Casino Royale [retro review]

“Sometimes we pay so much attention to our enemies, we forget to watch our friends as well.”

The Scoop: 2006 PG-13. Directed by Martin Campbell and starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green and Judi Dench.

Summary Capsule: James Bond, having just earned his double-oh status, learns the state of espionage today as he follows a trail of terrorism and murder to a high stakes poker game at Casino Royale.

Kyle’s Rating: There are 24 ways the show 24 influenced this new take on Bond; I’ll share them with you some day.

Kyle’s Review: It seems a bit disingenuous to say that Casino Royale is a reboot of the James Bond film series, since there are a few elements that carry over from the Brosnan films (most notably Dame Judi Dench as M) and it is slightly more accurate to say that this film simply hews more closely to the Ian Fleming novel(s) than established series continuity. Personally, while I will consider this a proper 21st film in the official James Bond series, I will imagine that Daniel Craig’s James Bond as a man not only starting out as 007 but also one that owns the previous 20 films on DVD and watches them occasionally for a laugh.

Because, ultimately, the biggest difference between the Bond series and other spy film series (most notably the modern Bourne movies) is the character of James Bond. I don’t care about Jason Bourne or any other spy (I can’t even think of a successful reoccurring film spy at the moment, which sort of says it all, really) the way I do James Bond, nor do I look to any other fictional character the way I look to Bond for guidance, advice, and fashion tips (in a completely non-psychotic way, mind you). When Casino Royale was announced and all the way up until its opening weekend, the bulk of the loudest online chatter centered on the aforementioned Bourne films. What use was there for a fresh take on Bond when we have the Bourne films providing everything we need in terms of intrigue, espionage, close-combat fighting, sophisticated gadgetry used as weaponry, and a resourceful hero with lightning-fast reflexes in battle? I sort of followed their argument, except no one ever really addressed what I find to be the main flaw of the Bourne films, which is that they’re supremely dispassionate, and Jason Bourne is so boring I don’t ever care. Sorry. I’ve had Bond in my blood since childhood. Nothing else will replace him; I don’t care how inventive the fight scenes are. Bond forever!

My dedication to (the cinematic) James Bond lead me to tentatively join the throngs of fans who lost their minds when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond. Revering Pierce Brosnan’s Bond as my ultimate favorite and convinced that all the Brosnan Bond were fantastic (I think The World is Not Enough is my ultimate favorite film, though it’s not set in stone), I thought he had at least one more installment left in him, and beyond that the switch from the superspy cool of Brosnan to the clunky bluntness of Craig seemed like the series had shifted gears incorrectly and had left most of its engine on the road behind it, and we the onlookers were the only ones who could see the mechanical carnage clearly. To be sure: it’s just a movie, but it’s also a Bond movie, so it really is a big deal.

Now consider me one of the seeming throngs who accepted Craig as our man Bond within the first ten minutes of Casino Royale. Craig, touted as a real “actor” who could bring a full gamut of “acting!” to the role, succeeds at creating a complex Bond who feels, makes mistakes, controls (most of) his emotions, yet has the strength and physicality to survive everything from beatings to poisoning to car crashes to horrific torture, all in the same busy evening, and come out looking, well, as good as Craig’s Bond did at the start. I will admit his looks grow on you, and upon accepting him as an upstart Bond and soon seeing his chiseled form in a small, tight bathing suit, I was like “okay, I can see all kinds of Bond girls and villain’s mistresses getting lost in (this) Bond’s ocean blue eyes.” Every Bond has had the charm, and Craig’s is no exception. Although I went in readying myself to accept Craig as Bond. If you gaze upon his countenance in magazines ads and tv ads and can not at all see James Bond standing there, I understand, and I don’t think seeing the movie will succeed in changing your mind. I know my parents will want to go see this, and while my dad will be able to enjoy Casino Royale as an exceptional Bond film, I’m pretty sure my mom will come out and go “I just couldn’t get past how ugly Daniel Craig is! He’s not my James Bond!” No worries. It happens.

But I think Craig’s performance also benefits from being found in a truly exceptional film. I agree with professional consensus that Casino Royale (coming in at nearly two and a half hours) could benefit from losing around 20 minutes here and there, but as is it’s a wonderfully sprawling adventure that gives us a nice, steady look at who Craig’s Bond is and leaves us wanting a whole lot more. It understandably recalls Goldeneye (understandably as it shares the same director) in its sprawling story, where some of the lesser bits fade away in the recollection, but the very strong portions are essentially without peer in the rest of the series. What it does okay is okay, but what it does oh so right (including the polished dialogue, fooling our expectations about what is going on on-screen, and giving a fresh and unpredictable take on James Bond) is absolutely amazing. Amazing! As soon as we got out, I texted a few faraway friends who are similarly Bond fanatics to tell them Casino Royale was amazing. All of them immediately asked if it was the best Bond ever. My initial response was to scream at the phone (which would have made no sense, since we were communicating via text messages) “Maybe!” in a really loud and exuberant voice; my actual reply was to say “I’ll need to see it like five more times to really know for sure.” ‘Cause that’s what I do, dig?

Casino Royale is amazing, though. I can’t say that enough. We get a complex Bond whose drives and personality is effectively communicated, yet there remain hints at remote depths (I’ll admit Craig can act, though I also contend that Pierce Brosnan similarly communicated immense ranges of textured emotions via smirks, eyebrows raises, and knowing looks. I’m being completely serious here). We get an exceptionally beautiful and confident Bond girl (arguably the prototypical one, based on the “reboot” angle) in Eva Green’s Vesper, and there are really no mistakes anywhere. Not in the casting, not in the special effects or action pieces or anywhere. If the movie was lame or boring the run time would be interminable, but you’ll really only notice if you have a sensitive bladder. We get enough “new” takes on everything yet simultaneously glimpses of humor and pathos about certain things that indicate that while the series is starting over, the 20 previous films still plainly have meaning. Hooray!

I’m probably writing this review much too seriously, but it’s Bond and it’s a big deal for me. Especially since they got it right! I admit I was scared: scared that Craig was going to be a complete bust, and that all the stuff I read in early reviews (Craig’s Bond being a total blunt instrument, the “ooh, I look good in a tuxedo!” scene, retaining the novel’s bleak final line, and the assertions that Bond makes mistakes all over the place but that this was a good thing) was going to overshadow any good that might be there. Whew! Craig is amazing, everything about Bond is expertly handled, and that last line from the novel is used in a proper context and immediately put under scrutiny (you’ll see) so that the film Bond, even as it skews closer and closer to Ian Fleming’s vision, retains more humor and “warmth” than the novels’ “cold-hearted bastard.”

I’m as surprised as you might be at how much I embrace Casino Royale, and how quickly I did so (right after the amazing though slightly terrifying animated titles sequences; maybe halfway through the free-run sequence?). Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better the plot drops Bond and the man he’s following at a Body Worlds exhibit in Miami (that’s the museum show where bodies are preserved in their musculature doing various things; naturally, the bodies playing poker play an important role here), and I was like “yes!”

Basically, I feel this way: I love all the Bond movies (Diamonds Are Forever is my least favorite, but it’s still kinda good) and I love all the actors who have played James Bond, with Pierce Brosnan being my favorite. But Daniel Craig is officially awesome, I can’t wait to own Casino Royale and I can’t wait for Craig’s next Bond film. I’M SO HAPPY! Casino Royale: film of the year! (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest just got bumped to two. Sorry, Captain Jack.)

UPDATE: Since I wrote my review, I had dinner with my parents, and offered to take them to see Casino Royale so they could enjoy a new Bond film and so I could see it again. My dad was too tired, but my mom was up for it, so I managed to see it twice opening weekend. And I continue to love it. My mom enjoyed it, though she misses the “fun” aspect of the earlier films, and isn’t sure where they will take the story now. I’m not too concerned about that, since I think they have it well in hand, and even if they do screw it all up at some point, I’ve still got 20 awesome Bond films to keep me going. What more could you ask for?

Shalen’s Rating: “You’ve taken good care of your body, Mr. Bond.”

Shalen’s Review: So!

There’s a reason why I don’t generally review Bond movies. This is because I’m embarrassed that I watch them. Bond is basically everything I want the opposite sex not to be — an arrogant, chauvinist user who can get away with anything at all and never gets sexually transmitted diseases, plus has nicer toys than I do. I think the reason I do watch them has to do more with their tongue-in-cheek over-the-top-ness. It’s hard to blame someone like Bond for the way he acts when 80% of the people he meets are going to die in front of him. Some Bond films, notably the Timothy Dalton entries, exploit this more than others.

Casino Royale delves a little more into the psychological aspects, by way of Bond’s relationship with M (the ever-wonderful Judi Dench). See, this film has been compared to Batman Begins with good reason; this is another 007 origin story that starts with the two killings that put Bond on the map agent-wise. M then quickly falls into the role of chiding/trying to keep a thumb on Bond, but in this movie it’s less of trying to drag him out of the arms of his latest bimbo and more of trying to keep him from flying off the handle and killing people M needs alive.

I hesitate to say this film deals more with the harsh realities than the Brosnan movies, because you can only project so much reality onto a guy surviving a spectacular car crash with no air bag or a cardiac arrest with no aftereffects. But this is certainly a colder and darker Bond than we’ve seen in other entries, so it’s paradoxical that this is also one of the few films that finds him with a genuine love interest.

Vesper Lynd is something new and startling: a Bond girl with an actual working brain. Not only does her snappy patter go beyond simple innuendo trading with the quintessential superspy, she sticks around to snuggle up to him after he’s suffered severe injury to his block and tackle, not something I’d expect from the likes of Jinx or Pussy Galore. However, considering the nature of Bond, I don’t really consider it a spoiler to tell you not to get too attached to her. Even with that development, she does her part as a real character in the story and not just as motivation or diversion.

The film was fun to watch in a theater with my family, particularly with my sisters and I muttering our own retorts to the line I used as my rating, but I think it would be a little slow on the small screen. The gambling bits seem a little long, and that’s even with “exciting” developments like a series of hands that are statistically so ridiculous that it’s no wonder the mathematically-inclined villain seems to snap late in the game. Sorry, but for most of us, when you get right down to it a straight flush is just a row of little cards. Bring back the sensitive shower snuggling, please.

There was at least one moment where I could have sworn Daniel Craig (whose acting is better than I would have expected from his previous work, even with his shirt on) was channeling Sean Connery. At the very least, I’m truly interested to see what the next installment looks like.

Drew’s Rating: I’ve never forgiven my parents for not giving me the requisite “J.B.” initials needed to be a secret agent. Up yours, Bond, Bourne, and Bauer!

Drew’s Review: We were at a wedding last weekend, and as is her custom, my wife scurried off with one of our coworkers to discuss dresses and centerpieces and who looked skanky (the cougar with the bat-symbol tattooed above her cleavage… true story), leaving me to make small talk with said coworker’s boyfriend. At some point conversation turned to the new James Bond movie; he mentioned that he hadn’t seen it and didn’t plan to because of bad things he’d heard. That surprised me, so I asked what those things might be.

“Well for starters, I heard they don’t even play the Bond theme until the end. Is that true?”

I admitted that it was.

“And even though they made a big deal of introducing Judi Dench as M in GoldenEye and this is set at the beginning of Bond’s career…”

“…she’s still playing M,” I responded, nodding.

“Plus there’s no Q. And to top it all off, I heard [spoiler] doesn’t even get to kill [spoiler], right?”

“Can’t deny it,” I said with a smile, then changed the subject. Because he’d already made up his mind, and the truth is, not everyone is going to appreciate the shaking up of the 007 franchise. Hell, I’m surprised I did, since I usually hate when you mess with my Star Wars or X-Men or whatever.

But there’s no two ways about it: I really, really like this new Bond. Not for his appearance… let’s face it, Daniel Craig’s face more screams “heroin fiend” than classic Bond, though obviously a blond 007 is aces in my book. He’s perhaps the most physical actor in the role to date — I didn’t notice the washboard abs Shalen was drooling over, but the guy’s definitely got guns, and I’m not talking about the Walther P99. But any fan will tell you that actual looks are secondary to that indefinable ability to project as Bond, to just walk into a room and instantly be the suavest guy there.

And does Craig do that? Not entirely, no… but in a good way. I LOVE that they’ve gone back to the early days of Bond’s career when he was fallible, still cool but definitely learning the ropes. You could just as easily have titled this movie Bond: Year One. It pays homage to past 007 movies while simultaneously declaring itself as something different, whether it’s Bond himself (instead of Ursula Andress or Halle Berry) striding out of the ocean or le Chiffre’s jibe about overly elaborate torture devices. And I won’t spoil the film’s conclusion except to say this — while it lacks the poignancy of the book’s ending, where you literally feel the last of Bond’s soul slipping away, it’s still pretty damn cool.

As you’d expect from any 007 movie, there are incredibly convenient coincidences (handy that le Chiffre left his inhaler behind exactly when Bond needed to plant a bug) and plot twists that don’t make any sense. It strikes me that if there are only two people in the world you need alive — one for an account number, the other a password — it’s perhaps not the best idea to tie one up and throw her in front of a vehicle driven by the other, forcing him to swerve and flip his car roughly 8 billion times. Nonetheless, you’re not going to a Bond movie for realism, and the absence of space lasers and guys with razor-sharp metal teeth keeps things relatively grounded.

Though I’ve seen my share, I’m not the one to tell you whether Casino Royale is amazingly successful as a Bond movie… for that you’ll have to ask 003½ Kyle. But I CAN reiterate how much I enjoyed it, far more than I have 007’s recent outings. Like most, I loved Brosnan’s debut in GoldenEye but became progressively less interested in every movie since, and in fact still haven’t watched Die Another Day. But consider my interest officially rekindled, and for better or for worse, I think Daniel Craig and the makers of Royale have and will continue to redefine what we think of as a Bond film. It’s an old argument — how much can you change a formula to attract new people without betraying the initial concept? Some, like my coworker’s boyfriend, will never accept the slightest alterations to Bond; but for my part, I think they’ve given him an all new license to kill.

"This isn't where I parked my car..."

Intermission!

  • It seems it’s Bond’s contact Mathis who gives James the idea to start introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond.”
  • Bond’s precisely ordered martini at the poker table, which becomes so popular with everyone else, comes directly from Ian Fleming’s novels.
  • There’s no sign of Q or Moneypenny… unless we’re to think that male assistant guy is the new Moneypenny? Oh no!
  • James Bond recovers from injuries really, really fast. And without scarring! Nice!
  • Free running looks extremely awesome, but also extremely hard to pick up. You probably have to start small, like with park benches and playground equipment, and then work your way up to construction sites.
  • Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd starts out looking cute but so-so, then in the bathroom sans make-up she looks really great, and as the movie progresses she gets more and more beautiful. How does that happen? She appears to have dyed her hair black once they get to Venice, though. That’s weird.
  • Remember, kids: perfectly sculpted asses and supple, pouting breasts are for good guys; having physical deformities or an eyepatch makes you pure evil.
  • When Bond chooses a password for the money, the fifth digit he presses is a 4, making it impossible for the code to be “Vesper.”
  • The estranged wife that Bond, er, pumps for information is named Solange. In Ian Fleming’s books, Bond fantasizes about meeting a girl named Solange in “From A View To A Kill.” Then in the short story “007 In New York,” Bond plans to meet his girlfriend Solange while on a mission to the Big Apple.
  • “Casino Royale” was the first James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming and is the last of the original Fleming novels to be turned into a movie. This is the first James Bond movie since The Living Daylights to have a title and/or plot taken from one of Ian Fleming’s novel.
  • Authorities in Venice granted producers permission to sail James Bond’s yacht, called Spirit 54, along the Grand Canal between the Accademia and Rialto bridges. No one can remember exactly the last time a pleasure yacht sailed in the Grand Canal, but it’s believed to have been several centuries ago.
  • This film replaces the high-stakes casino game Baccarat from the novel with the modern game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Interestingly, in Hold ‘Em, a hand with a pair of eights is called an “Octopussy,” the name of both a James Bond short story and movie.
  • As mentioned above, Q and Moneypenny do not appear in this film. Moneypenny has been in all previous (official) Bond films, while Q was in all but Live and Let Die (the man who gives Bond his new Walther in Dr. No is the same character but played by a different actor; Desmond Llewelyn took over as Q in From Russia With Love and played the role until The World Is Not Enough; John Cleese took on the role in Die Another Day).
  • “Le Chiffre” means “the Cipher” or “the Number.”

Groovy Quotes

M: This may be too much for a blunt instrument to understand. Any thug can kill. I want you to take your ego out of the equation.
Bond: So you want me to be half monk, half hitman.
M: I knew it was too early to promote you.
Bond: Well I understand double-ohs have a very short life expectancy, so your mistake will be short-lived.

[Examining cover identities]
Bond: According to this I’m Henry Beech, and you’re Ms. Stephanie Broadchest…
Vesper: It does not say that! Let me see.
Bond: You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Vesper: Am I going to have a problem with you, Bond?
Bond: Don’t worry, you’re not my type.
Vesper: Smart?
Bond: Single.

Vesper: It doesn’t bother you, killing all those people?
Bond: I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.

Bartender: Shaken or stirred?
Bond: Does it look like I give a damn?

Le Chiffre: I’ve never understood elaborate death traps, when it’s the simplest thing in the world to cause a man more pain than he can possibly bear.

Le Chiffre: What is so funny?
Bond: Because now the whole world’s going to know you died scratching my balls.

M: Sometimes we pay so much attention to our enemies, we forget to watch our friends as well.

M: You don’t trust anybody, do you James?
Bond: No.
M: Then you’ve learnt your lesson.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

Advertisements

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Quantum of Solace [retro review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: Thunderball [retro review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  3. Pingback: Justin does X-Men: First Class « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  4. Pingback: Justin does Hitman « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  5. Pingback: Eunice does The Three Musketeers (2011) « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s