Casino Royale

Die almost never … nearly forever!

After the tyranny and foul oppression that was Die Another Day, James Bond is back! This time he does not hate on entire countries, but rather individuals who care for nought but money. Villainous schemes are nothing compared to the power of the dollar.

It’s a different sort of Bond film, one characterised by viciousness and an apparent dedication to physical possibility. Daniel Craig, despite everyone’s misgivings, is an excellent Bond (and those who said that they feared he would make the character metrosexual have probably never seen a movie). More surprising than that is the fact that Judi Dench turns in her best performance as M yet.

As a reboot of a beloved franchise, it’s a radical departure. As an action film, it’s absolutely amazing. Casino Royale is the first film since The Incredibles where I was almost moved to tears simply through sheer awesomeness.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) enters an office in sepia tones and makes his second kill, thus qualifying him as a Double O agent. This appears to give him the impression that he has a licence to be reckless. Eventually his antics lead to the uncovering of a scheme by a man named Le Chiffre to win $150,000,000.00 at Montenegro’s Casino Royale. As this money is going to be used to fund terrorism, clearly this is not going to be on.

The meta of this film is so good that, when the shot down the gun barrel finally came, I felt it in my spine. The opening sequence was similarly awesome, but was lacking in the floating naked women that I have grown accustomed to. I’m not quite convinced of the power of “You Know My Name” yet, but I’m certain that it will grow on me as the rest of the movie did.

A lot of what was good about the movie for a Bond fan I won’t go into because a lot of the pleasure that I gained was simply from discovering things that I did not know would be in it. There’s some sort of great pay off in thinking that someone looks familiar only to find that it’s not the actor that you’re recognising but rather the character. There’s no Q or Moneypenny – in fact M’s secretary is here a man – but there was a vague Moneypenny joke to placate me.
It’s long been said that Casino Royale would not be as heavy on gadgets as almost every Bond film ever has been, and this was no lie. Bond uses technology but all of it is within the realms of the advanced modern tech that one would expect from intelligence agencies.

Which may beg the question of some audiences: where is the fun when there’s nary an insane scheme to be seen, and no psychedelically decorated gyrocopters? (thank you, Roald Dahl). The answer lies partly in Bond himself. Without the scary misogyny that Ian Fleming endowed Bond with 50 years ago, Daniel Craig plays Bond as an excellent bastard. This is a Bond so confident in his own skills that he doesn’t give a care who sees him because he has a licence to kill. This is probably the only Craig film we’ll see in which Bond is able to cut as loose as he did in Uganda, because part of the story involves developing a marginally more sensible and responsible MI6 agent, but he takes the sorts of risks that make the movie fun without being stupidly unbelievable.
Other film critics (remember, folks: I’m not a professional) would say this as a bad thing, but the way that Bond acts is like a gamer, except a gamer has the sense to save the game before he blows something up simply to see if it can be blown up. That devil-may-care attitude carries Bond through the early stages of the film and provides the vitality to sustain its remainder.

A Bond movie does not get by on Bond alone, however: in this regard, Craig is expertly accompanied by Judi Dench’s M and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Dench is at her best as this incarnation of M: no longer berating an incumbent Bond for being a misogynistic dinosaur (GoldenEye); nor playing the maternal figure to Bond alongside an hilariously meta pseudo-marriage to Geoffrey Palmer (Tomorrow Never Dies); or playing the pathetic victim in a movie designed to accommodate a single closing pun (The World is Not Enough); or … um … whatever the heckfire she did in Die Another Day (I’ll be honest: I don’t remember the fine details of that movie. Only the blunt and stupid ones remain in my mind.*).
No, this M is an angry woman who doesn’t have a tolerance for the shenanigans of a free-range womanising bastard who gives nary a thought to a kill. Her introduction in this film is set to her complaints about missing the Cold War (which, let’s be honest – Bond misses, too) and she doesn’t let up from there. Dench’s M is funny but dedicated, and there’s a private side revealed that lets on entirely more than she would have liked. In the end she’s closer to Bond, but it’s not exactly an issue of maternal bonding so much as it is one of professional necessity.

It may sound strange to say that this is a Bond film where the greatest asset is the relationships between the characters – unless you were talking about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – but that is precisely what this is. Bond gets very little chance to go to toe to toe with Le Chiffre, but his relationship with Vesper Lynd is one of the best that he’s had. Unlike arm candy or simple plot exposition, Vesper seems to be a genuinely intelligent woman. The relationship that she has with Bond elevates the film to not just a top-rate action piece but also into an excellent game of sexual tension. Vesper is not a shrew to be tamed, but rather a woman to be respected.

It is because Bond learns that respect that he has by the end of the film paved the way to be the most awesome, if not subtle, spy ever. If the future Bond movies are going to run from this point – less gimmickry, more characterisation – I’m all in. Perhaps more villainy can be added, but hey – one step at a time!

*It’s amazing that Purvis and Wade, who wrote this film, also wrote its two predecessors. They say that they’ve been saved by a script polish from Paul Haggis, but you and I both know that Haggis is the single most evil writer to enter the scene in the last five years.

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