“Casino Royale” not your Father’s Bond
Less charm, more grit. Less fun, more run. It’s as if someone gave those responsible for 007’s 21st installment, “Casino Royale” the license to kill off any of the campy tone of the recent James Bond films. So, in with the blond Bond, the steely, Apollo-sculpted Daniel Craig (“Munich”) and out with the gentleman playboy attitude and cheesy one liners. Consider us die hard fans shaken, but have we been stirred for the better?
“Casino Royale” was creator Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel but was not included in the original movie rights deal that led to the 1962 film debut of “Dr. No.” To resurrect what some saw as a franchise prone to over-the-top CGI histrionics and an over dependence on gadgets versus true drama, director Martin Campbell (“Goldeneye”) and a team of writers reached back to the beginning of Bond’s origins and deliver an agent more fitting of Fleming’s “ironical, brutal and cold” descriptions.
From the opening black and white scenes that depict the new agents’ first government kills through to a lengthy and absolutely riveting on foot chase scene, it’s clear “Casino Royale” is going for an old school approach-maximizing Craig’s strapping, athletic stature to bone crushing effect.
Many of the other peripheral elements of the Bond films are still evident, the Aston Martins, the exotic locations (Bahamas, Montenegro), a threatening villain, in this case the blood weeping Le Chiffre (played with conviction by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen) and the requisite gorgeous women. But in this latest installment, the femme fatales aren’t simply superficial playthings. In one of the films bolder moves, Bond falls for (and who wouldn’t) stunning treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)-a strategy that sets up two of the most poignantly dramatic scenes in the 007 litany.
Another smart move is to feature actress Judi Dench who returns as “M” the tough spy boss responsible for Bond’s promotion, dryly demanding James’ compliance.
Despite all of this much appreciated effort at reinvention, there are gripes. The jury is still out on Daniel Craig. Cocksure and ripped, the new Bond is also humorless, lacking the killer grin that made women swoon and men envious. With his protruding bottom lip, stick out ears and rather thin coif, Craig’s 007 doesn’t cut the most attractive or brash figure at an elegant dinner party. To both his credit and his disadvantage, the fine British actor could easily be cast as one of Bond’s arch enemies.
The pacing and momentum of “Casino Royale” is hampered by its extensive running length (144 minutes) and a central plot point involving a seemingly endless high stakes game of “Texas Hold ‘Em.” The clich? of an obligatory torture scene is somewhat compensated for by its below-the belt-wince-inducing efficiency.
And where are the toys? Every Bond film must have at least one gadget that every 12 year old wants to own someday. There’s a seriousness to this Bond that restores some measure of credibility to the franchise. But the next installment could use a bit of the wit and style that made the International Man of Mystery so beloved. Bring back “Q,” let’s blow something up and have some fun!
Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned).