It doesn’t seem right to be doing a movie analysis without the intrepid Therese tossing her trenchant observations into the fray, but I’ve just seen the latest offering in the ultimate boxed franchise movie, James Bond, and I wanted to share my thoughts while they’re still fresh. Casino Royale could have been a royale dud. Instead, the producers and writers took the best of Bond and unboxed the suave spy who was beginning to wear as thin as the vermouth in his martini. The result is fresh and entertaining, if not quite plausible in many, many instances. But plausibility is not why one watches a Bond movie. Casino Royale is a lesson on how to take a stale genre mired in predictability and breathe new life into it.
They start by tinkering with the character of Bond himself. Purists were up in arms that Bond could be imagined as anything other than talk, dark, and handsome. In other words, boring as old coats. As played by Nordic blond Daniel Craig, the new ‘old’ Bond has gone back to his roots the way Ian Fleming initially wrote him: cold and ruthless, a feral killing machine. Suavity was a persona Bond would inhabit when he needed it. In the first scene we’re treated to Bond brutally murdering a man. There’s nothing suave about it. Craig’s Bond is an unlikable anti-hero. People die, and not well, and there’s no remorse in the icy blue eyes.
The creators then tinker with the Bond bimbettes. In recent years, most notably starting with the Timothy Dalton era, they’ve tried to infuse the femme fatales with something resembling a character. They haven’t been entirely successful. But in Vesper Lynd, the chilly accountant, they succeed and it’s a credit to the actor Eva Green who is able to pull vulnerability out of a tricky character. She’s beautiful, but like a prickly English rose, not the big-boobed vamps usually littering Bond’s bed (the one beautiful bimbette never gets to second-base in this movie). Vesper’s the one who gives Bond the armour he uses to create his myth: impeccably tailored clothes, shaken martinis, and untouchable heart.
Le Chiffre, the villain, is also given a twist. As played by the narrow-eyed Mads Mikkelsen, Le Chiffre weeps blood and huffs on an asthma inhaler, and it’s not clear if he needs to for health reasons or for kicks. He’s a genuinely scary cat, and there are moments in the movie where you wonder if Bond’s finally met his match.
Since this is Casino Royale, much time is devoted to the penultimate card game. As my husband commented, there’s never been so many straight flushes, full houses, and four-of-a-kinds in one card game–completely impossible. Still, with attempted poisonings, murders between card sessions, and Craig’s impeccably-delivered bon mots, the movie resists bogging down in the second act.
I haven’t been a fan of Bond in recent years. I hadn’t seen one of the offerings since Goldeneye. I like Pierce Brosnan just fine. But I got the sense that the movies had become slaves to special effects (Bond drives a motorcycle off a cliff to land safely into a helicopter? Yawn.) and concentrated less on character and storytelling. And women writhing in the opening credit sequence was about as fresh as a leisure suit.
Fortunately these deficiencies have been rectified in Casino Royale. It was fitting the creators decided to start at the beginning of the Bond books to relaunch their brand. And it was telling that my husband thought the clunkier notes were hit when they tried to hew to the myth. But he was fully entertained by the clever stunts and blistering action sequences. We still don’t know what the plot was all about–something about terrorism, dirty money, and African war lords, but we didn’t dwell on it. By taking a fresh look at everything Bond down to the Aston Martin, and concentrating on building his character anew, Bond has been liberated from his baggage. I’m looking forward to the next installment.