Gritty reboot time. Thank God too, because Die Another Day was absolute torture.
Casino Royale (2006)
The Bond series has had its fair share of reboots. Technically, each time a new 007 actor is brought in, it’s a reboot- at least from a tonal point of view. The franchise has been shaped and reshaped since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service way back in ’69. This is certainly the most significant one though. We’ve only known Bond as a full-fledged secret agent. Taking him back to his first assignment and showing him making mistakes and learning on the job was a gamble. Especially when the words “reboot” and “prequel” will get your mouth washed out with soap in any form of polite company. There was a huge furore over the casting of Daniel Craig, most of which seemed to be the fact he came across as a bit quiet at the press conference, he had the fucking gall to have blonde hair and GET THIS- he wasn’t even going to dye it! Clearly he was ill-suited for the role. I’d both love and hate to see what happened if they tried to cast someone of a different ethnicity as Bond. There’d be rioting in the streets. As mine is the only opinion on anything you should ever trust, let me dogmatically tell you that Casino Royale is the fucking nuts. It’s one of the best Bonds period. Plus, I genuinely think Daniel Craig is the best 007. Stick that in your whingeholes.
Casino Royale takes the Bond series right back down to the wire. We join a newly promoted James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he is sent to confront a shady banker known as Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson). After Bond scuppers his plans betting on the stock market, Le Chiffre has a last-ditch attempt at regaining his lost money by setting up a high-stakes poker game. Bond is entered into the tournament, bankrolled by MI6 to make sure that doesn’t happen. Accompanying Bond is the treasury’s representative Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), there to make sure that the British government doesn’t directly finance terrorism. The Bond team went right back to Fleming’s source novel for this and changed things here and there to make it more cinematic. It totally works too. The plotting is tight, efficient and pacy. There are some decent twists and turns and the tone is struck just right. This is realistic with a touch of the fantastical, very similar to Timothy Dalton’s run. They knew they’d gone too far with Die Another Day and so a massive effort was made to take the series back to its taut spy thriller roots.
I think Daniel Craig is awesome. I was always baffled as a kid at the huge disconnect between the cinematic Bonds and the literary one. There was certainly no mugging and eyebrow raising on the pages. Craig manages to find a balance between the projected and printed and I can’t give him enough credit for that. Eva Green is not only a fantastic actress and drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s one of the best Bond women ever. Vesper is so much more than just a pretty face so often seen in the Bond flicks. She reminded me a lot of Diana Riggs’ Tracy in OHMSS (which I’m sure is intentional) She’s smart and quite prickly at first, but soon evolves into a complex and completely endearing character. I’m in love with Vesper. I don’t care who knows it either. As for villains, Le Chiffre is a great one. He’s played with a contained malevolence by Mikkelson and he can be quite chilling at times. Whilst he has some sort of physical abnormality (he weeps blood from an injured eye) it’s not pantomime stuff. Getting Martin Campbell back to direct was a good move. He convincingly brought Bond into the ’90s with the mighty GoldenEye and he pulls the same trick again with this film. Also, I love Jeffrey Wright as Felix. Only he and David Hedison have made the character work for them.
In the same way Die Another Day failed right out of the gate, Casino Royale succeeded. We start with a monochrome flashback sequence, showing Bond’s required two kills to become a 00 agent. His first kill, a brutal bathroom thumpfest is disquieting. This ain’t your grandmother’s Bond, that’s for damn sure. Weaving the gunbarrel into the narrative, representing the popping of Bond’s murder cherry is a fantastic touch. I love the titles and Chris Cornell’s title track. This is the anti-camp Bond I’d been wishing for and here it was, unfolding before me like a big ol’ dream map. I’m trying extremely hard not to gush (I may have already failed) but this is the sort of approach I wanted them to take. After 44 years and 20 films basically retelling the same story over and over again, it was time for a change. There were two major influences over Casino Royale. One was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the other was Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films. Both are evident here. The pared-down, character driven anti-camp stuff screams Nolan whereas the impressive and dynamic stunt work is all Bourne. I heard some people criticising the film for being too much like Bourne, but I think the film is a nice mix between the realistic and frenetic Bourne stuff and the blockbuster action stuff. The stairway fight where Bond fights off machete wielding madmen is a good example of this.
What else can I say? The Bond action stuff has always been up there and Casino Royale is no exception. The free-running construction site sequence is incredible. It says a lot about the quality of the film when I loved the quieter tension-filled card games as much as the balls-out action stuff. Highlight for me is the wince-inducing torture scene where Le Chiffre does some very nasty things with a heftily swung knotted rope. The third act is a heartbreaker, again reminiscent of OHMSS. Having said that, the very end left me with a massive smile on my face.
Whilst the shift was too much for some, I personally love this direction for Bond. I like the fact that we’re seeing him become the world’s most celebrated assassin gradually, film by film. I’ll be very surprised if Skyfall doesn’t take Craig’s Bond a few more steps towards superspydom. In a series that is known for its cartoonish villains, wacky gadgets and double FUCKING taking FUCKING pigeons as much as its beautiful locations, compelling stories and fantastic action, it was nice to not have to qualify my Bond love for once. Casino Royale is a damn good film in its own right. It just happens to feature James Bond. I don’t know about you, but I’m on Team Craig all the way.