Welcome to my review of Casino Royale, the twenty-first part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Die Another Day, here. Spoilers follow.
(dir. Martin Campbell, 2006)
I didn’t realise this back when the film was first released in the cinema, but Martin Campbell directed Casino Royale. Campbell has—so far—only directed two Bond films. What is interesting is which two he has directed: Goldeneye and Casino Royal.
The Bond franchise has tried this tactic before. After the critical drubbing of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Guy Hamilton—director of Goldfinger—was brought in to revitalise the series with Diamonds Are Forever. Hamilton then went on to direct Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.
Goldeneye was very clearly created as a revitalisation of the Bond franchise, and it turned out to be a very successful one. It removed both the high camp of the Roger Moore films and the overwhelming seriousness of Timothy Dalton’s Bond, creating a film that—007 franchise aside—worked as a great action movie in its own right. Pierce Brosnan was a charming Bond with a temper that only erupted under the greatest of duress, and so he retained audiences who were previously divided about which types of Bond films they preferred. It was just a shame that the subsequent Brosnan films each took a further step down in quality before climaxing in the puddle of piss that was Die Another Day.
Casino Royale is another obvious revitalisation of the franchise; in fact, it takes one step further in that it’s a full-on continuity reboot (albeit with some confusingly familiar elements, such as Judi Dench reprising her role as M). Just as Moonraker took notes from Star Wars and Die Another Day from xXx, Casino Royale takes its inspiration from the excellent The Bourne Identity. Unlike those examples, Casino Royale turns out to be a brilliant film.
As with Goldeneye, it’s not that that Casino Royale does anything particularly different that makes it brilliant. It’s more that the crapper elements of the franchise have been stripped out: the lame comedy, the hero who knows everything, the convenient gadgets, the American army waiting behind the scenes for when Bond can’t fix the problem on his own. This is a film that makes the whole of the rest of the series look like a practice run: 22 experimental films leading up to the real one. The elements of the franchise that we have come to know and love—the music, the cars, the quips—are strictly metered out, reflecting Bond’s own transformation from promoted soldier to renowned assassin.
The story follows Bond’s first mission as a double-0 agent. After shooting up an embassy (and embarrassing MI6) while capturing a bomb maker, he foils an attempt by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) to manipulate share prices by blowing up a new passenger plane. This forces Le Chiffre, who was using money lent by African terrorists, to join a Poker game at the eponymous Casino Royale, and leads into a bigger story about a secret criminal organisation (much in the same vein as SPECTRE from the original films).
Daniel Craig is a much more thuggish Bond than Brosnan—more so, even, than Sean Connery. Craig isn’t without his charm, but this is a Bond who is one punch away from losing his temper and blowing up the building. Even so, he has a quick smile and an easy wit that ingratiates himself into the Bond hall of fame. I am fully aware that there are those in the world who believe Craig is the worst of the Bonds, but I am at a loss as to why. Did they not see this film? Is having blonde hair really that big a deal?
His supporting cast are similarly excellent. Dench is on top form with an expanded role as Bond’s handler, while Eva Green’s performance as the quick-witted Treasury accountant Vesper Lynd creates one of the best Bond girls in the series, sacrificing the trend for smirking action girls for a realistic, vulnerable character who doesn’t spend her time getting in Bond’s way. Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, similarly, foregoes the mad Bond villain archetype for a much more nuanced kind of bastard.
So is there anything wrong with Casino Royale at all? Well… not a lot, to be honest. The plot is somewhat over-complicated without ever being as clever as the Bourne films, and as mentioned above there are people who don’t like Craig’s brutish proto-Bond. But these are minor quibbles in the face of a franchise that has finally been re-energised for the post-Cold War, post 9/11 generation.
Title song: I’m not sure it’s in my top 5 Bond songs, but Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name is a bit of an earworm, in a good way.
Greatest moment: I wanted to put in the Parkour chase sequence near the start of the film for sheer awesome spectacle or the torture scene for being the best example of how tough a bastard Bond really is, but let’s be honest: it’s the final thirty seconds of the film and the Monty Norman theme finally–finally!–kicking in as the perfect pay off to a two-hour wait.
Worst moment: I’m grasping at straws here, but Bond’s seduction of one of the bad guys’ wives in the middle of the film felt a bit… random.
Best gadget: With very few gadgets to choose from, it’s got to be the tracking device implanted in Bond’s arm–if only for the withering dialogue from M that accompanies the scene.
James Bond: [laughing after being stuck in the testicles with a knotted rope] Now the whole world’s going to know that you died scratching my balls!
Most obvious product placement: Want really high-definition security footage? Use Sony Blu-Ray, because there’s no kill like over-kill!
Verdict: I’m guessing that this might count as sacrilege to a certain segment of the internet, but Casino Royale really deserves top-spot on my league table. It corrects almost every mistake in the franchise while still retaining everything we know and love about Bond.
- Casino Royale (dir. Martin Campbell, 2006)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
- From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
- Goldeneye (dir. Martin Campbell, 1995)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
- Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
- Licence To Kill (dir. John Glen, 1989)
- The Living Daylights (dir. John Glen, 1987)
- Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
- Tomorrow Never Dies (dir. Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)
- For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
- Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
- You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
- The World Is Not Enough (dir. Michael Apted, 1999)
- The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
- Octopussy (dir. John Glen, 1983)
- Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
- A View To A Kill (dir. John Glen, 1985)
- Die Another Day (dir. Lee Tamahori, 2002)
- Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
- Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)
Next up, Bond faces his greatest challenge yet: a Hollywood writers’ strike. Catch up soon for my review of Quantum of Solace.