Christ, I miss the Cold War (2006)
September 30, 2012 1 Comment
Having recently earned his 007 status, James Bond (Daniel Craig) sets off for Madagascar where he kills an international bomb-maker and — through a text message on the man’s phone — makes a connection to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a terrorist financer wanted by MI6. Following the trail to Miami airport, Bond foils the attempted destruction of a prototype plane, costing Le Chiffre millions that he had previously invested in shares. Entered by M (Judi Dench) into a high-stakes poker game that the banker had organised in order to recoup his losses, and aided by accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Bond attempts to win the game so that Le Chiffre has no option but to seek asylum in exchange for information.
I have already reviewed Casino Royale, the twenty-first official James Bond film and the first to star Daniel Craig, but as BlogalongaBond passes by these parts en route to November’s release of Skyfall, I have decided to give the quasi-reboot another chance. You see, every time I see Casino Royale I like it more, but there are a number of issues that will forever prevent me from fully embracing Craig’s début.
While I originally dismissed it as a boring Bourne knock-off attempting to emulate the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, I have come to appreciate that it is very much its own thing, separate from the former and substantially better than the latter. This isn’t retconned realism or grit-for-grit’s-sake, but rather a James Bond for the 21st Century, albeit one that’s six years and one instalment late.
Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale oozes confidence from the first frame, in which Bond finally earns his stripes (or, rather, double zeroes) with a noirish, black and white bang. Brazen and distinctive, the opening titles introduce the poker motif as Craig steps from the shadows and takes a shot at the audience. Not even the sight of Bond and his target leaping through Madagascar like a pair of daredevil lemurs is enough to diminish the opening salvo’s tangible coolness.
There’s a lot to love about Casino Royale, not least Craig’s brutal, brash and unavoidably blonde take on everyone’s favourite ‘blunt instrument’. This is no Christian Bale brood-fest, but rather a full-bodied rebirth for an icon who disappeared up his own nostrils under Pierce Brosnan. For the first time in years — perhaps ever — the beatings actually hurt, his actions have consequences, as Bond is finally trusted with not only complex characterization but an arc of his own. Throw in a series-best Dench, and Eva Green’s enigmatic Vesper, and you have what is possibly the franchise’s best ensemble yet. Even Mad Mikkelsen is quite good in that role of his.
Although the film lands a good few punches, however (the stairwell scrap is one of the series’ best set pieces), Casino Royale isn’t always able to connect. While it starts strongly and manages to deliver on character and iconic images, it does feel as though it’s gone from one extreme to the other. Dumbed down to desperate levels for Die Another Day, the franchise has overcompensated with a yarn that seems a law unto itself, meandering and without pace. It certainly isn’t narrative-shaped, that’s for sure. As tedious as the poker-faces quickly become, that section of the movie still at least feels like a natural conclusion. The rest — Vesper’s kidnap to Bond’s Venetian revenge — feels almost ancillary. It all goes a bit Return of the King.
Casino Royale was a brave new beginning for the Bond franchise, and even after the disappointment of Quantum Of Solace it manages to tell an engaging and satisfying story, even if I’m still as ignorant to the rules of poker as ever. While it falls short of greatness, however, the film stands the character in good stead for a new Century. Craig could yet be the greatest Bond of all.