Bond. James Bond.
Possessing one of the most famous movie catchphrases of all time, James Bond is surely up there with the most iconic fictional characters of all time. Not bad for a guy who has for the most part appeared in derivative and overblown action films. Films that in recent times have gone from ones that wink at the audience in knowing acknowledgment of how silly they are to ones that give the audience the cinematic finger with their brazen stupidity. This trend has thankfully been rectified with the latest film, which features a brand new incarnation of the character. I don't much care for Bond movies, but this one is a damn fine action/thriller.
'Casino Royale' is essentially a reboot of the Bond franchise that goes right back to his origins as a 00 agent. James Bond (Daniel Craig) is introduced in a black & white pre-credits sequence as a cold and ruthless assassin who is in the process of making his first official kills to earn his 00 status. We then join Bond on the trail of a bomber whose attempt to flee results in an exciting chase sequence (featuring Parkour) that culminates in an explosive embassy showdown. His actions result in an international incident and he's immediately on the bad side of his boss M (Judi Dench). Following up on a clue puts Bond on to a bomb threat at an airport, which he foils in the nick of time.
The bomb plot was orchestrated by a man named Le Chiffre (the awesomely named Mads Mikkelson), a worldwide banker to criminals - the airport bombing was to have aided him in playing the stock market, but Bond's intervention resulted in him losing a lot of his clients' money. Le Chiffre sets up a major poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro to attempt to recoup his losses. Bond, being MI6's best poker player, is sent in to attempt to win the tournament, which would force Le Chiffre to seek sanctuary with MI6 and spill the beans on his clients. Vesper Lynd (Eva 'cute frown' Green), a treasury agent, accompanies Bond to watch over the government funds he's gambling with; in true Bond style, the two are drawn together even as sparks fly. Bond and Le Chiffre face off at the poker table and engage in verbal, psychological, and physical sparring as the stakes keep getting raised.
It doesn't end just there - there's a few twists in the tale and the conclusion is far more emotion laden than one would expect from a Bond film. Which is a good thing in my mind. There are several things that make this film stand tall among its Bond brethren. The script is the starting point, and it goes for a far less overblown storyline than its predecessors. The villain's scheming isn't outrageous bullshit, instead its something compelling while still being too bizarre to be true. Bond uses low tech approaches and fewer phony technologies. The plot is actually fairly tight and flows smoothly without contrivances. Best of all is the characterization, with Bond in particular being given some depth. He's a super-spy, but he has flaws - he's brash and arrogant, and his over confidence leads to mistakes. Even Le Chiffre's motivations and predicament are compelling; he's trying to weasel his way out of a dire predicament. The interplay between Bond and Vesper is fun and you can believe in them falling for each other. Although the relationship does shift gears rather abruptly, it's still far more believable than the traditional Bond style relationship.
Director Martin Campbell (who made the last good Bond flick, Goldeneye) goes for a far more restrained, grounded in (pseudo) reality approach. This film feels more serious, much more like the Bourne films, and the action sequences are grittier and more brutal with Bond coming off as someone who is still mortal. Yet it's still lavish, with expensive cars, locations, and gadgets. The absence of obtrusive and egregious CGI is a welcome development.
When it comes to the cast, there's only one person who really needs to be discussed, and that's Daniel Craig. It's incredible to think there was a backlash against his casting, because he's terrific. In terms of physicality, the guy is easily the most convincing Bond. In terms of demeanour, he's spot on as a cold and calculating killer, but Craig also imbues him with an air of overconfidence and fallibility. He's also given the opportunity to express normal human emotions besides being cocky, and he does it well. And while he doesn't get lines featuring the tongue in cheek innuendo that his predecessors did, he's still no less charming. The best of the rest are Eva Green and Mads Mikkelson. Green comes across as tough and savvy, and despite her initial aloofness is still likable. She and Craig play off of each other really well. Mikkelson is excellent as the cold hearted villain gambling with his life, and his confrontations with Bond make for some tense moments.
'Casino Royale' is a fantastic reboot to a dire series that has got me actually looking forward to the next Bond film. They now have a new and far more interesting interpretation of the Bond universe and an excellent actor who is perfectly suited to it. Here's hoping they don't drop the ball.