Campbell knows how to breathe life into a struggling franchise, and does it again here with flying colours. He’s inserted the exhilaration back into the series. The guy knows what makes a good Bond movie. He really does.
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Ivana Milicevic
‘Craig Not Bond!’ screamed irate fans of the 007 film series when it was announced that blonde Brit Daniel Craig would be taking over Pierce Brosnan’s office at MI6.
“How can a short, blond actor with the rough face of a professional boxer and a penchant for playing killers, cranks, cads and gigolos pull off the role of a tall, dark, handsome and suave secret agent?” Craignotbond.com asked. “This is what happens when you lose touch with public opinion. By casting Craig, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have proven once and for all that they care little for the opinions of Bond fans,” the site continues.
And you know what? They’re right. Daniel Craig is not bond. Well, not the Bond we cinemagoers know anyway.
No, this guy is definitely not the cartoonish bigot charmer who is more quick-quips than true-grit, but he is the serious and scarred agent from Ian Flemming’s original novels. Yes, Craig’s probably the closest to Fleming’s idea of who James Bond was – and he jumps off the screen as literally a carbon copy of the well-defined scoundrel of the novels. He’s brash, he’s cocky, he’s reckless… and he even gets hurt sometimes. Yep, real blood, real scars, real pain.
On the other hand, you can see why fans are complaining: for the last couple of decades, we’ve been treated to a light and fluffy James Bond that goes through women faster than he does milk, seems to always be in good enough spirits to crack sexist gags, and can save the day with one hand tied behind his back. In short, the guy we’ve seen on the screen for the past couple of years is a superhero – a cartoon superhero. And we liked that just fine. I guess we always knew what we’d get for our money.
The 22nd (counting “Never Say Never Again”) Bond film traces the early career of James Bond. His first “007” mission leads him to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker to the world’s terrorists. In order to stop him and bring down the terrorist network, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale. Bond is initially annoyed when a beautiful Treasury official, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), is assigned to deliver his stake for the game and watch over the government’s money. But as Bond and Vesper survive a series of lethal attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen, a mutual attraction develops, leading them both into further danger and events that will shape Bond’s life forever.
In the late 80s, the makers of the long-running series – hard to believe the first Bond film, “Dr No”, was made in 1962- decided to shake things up by replacing the cartoonish antics of the Roger Moore succession of films with the seriousness of a Timothy Dalton (someone else they complained about when he was announced for the part) vehicle that was, well, as close to the previous bond as Basinger is to Baldwin. It went down about as well as arsenic in Coke. Nobody wanted to see James Bond being serious, not when they’ve gotten well use to seeing him being a larger-than-life action playboy in the Moore/Connery movies.
As critic Roger Ebert said at the time, “The raw materials of the James Bond films are so familiar by now that the series can be revived only through an injection of humor. That is, unfortunately, the one area in which the new Bond, Timothy Dalton, seems to be deficient. He’s a strong actor, he holds the screen well, he’s good in the serious scenes, but he never quite seems to understand that it’s all a joke.”
Which begs the question; will audiences accept what they couldn’t then – now?
With most of the James Bond fans now a tad older and simply waiting to check out the latest adventure from the secret agent as they sequentially hit DVD, Sony don’t seem to be too worried about cheesing off the purists: After all, teenagers are today’s biggest cinema going crowd and half of them probably haven’t even seen most of the 007 movies – bar a couple of the recent Brosnan efforts. And secondly, after the success of the ‘Batman’ restart – Christopher Nolan’s phenomenally successful “Batman Begins” – the studio has obviously released there is potential with starting a series again.
Granted, there’s one rehashed element about the latest 007 movie: it’s been done twice before. Fleming’s first Bond novel was previously produced as a 1954 television episode and a 1967 film spoof. This is, however, the only official version of the film – as far as the 007 troupes are concerned.
As for the new Bond, let me say this: he’s the guy from the book, he really is. He has flesh, he has personality…. He’s a real person. You feel for this guy more than any other previous incarnation of the character. More importantly, Craig does have the facial structure and blue eyes described by Ian Fleming. For the movies sake, he’s also a damn good actor. Craig is one of today’s most intriguing chameleons – he can seemingly play it all. OK, so those ears are a little big (he graciously makes fun of them himself in one scene) and he’s not as suave as his predecessors, but Craig’s nowhere near the rotten apple that many had been projecting.
Personally, I liked Pierce Brosnan in the role. I thought he was the best Bond since Connery. But it’s all a matter of taste. For what its worth though, Craig – even with his disparate looks – gives a damn good performance. Thing is, as I was watching the film, I didn’t so much think of Craig as James Bond than say a new unconnected spy character – say, a Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt type. I had to essentially remind myself that he was playing 007. I dunno if that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. It means the movie can definitely stand on its own, but it also means many mightn’t see it as a continuation or at least, relation, of the original bunch of films. It’s probably simply the fact that this is a vulnerable Bond with many flaws, compared to the squeaky-clean unblemished hero of the previous films. Whatever way you slice it, it is a different guy.
In addition, the film’s ‘Bond Girl’ per se has also been picked from a different plantation to the previous space cadet sexpots. This one, Vesper Lynd, has a brain and even a little bit of disinclination when it comes to Bond. Whilst most Bond girls jump in bed with him before he has even bat an eyelid, this one plays hardball for most of the film – and it works; it makes her a real woman. It’s a testament to Eva Green (“Kingdom of Heaven”), who’d have to be one of the most beautiful Bond babes ever, for not playing the role as a waif quilt sharer, and giving the girl some brainpower. Any woman that gets Bond to admit that he has “no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever I am – I’m yours” must be something special.
Points to too Mads Mikkelsen, whose far from your token Bond villain. His Le Chiffre is a cold and calculating son-of-a-bitch – even frightening – but thankfully isn’t over-the-top. Was also good to see while Giancarlo Giannini bringing his sardonic humour and melancholy to his role as Bond’s contact, Mathis. And, of course, can’t forget Dame Judi Dench, reprising her role from the previous Bond/Brosnan films as ‘M’. She gets a lot more to do here; and thanks to Dench’s performance, we get a better insight into how her relationship with 007 functions – it seems she’s not just about giving out orders, but does legitimately care about the guy.
Still, as good as Craig and his co-stars have turned out to be (still don’t know about the blonde hair and ears though, I’ve got to be honest), the real stars of “Casino Royale” though are screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis, and director Martin Campbell. The screenplay is sensational – its funny (lines like “What I understand, double-ohs have a very short life expectancy” are priceless), its romantic, its dramatic, its action, it’s very in-jokey (you learn how Bond discovered his drink of choice, for instance), but most of all, it keeps you interested. And if you’re ever going to try and re-invent Bond, you get the guy that did “Goldeneye” (1995), Martin Campbell. Campbell knows how to breathe life into a struggling franchise, and does it again here with flying colours. He’s inserted the exhilaration back into the series. The guy knows what makes a good Bond movie. He really does.
There will star be a few purists who’ll challenge the casting of Craig and the series reboot – and it is fair enough; as I said, this is a radically different approach to the long running series and some may not appreciate the change (if even just the change in hair colour) – but by the time the film finishes, even most of that crowd will be swallowing their tongue.
Bring on Bond 23 (or 22, if you don’t count ‘Never Say…’)
I’d say the “Casino Royale” DVD is pretty disappointing – can’t talk about how the film looks and sounds, because we only received the special features disc, unfortunately – but most of the 007 first-editions usually are. It isn’t until a few years down the track, until they start doing ‘special edition’s’ and ‘ultimate edition’s’ that they really bother with decent extras – notably, the audio commentary.
The main supplement on the disc is a reasonably entertaining featurette on how they chose their Bond. Without admitting that Quentin Tarantino actually gave them the idea to remake “Royale”, the producers – and director Martin Campbell – talk candidly about Craig’s audition; the film itself and the backlash against both the actor and the film from the world media. Craig, donning scruffy half-beard, admits that the negative press made him try even harder to convince everyone he was the right choice for the role.
Other extras include a bit on the action sequences; an old featurette (available on a previous disc) with a new add-on (of the “Royale” girls”) called “Bond Girls Are Forever” hosted by Maryam d’Abo; and Chris Cornell’s music video – which, I gotta admit, the more times I listen to it, the more I like it.
Reviewer : Clint Morris