won’t go so far as to call this new Bond the best ever. In my opinion, Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan were both better than Daniel Craig in his first outing. But even Connery improved from Dr. No to Goldfinger, and Brosnan had begun to suffer from a bit of the Roger Moore-inspired cheek before he was dumped in favor of our new super-spy. In both cases, the fault, and the credit, wasn’t the actors’, it was the screenplay. In recent years, these had become so tired and formulaic, even Connery in his prime would have struggled to keep the franchise fresh. (Which is why he departed for good after Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. 1983's Never Say Never Again was not an "official" Bond film - but superior to most of the Moore films, and all of the Timothy Dalton fiascos)
So the makers of Casino Royale elected to stir things up (oh, forgive me, shake things up) by taking Bond back to his roots. Not, however, his roots as a product of the Cold War, but as a fledgling spy on the cusp of earning the status of double-O: Rough hewn, edgy, and untested; and set loose on his first real mission with a License to Kill in the 21st century.
In all, the gimmick works, and when it pays off, it pays off big. Several action set pieces are among the finest I’ve ever seen, with the CGI work kept to a minimum. Technology, the stalwart of so many great (and not so great) Bonds Past took a back seat to edge-of-your-seat foot chases, near-air disasters, and good old-fashioned ass-kicking. Gadgets? We don’t need no stinking gadgets! (OK, there are a few gadgets, but most of the time, they’re actually mundane items like cell phones and laptop computers. Q, last performed by John Cleese, is absent from this tale.)
This time, we’re allowed to look beyond the ultra-smooth veneer, at the bumps, bruises, and broken hearts that our hero suffers and inflicts while defending the world from terrorists. We see Bond broken, bleeding (quite a profusely), and blowing it – sometimes in spectacular fashion – while he is being honed into the heartless killing machine that he must become in order to survive. Along the way, we are treated to some of the best and most believable dramatic sequences ever to make the final cut of a Bond film.
In the end, Bond's “shaping” is well underway, but I hope far from complete. Watching Craig develop this character further will be fascinating if the Broccoli Family will allow the evolution it started in this film to continue over the next two or three outings.
Best Bond ever? Not quite, but Casino Royale plays more like a real movie, instead of the cookie-cutter Bond which we had all grown yawningly accustomed to. In all, a fine entry which breathes new life into the series, and makes the character relevant again for a new century.
My Rating – 3 and a half out of 4 stars