Casino Royale (2006) Review

I am not a James Bond aficionado. I do, however, enjoy the film series and I think I’ve seen them all over the course of my lifetime. I realize that the series has always been a little over the top, with outrageous gadgets and fantastic evil lairs, but in the past few years, the Bond series turned into camp right before my eyes. I tried to shrug it off as me just getting older. After all, I enjoyed the old Adam West Batman television series as a child, but now can’t stomach the ridiculousness of it. The thing is, I don’t get the same revulsion watching Roger Moore escape a centrifuge as I do watching Pierce Brosnan dive off a cliff, chasing after a runaway plane and actually catch up with it. I remember watching Goldeneye for the first time in the theater and after that scene played, my friend leaned over and said, “That’s a little too James Bond even for James Bond.” I concurred. And who can forget the horrible CGI para-surfing scene in Die Another Day?

Ah, but enough of picking on Brosnan’s Bond career. It’s not his fault he was hired during that era of cheesy Bond films. He’s still my favorite Bond if only because I’ve been rooting for him ever since he couldn’t get out of his Remington Steele contract and fought ninjas with ice cubes in Coke commercials. If only he could have skipped one more generation of Bond films. Alas.

This brings us to Casino Royale, by far the best Bond film to come our way since even before Dalton. Here we find Bond on the cusp of becoming a “double oh” presented in classy black and white footage. This is followed by the intrinsic, stylized, and psychedelic intro credits and then we’re back into the action with Bond trying to stop terrorism–or at least the funding thereof–by beating them at a three-day sit’n’go of Texas Hold’em. (Sure, the premise is a bit of a stretch, but at least Hold’em is interesting to watch. Imagine if they were playing Baccarat!) Along the way–and after–Bond falls in love, which is a nice change of pace from all of his cinematically tame philandering.

It’s during Bond’s first dialogue with his mark that you’ll notice something different with this movie: Bond’s lines are actually witty rather than crammed with eye-rolling, throwaway one-liners. From there, convention after convention is cast out the window. You know the classic tuxedoed Bond walking across the screen in a circle of white and then turning dramatically to shoot us? Yeah, that’s not gone, per se, but it’s been altered so that’s it’s more organic to the film. And if you were hoping to see the intro credits with silhouettes of shapely women forming out of the psychedelia, you’ll be disappointed here. You will get animated Bond being an animated badass, though. And the gadgets? We’ll, they’re there, but not in the way you’ll be used to seeing them. They’re more practical in the ubiquitous-secret-agent sense.

Here’s what you do get with Casino Royale: exotic cars, beautiful women, and a truly charming Bond.

Much ado has been made about Daniel Craig playing Bond. He’s not suave enough. He’s too blonde. He’s ugly. We’ll let the third criticism pass since I can’t argue opinion, but the other two are non-issues. Watching Craig, you won’t really care that’s he’s not a brunette and you’ll actually be glad that he’s as rugged as he looks, considering all of the death-defying feats he has to pull off. Still, he does feel a little out of place. I think it’s because he’s not as cheeky as previous Bond’s were. It’ll take me at least another Craig Bond movie for me to get completely used to his version.

Eva Green is the latest Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd, who accompanies Bond to his Texas Hold’em game as his financial backer. She’s one of my favorite Bond Girls to date, if only because she comes off very multi-dimensional. One scene she’s helping Bond kill some baddies, the next she’s fragile and vulnerable, only to turn into steel again when she chews Bond out. And other twists along the way. She’s not just eye candy.

After watching Casino Royale, you will probably feel that the movie is a little front-heavy. I felt the same way. The first half of the movie is loaded with action and political intrigue and a well-handled poker game that manages not to get boring. The second half of the movie deals with Bond and his romance with Vesper. At that point, the movie turns into a near-treacly love story, with Bond and his flame negotiating the canals of Venice in his sailboat. The important thing to remember is that Casino Royale is not an episode in James Bond’s life. It’s a history. Therefore it’s necessary to really explain why Bond is the way he is.

Despite my grievances for how a handful of lines were enunciated (I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying sometimes!), Casino Royale is definitely taking the Bond series into a fresh, realistic, and much needed direction. I remember watching The Bourne Supremacy and having my friend lean over and say, “This is what the Bond series could have been.”

Now it can.