CAST: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Simon Abkarian, Caterina Mureno, Isaach de Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Sébastien Foucan, Tobias Menzies, Ludger Pistor, Claudio Santamaria, Richard Sammel, Clemens Schick, Joseph Millson, Ben Cooke, Malcolm Sinclair, Darwin Shaw, Tom Chadbon, Tsai Chin, Veruschka, Alessandra Ambrosio, Christina Cole, Diane Hartford
RUNNING TIME: 144 mins
BASICALLY…: Shortly after acquiring his 00 status, James Bond (Craig) is assigned to participate in a high-stakes poker tournament against terrorist financer Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November April, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, James Bond acquires a fresh new face once more – but Daniel Craig isn’t the only update for the series. It appears the producers took the four years in between Die Another Day and Casino Royale to realise where they went so drastically wrong with the former, and decided to press the reset button with not just a younger, leaner and meaner Bond, but a drastically different tone that nixed the tongue-in-cheek attitude entirely and returned the series to its more grounded origins. The result was a critical and commercial hit, with audiences fully embracing this drastic new take on Bond, and even to this day it holds up incredibly well as both an invigorating reboot and a fantastically entertaining (mostly) standalone action-thriller.
We meet Craig’s Bond just as he’s been promoted to 00-status, and he seems to take cold pleasure in circling the globe and recklessly taking out potential terrorists, much to the chagrin of his boss M (Judi Dench, who is one of the only things to have been carried over from the Brosnan era). He is soon assigned a mission that sees him travelling to the Casino Royale in Montenegro, where he must beat terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes game of poker, which Le Chiffre intends to use to pay off some of his disgruntled clients. Accompanying Bond on his mission is Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), and along the way he also meets CIA agent Felix Leiter (this time played by Jeffrey Wright), but Bond’s biggest challenge isn’t necessarily beating Le Chiffre at the poker table, but controlling his growing feelings for the increasingly complicated Vesper.
Almost right away, the series sets itself as far from previous entries as it possibly can; there are virtually no pun-laced quips, Q is nowhere in sight to dispense gadgets, and there aren’t even any scantily-clad women in the opening title sequence. It is a departure from the traditional formula that makes the series feel fresh once more, because it plays with certain Bond tropes you’ve seen throughout twenty of these films in a way that leaves you entirely unsure where it’s all going to lead, or how (even if) Bond is going to make it out of the situation in one piece. You think that Bond is going to narrowly escape from the villain’s clutches and end up with the girl in the end, but then it does a complete 180-degree turn with some brutal – and in certain cases, extremely painful – moments that will have you wincing in your seat. It is a credit to director Martin Campbell – who also directed Pierce Brosnan in his own debut as Bond, GoldenEye – that it feels so much more raw and naturalistic than ever before, with some stunning action sequences that look far more impressive than anything in the previous CG-laden entry (including an early parkour chase in Madagascar that is a masterclass in both stunt work and overall fight choreography), and a stern focus on Bond’s humanity that hasn’t been fully explored since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
On Daniel Craig’s part, he comes into the role with a ferocious energy that makes even Timothy Dalton quiver in his trousers; like previous actors in the role, Craig brings his own flavour to James Bond that’s noticeably a lot colder and steel-hearted than before, which I’ve noticed over the years has turned some people off for its lack of expression and humourlessness, but the absence of basic empathy in Craig’s portrayal is entirely what makes him one of the more fascinating takes on Bond. He is, at the end of the day, a trained assassin who has been given full authorisation to take out enemies at point-blank range, but unlike Dalton’s version Craig leans much heavier on the stone-faced coldness of the character, so that when he does switch on to charm mode in order to woo certain women, it feels more like a sociopathic act of someone incapable of letting their emotions get in the way of the mission. However, Craig does also manage to mine what little humanity there is in this version of Bond, though an on-screen partnership with an exceptional Eva Green as Vesper Lynd that allows this more arrogant and impulsive 007 to be tamed for the first time on the job, with even him feeling completely blind-sided by his growing feelings towards this other person.
As a Bond film, it’s definitely one of the stronger entries, as it boasts some of the series’ most intense action, a creepy villain turn by Mads Mikkelsen, and even manages to make watching poker feel like you’re having a heart attack. Despite the lengthy 144-minute running time – to date, it’s the second-longest Bond film, behind SPECTRE – it goes by relatively fast, and even when it does end it leaves you wanting a lot more from this fascinating new Bond.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Casino Royale is an invigorating and highly entertaining reboot of the Bond series, featuring some of the series’ most intense action as well as a fresh new take on the character that Daniel Craig easily makes his own, in what has to be the most radical departure from traditional Bond formula to date.