Casino Royale

I have been highly anticipating Casino Royale since I heard about Daniel Craig’s casting. I loved him in Layer Cake and Munich (ooh, and he was in Road to Perdition as well) and just knew he’d make a great James Bond, especially since the intention was for this film to return to the more rugged Bond of the early Connery days and the Ian Fleming novels. And I was not one whit disappointed, in either Craig or the film.

After a long run of Bond films getting progressively more reliant on gadgets, elaborate chase scenes, and a suave and debonair 007, it was extremely refreshing to have a brawling Bond who’d rather beat up his adversary with his fists than shoot him. Casino Royale posits a Bond who has just been given 00 status–and celebrates by shooting up an African embassy. He’s raw and unpredictable (Bond is always somewhat unpredictable, but Craig gives him an edge that he hasn’t had for at least the last few films…intriguingly, GoldenEye was the last really good one, and it was also directed by Casino Royale director Martin Campbell).

The interplay between Bond and Vesper Lynd, the main Bond girl of the film, was also nice…people have worried about Eva Green playing a Bond girl, a role which is often the kiss of death to an actress’s career, but they needn’t. Her Lynd is every bit a match for Bond, and they play off each other well. The intertext between Casino Royale and the previous Bond films was fun to see, as well. He returns to an Aston Martin after several films in BMWs (and has the shortest car chase ever in it, which is a nice reversal of expectations), he receives a vodka martini (the bartender asks “shaken, not stirred?” and he responds “Do I look like I give a damn?”), and ends the film with his trademark “Bond–James Bond,” which is particularly appropriate because it is only then, in the final few minutes, that he truly becomes the Bond that the other movies portray. There are no fancy gadgets beyond your basic spy cellphone and laptop; Q (or R) is not even a character. Some Bond fans may cry foul, but remember, Q did not appear in Dr. No, either. Casino Royale is about returning to the roots and revitalizing a franchise that has become bloated and unwieldy. It has done that.

Granted, it’s not without its faults. It is a bit too long, for one thing, and becomes a bit “and then this happened” in the last half. The opening scene was very effective–black and white, in Prague, showing Bond’s first real mission after being secretly made a 007 by M–yet, rather misleading. Its intent, I believe, was to underscore the fact that we’re returning to the beginning of Bond here…there’s a Cold War film atmosphere to it, and it would fit right in alongside the 1965 film of John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Yet, the film isn’t set during the Cold War, it’s set today, and takes full advantage of innovations in wireless technology over the past few years. So in a sense, we’re returning to the beginning of Bond’s career only because the film says we are…keeping Judi Dench as M continues to muddle the time-sense. I mean, of course it’s a nitpick you can brush off and enjoy the film anyway, since we’re used to having the actor playing Bond change every few films anyway–but explicitly changing the point in Bond’s career without changing his temporal surroundings struck me as a little off. I wish they’d actually set it back in the Cold War period…that would have been more interesting to me.

But really, that’s all I got. I really enjoyed it, even the half-hour of it that should’ve been cut for length. It both acknowledged and modified all of the stereotypical Bond elements, and Daniel Craig can stay around in the role as long as he pleases, and I hope it’s for at least a few more films. But Daniel? Do other stuff in between. You’re too good an actor to be typecast as Bond, as much as I enjoyed you in the role.