After the cartoonish flailing of Die Another Day, it was (rightly) decided that it was time for a change of seismic proportions.
After all, pithy comebacks and invisible cars were becoming horribly passe thanks to the two other agents running around who not only dared to upstage the super spy but also had the audacity to even share James Bond’s initials.
I am, of course, referring to Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, the couple of upstarts who had revolutionized high octane spy shit on both silver screen and idiot box respectfully with a mixture of heartfelt amnesia and murderous patriotism.
Bond, with his randy double entendres and an alcohol inflamed liver that by now must look like a grotty shoe, was simply being outclassed.
However, the Bond franchise hasn’t got to where it is today without the ability to move with the times and so a ground up reboot was set in motion to make Bond relevant again. Again…
After notching up enough kills to level-up into becoming a double-oh agent, a headstrong and VERY rough around the edges James Bond rewards MI6 for his promotion by leveling a Madagascan building site and shooting up an embassy in pursuit of a ridiculously nimble bomb maker whom he promptly assassinates when it becomes clear that it will be impossible to take him into custody.
Needless to say M, his boss, is understandably pissed at this near-international incident and has massive reservations about keeping him around but before she can ring up H.R. to find out the best way to give a bollocking to a trained killer, Bond fucks off to to follow a lead on his own.
The lead eventually leads to Le Chiffre, a personal banker to terrorists who has an unfortunate habit of taking his clients money and playing it on the stock markets (A duplicitous terrorist banker? Who’da thunk it?) and after a disastrous investment has to desperately make the money back fast, so he arranges a huge stakes winner-take-all card game in the Casino Royale in Montenegro.
MI6 give Bond the 10 million he needs to buy-in with the endgame being that if Le Chiffre loses he’ll run into the arms of British intelligence for protection.
Paired with treasury agent Vesper Lynd, Bond has to win the game not only to ensare Le Chiffre but to guarantee that the British Government hasn’t directly funded world terrorism via a card game – but things don’t prove to be quite so straightforward as James has to fend off numerous side missions during the game and there’s a high probability that one of Bond’s allies may be keeping their cards close to their chest…
Adapted from Ian Flemming’s first Bond story (Or at least the middle bit is, I don’t think Flemming wrote about a parkour chase in Madagascar but it’s been a while, so…), Casino Royale not only rebuilds the character from scratch but gives the whole Bond blueprint a long overdue scrub down too, erasing many established tropes which gives the whole plot a sense of unpredictability that almost feels experimental. Cramming in all the typical action beats at the beginning and the end of the film, the main bulk of the story is set in the titular casino concerning the in’s and out’s of the game of Texas Hold ‘Em that carries huge consequences regardless of the turnout. People hugely ignorant of the rules of said card game (like my dumb-ass self, for example) are covered by the film which tries explain things as it goes but there’s still a sense of “did he win?” when the last cards are placed and the music drops out. That being said, the fact that a Bond film has the balls to make a card game it’s centre piece is fantastic and the script is as solid as they come, striving to make all the characters in Bond’s world believable and none more than Jimmy B himself.
There was a LOT of kerfuffle when Daniel Craig was announced and most of it was the purest of bullshit (Craig’s too ugly! Craig’s too blonde!) but the man does a phenomenal job with some of the best character work the series has ever been given. Not afraid to openly call out the spy about being an utter prick with some of his life choices (Bond’s got a thing for married women and he’s worryingly callous on the surface when his heat-seeking libido gets an innocent woman tortured and killed), but he’s put in check by Eva Green’s Vesper, less an Italian scooter and more a fiercely intelligent and capable woman who flirts and clashes with James the nanosecond they become aware of each other’s existence. Watching the two verbally picking each other apart, revealing the other’s weaknesses and trigger points while simultaneously proving that they very well may be more similar than they first thought is exhilarating and something that no other Bond actor could have possibly got away with.
Also scoring big is the magnificently sinister Mads Mikkelsen as Bond’s latest nemesis (he has SO many!), weeping blood from a ruined tear duct and orchestrating a groan inducing line of torture that involves treating 007’s overworked love spuds like a test your strength machine at a carnival, he proves to be the thinking man’s Bond villain.
Some Bond purists may balk at so many tropes being deliberately left by the wayside (there’s not even a snifter of any gadgets, Q, Moneypenny, an evil henchman or anything approaching a hollowed out volcano base) but this is obviously to make this new 007 a far more resourceful agent and the Bond tropes that we DO have are thankfully top notch thanks to a returning Judi Dench, now playing M as a fantastically stern, yet understanding mother surrogate and the late Chris Cornell’s utterly barnstorming opening theme. The action rocks as fucking hard as theme too with that early Madagascan foot chase a strong contender as best Bondian action scene EVER (the bit where the guy bounds over a table like a bunny does my head in every time) – although you feel the film is almost out of gas by the time we get to a final brawl in a crumbling building in Venice. Add some interesting tonal shifts in the final third (I thought all James’ recuperating scenes were dream sequences at first) and you have the most orginal and challenging Bond film possibly ever made and the fact that it was helmed by Martin Campbell – who with this and Goldeneye has successfully rebooted Bond twice… TWICE (do you have any idea how difficult that is?) – you have an exciting new beginning for character who knows how to change with the times.
Where’s Jason and Jack now, eh?