So I watched Casino Royale…
After the success of Batman Begins, Hollywood went through a stage of rebooting where dark, gritty origin stories became the order of the day. Some of these worked well, others not so much. Casino Royale, in my opinion, is an example of the origin story done right. It completely revolutionised James Bond and breathed some much needed life into the character.
Okay, basic plot: James Bond (Daniel Craig) is an up-and-coming MI6 agent who has just been promoted to “00” status. His first mission is to apprehend a bomb-maker and use him to gain access to the organisation he works for. Bond discovers that the bomb-maker was hired by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) – a financier for the terrorists of the world. Le Chiffre is hosting a high-stakes poker game to raise funds and Bond is tasked with not only winning the tournament but also apprehending Le Chiffre and toppling his organisation.
I mentioned earlier the influence (or at least the influence I think) Batman Begins had on this movie and its style; but you can’t talk about Casino Royale without also mentioning The Bourne Identity. This is a version of James Bond we’ve never seen before and a large part of this is due to The Bourne Identity. Bond is far more physical and the action sequences he’s exposed to are far more intense. Gone are the days of Bond casually sipping Martinis and having to pull his pistol out on the odd occasion. This Bond is a pragmatic field agent as much as he is a debonair gentleman spy.
From the very first fight scene you can see the shift in the persona of Bond. The fight scenes feel gritty and intense. Every victory is hard-fought and a struggle; and this adds an element of danger that had been missing from every Bond before it. There are also fewer one-liners and insufferable puns in this film. This is probably the most un-James-Bond-like James Bond film ever. They stripped the character down and really did a great job creating something original and fresh while still paying respect to our favourite features about the character.
I love what Daniel Craig did with this character – he added depth. It’s been a while since I watched the older James Bond films so I can’t remember – at least not accurately – the way the character was portrayed but he always seemed rather one-dimensional. Never affected by anything, never vulnerable and I suppose that’s the point of the character but he never seems human. Craig humanises him and adds doubt, vulnerability and error to the character which instantly makes him easier to relate with. This film is a look at the early years of Bond before he becomes an elite spy and these ‘weaknesses’ in his character were essential.
In terms of story, this film isn’t anything we haven’t seen before: Bond has to infiltrate an organisation, there’s a beautiful girl or two, a villain set to terrorise the planet and Bond stops him. It’s all pretty run-of-the-mill and except for a wonderfully acted torture scene between Bond and Le Chiffre, the plot is forgettable. The last twenty minutes of this film are a point of conflict in my mind. On one hand I think they are absolutely unnecessary; on the other hand I think they’re essential to the story.
Not to spoil the plot; but after Bond’s completed his mission and the necessary bad guys have been killed and fast cars driven, there’s twenty minutes or so that show Bond sailing into the sunset with Bond Girl, Vesper (Eva Green). Events unfold and the relationship ends abruptly. Now this is meant to be the moment where James truly becomes Bond. The moment he hardens and forsakes notions of everlasting love and fully commits to the job and being 007. Could it have been handled in two minutes instead of twenty? Perhaps. Plus it meant we had to remember a bunch of details – like character names – that are often throwaways in Bond movies.
Overall, Casino Royale is a wonderful re-imagining of James Bond that distinguishes itself from its predecessor with real class. There’s more action than ever and we have the opportunity to see Bond in a completely new light. It’s not perfect and I’m still not sure about the last twenty minutes but – on the whole – it’s slick, fun and cooler than ever. Watch it 7/10