Casino Royale is one of the most captivating Bond films, but is it one of the best? The very fact that this "re-imagining" is so completely different from any other Bond film makes it hard to compare it to any others in the franchise, but one thing is for certain: Casino Royale is a very good movie, but that doesn't mean you're going to like it.
Royale starts off with Bond performing his first two kills in black and white, and from there we get the classic shot of Bond turning to the camera and shooting down the barrel of a pistol. The movie dives right into one of the least inspiring and least sexiest opening song sequences of any Bond film, although some could say it is definitely unique. From there, we are introduced to Bond on a stakeout, and from there the action is on.
Casino Royale differs in so many ways from previous Bond flicks. For starters, there are very few gadgets, and certainly no gadgets that are outside the realm of believability. There is no Q, and there is much less humor, although, to be bold, this darker Bond makes the few one-liners and other banter he has all the better. On top of that, there is no insidious villain trying to blow up the world with a laser, no invisible car, and fewer Bond girls. The slick presentation of most recent Bond flicks has been replaced with a grittier, more realistic one, as has 007 himself - Daniel Craig is the new James Bond, and his appearances alone are worth controvery. Some say he's handsome, many say he's not, and he is also the first Bond to have blonde hair.
Casino Royale succeeds under the direction of Martin Campbell, who was the man who rejuvenated the franchise with Goldeneye over a decade ago. Goldeneye, in my view, is one of the best Bond films to date, but Campbell has taken the franchise a step further this time, perhaps to reflect the dark times of the 21st century. His James Bond of Casino Royale is not the polished, confident, emotionless man you'd expect, but instead a rugged romantic who fights brutally to get what he wants and is not always perfect in his execution. This film also marks the second Bond film in a row to feature the main character getting tortured, although the torture scene here, based on a scene from the original novel by Ian Fleming, is certainly more painful.
As for Craig, he is terrific in the role, though I do have to admit he really doesn't look the part. His acting ability emmerses him in the role, but his jagged face and blonde hair definitely are a bit extreme for a character whom everyone in the United States and around the world views in a specific, singular way. Nevertheless, other than dye his hair there is little he can do to modify his looks, and everything else is great. He brings a much needed energy to the role, and yet still manages to exchange banter on a whim. It is strange to watch Bond laugh, scream and cry, but it is also refreshing, because the franchise needed something like this.
I will view this film from two perspectives, most notably mine and also my mother's. My mother hasn't seen the film, but I know what she'll say: Daniel Craig isn't handsome, he doesn't look like Bond, he's too violent and too dramatic. The movie isn't as exciting as other movies, and torture shouldn't be a part of the movies, because James Bond is supposed to be the perfect gentleman assassin. She'd prefer action and explosives over grit and darkness, at least for a Bond film.
There are parts of me that still want that. Casino Royale does lack some flare at times, especially in the final act where it really loses sense of a central villian and ends with a somewhat unspectacular action sequence. It is fun to watch the older Bond movies and know that, no matter what, he isn't going to make a mistake, or that he is going to get himself out of a trap, or that the bad guy isn't going to win. This newer version doesn't assure you of that, and for most movies, being unpredictable is a good thing - for a Bond film, it is a strange sensation. Still, after Die Another Day, which went overboard with an invisible car, an ice palace, a gigantic laser, Bond surfing on a glacier and more, Casino Royale is a new direction with some much needed experimentation.
Despite the many changes, Casino Royale still has some great action sequences. The first big sequence, where Bond pursues a gravity-defying dude through a Madagascar city and eventually onto a construction crane (oddly enough, a crane fell over only blocks from the theater where I saw this film, only hours before), is pretty good. The second, where Bond pursues a terrorist through Miami airport, is spectacular. The third big one, at the end, is entertaining, but lacks a major villain to make it truly exciting.
Casino Royale succeeds in that it sticks to the novel as much as it can, sets a new direction for the Bond franchise, offers some good acting and a good starting point for our hero, and features some cool action sequences. Missing from the film itself is the Bond theme, a consistent villain to tie all the pieces together, and the suaveness we've come to expect. The screenwriters focused a bit too much on showing how Bond became the way he did and forgot to finish out the story with a bang, but in reality Casino Royale is a setup film for the next one to come. Now that all this emotional stuff is out of the way, Craig can move on to kicking some real ass.
Casino Royale is going to be a love it or hate it film for most Bond fans, but there's only one way to find out in which camp you lie.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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