New Bond grittier, more credible spyThe world has changed since the Golden Age of Bond. The quintessential cold warrior was born and flourished, thanks to the irrepressibly cool Sean Connery and Roger Moore, along with the ruthless, often violent, sometimes insidious ideological brawl between the United States and the Soviet Union.
But when the Berlin Wall came down and Pierce Brosnan, the fifth official Bond, stepped into the role, the franchise began to show its age. Though Brosnan’s Bond was as self-confident as ever, the characters around him began to acknowledge his advancing years, while slowly the focused, tantalizing contests between Bond and the films’ razor-sharp villains drifted toward colorful cartoony battles, each gagdet weirder than the last and each explosion louder. Though the Brosnan films were still fairly entertaining, the series was teetering on the edge of anachronism.
Enter the new Bond, Daniel Craig, and along with him an entirely new approach to the series in “Casino Royale.”
Based on the Ian Fleming novel that introduced Bond to the world in the early ’50s, “Casino Royale” is a complete “reboot” of the franchise similar to last year’s “Batman Begins.” When the film starts, Bond doesn’t yet have a license to kill.
This is a distinct character from the previous incarnations ― the film is set in the present day and not during the Cold War, and Bond’s target has changed from the USSR to international terrorism.
After an opening sequence that’s unique, stylish and noticeably lacking in scantily clad women, and a few choice action sequences, M (Judi Dench, in the only piece of casting continuity with previous films) orders the newly christened 007 to enter a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for a band of nasty machete-wielding Africans among assorted other international delinquents.
Defeat in the game means the end of Le Chiffre, without the grand old Empire needing to get its hands dirty. Naturally, things don’t quite work out as planned.
Everywhere in “Casino Royale” is evidence of the new, more realistic paradigm in the spy genre set by the “Bourne Identity” films. As in “Bourne,” “Casino Royale” introduces a grittier, less certain hero with a psychological dimension previous Bonds lacked. Craig also looks more like an MI6 agent might ― his proportions, accentuated in a beach scene, are almost tank-like, and he’s the first Bond to look plausibly military.
There are still, of course, wild stunts, beautiful cars and women galore, but the deus ex machina gadgets of previous films, and their curmudgeonly creator Q, are nowhere to be seen. On the whole this change is for the better ― not even John Cleese could replace Desmond Llewelyn, and in an age when tiny cell phones can take long video clips, there’s little point spending precious minutes of film explicating the latest traps and bugs.
A warning: There are some very sensitive, emotional moments in this film that are likely to horrify Bond fans. But don’t worry, when the last bullet flies, the controlled, deadly panache that’s enthralled us for 20-plus films is fully formed. Enjoy.
Action / English
by Ben Applegate