johnlink ranks CASINO ROYALE (2006)

With another Daniel Craig entry in the James Bond series looming, I figured it was time to revisit the first couple. For every dozen or so terrible reboots out there, there is one 21st century Bond or a single Nolan led Batman. It’s these rare exceptions which create a world in which producers feel more comfortable rebooting than creating anew. But, that said, I’m really glad they went the way they did with CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE, and I hope for more of the same from SKYFALL. Plus, the series gets bonus cred from me, because I just read an interview with producer Barbara Broccoli, in which she stated that James Bond won’t be going 3D anytime soon. Quality being selected over the chance to add three dollars to every ticket sold? What a novel concept! SOME minor SPOILERS below.

I watched CASINO ROYALE (2006) on 11.3.12. It was my third viewing of the film, and first for this blog.

This Bond relaunch starts with James earning his ‘double-0′ status and working on his first mission. While this is clearly not the start of his military career, it’s the start of his career as we know him. The intensity is ratcheted up for this movie, with the wink-and-nod Pierce Brosnan years being left as a waste-product of the over-stuffed 90s. While CASINO ROYALE certainly does not go for realism, it does go for a gritty and carnal aesthetic.

Daniel Craig is a perfect Bond. He’s my personal favorite since Connery, and he is refreshingly nuanced. Pierce Brosnan certainly was successful in being ”fun’, though I’m not sure he was particularly ‘good’. Much of that can be laid at the feet of the writers. In CASINO ROYALE, the writers give Bond plenty to do, plenty to say, plenty to consider. He  is egotistical, irrationally emotional at times, and he is imperfect. He fails multiple times in this movie. He messes up his first mission as ‘007’. He refuses to listen to his boss, M (the great Judi Dench). He messes up in a high-stakes poker game. And, in the final scenes, he misjudges who can be trusted and he fails someone he cares for.

All of this works to create a refreshing picture. When Bond is poisoned he fails to save himself and must be saved by someone else. When he is kidnapped, he is not the instrument of his own rescue. He is an absolutely flawed hero, though an earnest hero to be sure. The humanization of James Bond is what drives this movie.

There are plenty of nods to the previous series. The score teases us with the classic Bond themes. Bond doesn’t care if his martini is shaken or stirred. His first Aston Martin is won in a poker game. But for all those little nods, this film also redefines some of the tropes as well. There are only two Bond girls in this film, and neither are typical in their treatment. The first is the wife of a villain, and is punished despite not being deceptive in any way. The second, Vesper (Eva Green), is a complex woman who holds her own with Bond intellectually and sexually. Bond falls in love with her, plans to quit his job for her. The fact that this story line is carried into QUANTUM OF SOLACE helps to reinforce the fact that this isn’t your Daddy’s Bond. No longer does every film happen in a vacuum with no bearing on later stories. Instead, the pain he feels because of Vesper carries Bond through the next picture. It’s a brilliant way to reboot, in that we get to see a flowing multi-film James Bond story for, really, the first time in the history of the series.

I can’t say enough about how solidly Daniel Craig manages to reawaken this character. I love everything they chose to do with this, and I love that there’s a nifty little poker movie buried in this two-hour plus James Bond movie. I love that the audience doesn’t know what is going to happen before it happens, and that Bond sometimes fails when we expect him to succeed. That’s a real key here. Of course we know Bond isn’t going to die. It just isn’t how this plays out. At no point in the movie do we expect him to be killed. However, when he continually fails, or when things continually don’t go according to plan, or when others have to bail him out… well, we are left with an uneasy feeling. And that is no small feat in a franchise which had long ago become formulaic.

I look forward to SKYFALL with great earnest, and I will hit up QUANTUM OF SOLACE on these pages in the next week or so. But I’m glad I went back and watched this complex and engaging first Craig/Bond film. This is not a movie which assumes its audience is dumb, constantly launching plot points at us and not taking the time to carefully explain them. I, for one, am glad that this is the Bond we are getting the privilege to experience going forward in the 21st century.



The bonus is for the music. Beyond the blending of classic motifs, the rest of the original music in this is spot on (even the opening song is a great theme song).




~ by johnlink00 on November 4, 2012.

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