Casino Royale (2006)

Untitled-1If you can remember my reviews for some of the earlier Bond movies, particularly the Roger Moore ones of the ’70s, you’d recall me yearning for a giant shift in the Bond formula. All those movies were fast becoming stale, and making the effort to watch the next one developed into a chore rather than a desire. I felt no need to even consider For Your Eyes Only after sitting through Moonraker. The only reason I did was knowing that I had to complete the odyssey, and that eventually, they’d get better.

Casino Royale is the twenty-first Bond movie in 44 years, but you’d think it was the first. It is reinvented from the ground up and finally breaks the chain. Bond is different. He’s no longer played by Pierce Brosnan; he’s been remodeled and re-shapen to usher in a new generation. He’s played by Daniel Craig, who is by far the most muscular Bond. This isn’t a bad thing. Yes, 007 is meant to be a lean, mean, suave and sexy fighting machine, but really, could you believe Connery or Moore in all their fighting scenes? Connery was good with words and the way he delivered them, but he never had the build nor the mechanics to fight. We only accepted him in those scenes because we had no other choice. Craig is bigger and tougher because he has to be. For the first time, Bond looks comfortable in a fight that we’re confident he can win.

He is also more focused this time. Like Dalton’s version of Bond, he is less obsessed with sex and more in tune with his emotions. I suspect this is because Casino Royale is meant to be the first movie — it’s the first Fleming novel — so Bond has yet to discover himself. He is still unaware of the treacherous behaviour of his women, and he treats them like any normal man would. He meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an accountant working for the government. Her role is to supply Bond with the 15 million needed to enter a high stakes poker tournament, organised by villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), held at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Naturally, she becomes a love interest. And I use the term “love interest” with the utmost sincerity. Apart from George Lazenby getting married in OHMSS, this is the only time Bond sees a possible future with a woman — “I want to travel the world with you until one of us has to find an honest job… which I think is going to have to be you, because I have no idea what an honest job is.”. He falls in so hard that when he has to come out, he is scarred for life.

There is also no Q and no gadgets. The world of James Bond has been stripped down to its basics. He is no longer a superhero in a fantasy land, where gadgets control his fate and remote control cars steer his future. Here, the only gadget he has is his gun (well, and a mobile defibrillator that has a malfunctioning debut), which he uses quite extensively. The Aston Martin returns in glorious fashion. It isn’t stocked with rockets and ridiculous camouflaging technology; it is just a car. A very good looking car that meets its end in the most sensational way. Remember Brosnan’s BMW getting sliced in half down the middle? Well, next to that, this Aston’s destruction is like a turbulent plane wreck.

That’s one of the reasons why Casino Royale is such a good Bond movie. It has learnt a lot from the failures of its predecessors, and it delivers many memorable sequences. There’s the pre-credit scene, which is masterfully edited, and segues seamlessly into the opening credits that are by far the best I have seen. No naked women, no flames and melted gold, no dissolving transitions and seductive poses. Coupled with Chris Cornell’s thundering theme song, the sequence is breathtaking. And then we have the parkour (or free running) sequence, which is so thrilling and downright fun to watch that it beats other Bond chases by a mile, and there aren’t even any cars involved. There’s the tumbling of the Aston that I mentioned. There’s the torture scene that breaks all the rules and pushes the Bond franchise into much darker territory. There’s the poker tournament; no action but high in excitement. And there’s the climax in Venice that sees an entire building crumbling into the river as if it is slowly being sucked into a wormhole.

The plot follows Bond’s efforts to thwart Le Chiffre, a poker player with an eye that drips blood. “It’s nothing sinister” he assures us. He takes money from terrorists and turns it into huge profit. Frighteningly suave and stylish, and despite his claim, truly sinister, Le Chiffre makes for one of the best Bondian villains. I shall not spill his fate, but he goes out unexpectedly, which makes his character even more unforgettable.

So is Daniel Craig the best Bond? Many refuse to answer. But I’d say yes. He is the best Bond. And Casino Royale is the best Bond movie. It is daring and confident. It knows its place in the Bond canon, and makes the effort to be something entirely new. The old formula of the Moore movies is gone, replaced by innovation, style, and mesmerizing panache. It breaks away from tradition, and any movie that has the guts to do that is a movie worth recommending.

Best Moment | Just refer to the review and tick off all the memorable sequences I mentioned. My favourite would have to be the entire poker scene, though.

Worst Moment | Eva Green. Boy does she suck.

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