And so with this week it begins, the final phase of “007(x3) Weeks of 007.” Today, we get to our last Bond, our current Bond, Daniel Craig. His first film, “Casino Royale,” is the reboot of all reboots in the franchise, so let’s dive right in.
How does “Casino Royale” open? With black and white footage of our new Bond scoring his first two kills and achieving that coveted Double-0 status. What follows, the “Casino Royale” story, then is his first mission as a Double-0 (a nod to Fleming’s first Bond novel being “Casino Royale,” even if that story isn’t Bond’s first Double-0 mission). It is Bond’s beginning, and it makes for a very compelling tale.
It’s great. It is just a great movie. I am excited to watch “Skyfall” again in a few weeks to see if that’s better than this, but “Casino Royale” ends up as a top five Bond movie.
Now, that isn’t to say that it’s without issues. The movie certainly has a few problems in there. First, I don’t like that they play poker instead of baccarat. Bond plays baccarat, and the producers/writers opt to use poker here because it is currently more en vogue than baccarat… or it was at the time the movie was made nine years ago. Poker, it feels, is far less en vogue today, fewer than 10 years later, than it was at the time of production. Baccarat is what baccarat is, it is never going to be the game of the moment, but it’s Bond’s game. Switching to poker feels like a calculated move designed to capitalize on a moment that’s now already gone.
Not only that, but can we talk about how long the poker game actually takes to play and how many times there are breaks in it? Bond ends up wearing, what, four different outfits over the course of thing? Someone must have thought it would be too boring to have the card game just run straight for 30 minutes or more, and that’s probably true, but breaking it up over and over again isn’t brilliant either. Yes, I love the poisoning and Bond needing to try to defibrillate himself, but that’s just one of the plethora of breaks in the game.
Going back to the larger picture, essentially, “Casino Royale” is James Bond deconstructed. He sort of cares about what he wears, he kind of cares about what he drinks, he has less respect for his boss than usual. Make no mistake, he is James Bond, and not just because he has the name, he’s just not the fully built James Bond.
One of the generic opinions, and perhaps one pushed by the producers, is that this iteration of Bond is different from all the others because he gets hurt more, because things don’t always work out in his favor, because he sometimes fails. If you listen to people talk about “Casino Royale,” that’s what you’re going to hear.
It’s a line of reasoning that bothers me to no end. If you have read the previous 20 entries in this rewatch, you’re going to have read more than once about Bond being off on a vendetta, about Bond getting hurt, about Bond losing the girl, about Bond sending in his resignation.
Bond is, and always has been, fallible. Even when he’s at his super-spyiest, he’s fallible. Think back to last week and “Die Another Day.” Bond is at his best in some of those moments, but he also gets himself captured for an extended period during the movie, and it’s a capture that he can’t escape, the British government has to trade for him. The franchise has always been successful in recognizing Bond’s limitations, it wouldn’t be fun if he didn’t encounter difficulties.
“Casino Royale” then isn’t different because Bond has troubles nor because the ending isn’t entirely upbeat. It is better than so many of other movies because it distills the elements of Bond into their purest form.
The depth of Bond’s love here for Vesper is on par with his love of Tracy in “OHMSS.” His vendetta level is equivalent to that of “Diamonds are Forever” or “Licence to Kill” as is his contempt of the rules. The lack of a supervillain and grandiose evil plot is close to “For Your Eyes Only.” It brings back (again) the classic Aston Martin. It turns the “Dr. No” Honey Ryder ogle moment on its head by having Bond emerge from the water, but it’s still the ogling of a body. It has great stunt sequences and moments of doubt for our hero, like we’ve seen over and over again.
Make no mistake, “Casino Royale” takes the James Bond moments and formulas that have worked over and over again and never strays from them and it is great because of that, not despite it. People can give all the lip service they want to how different it is and how raw he is, but we’re not breaking the mold here, we’ve just cleaned it out so that the edges are sharp once more.
It actually is kind of funny, I think, to hear people say that they don’t like the other Bonds, but Craig’s films are great because of x, y, or z when, almost without a doubt, x, y, or z was present in another movie. We, the public (with help from producers/distributors/actors/etc.), have built up in our collective consciousness the notion of Bond as infallible, as perfect, as the ultimate unflappable spy. The movies don’t bear that out and they never have.
But Craig. Craig is great. He brings that Dalton intensity to the role but has a better script to work with than Dalton did. I don’t want to get into a which Bond is best sort of argument, but I do think that if you don’t seriously consider Craig you’re making a big mistake.
Of course, on the other side of things, his second outing as Bond is far less good than his first. We’ll get to that next week though. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with “Quantum of Solace.”
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment