The last of our entries in the James Bond January series, we’re ending with perhaps my second favorite Bond film. Here we find a young James finding his spy legs as the ink on his newly printed 007 business cards is still drying. In what is essentially an “origin story” (big trend in American cinema this past decade), a cocky Bond struggles on his first real mission to find the balance between the personal gains and his love of country. Moreover, he begins to sort out whether or not to heed his own moral compass or to carry out orders as MI6 would have him do. So, as this is our final Off the Shelf write up, before we get started we’d like to thank Paul at Paragraph Film Reviews for setting this all up and Ian Flemming for creating one of the world’s most beloved characters.
I’ve been saying for years that the “James Bond” franchise needed to do something to re-invigorate it. Pierce Brosnan and Martin Campbell definitely changed things up with GoldenEye but the rest of the Brosnan entries got more ridiculous and I think “Jinx” was the straw that broke the camel’s back (I am sooo glad she didn’t get her own spin off movie). That downward spiral definitely paved the way for this incredible new Bond film.
So, like a knight in shining armor, again, Martin Campell rides in to save the Bond universe, again, with the amazingly well done Bond “origin story”. Taking a cue (I think) from the successful playbook of Batman Begins, Casino Royale takes us back, way back, to Ian Fleming’s first novel to show how James Bond came to be the “Double O” agent we’ve come to know and love.
While only a origin story in concept (or source material rather) this movie pretty much threw consistency out the window and paved its own road. Casino Royale takes us back (but somehow present day…hence the inconsistency) to show his fans that he wasn’t always a suave and refined international man of mystery. In this installment, James Bond (played brilliantly by series newbie Daniel Craig) is a take no prisoners “blunt instrument” still finding his feet as MI-6’s newest “OO” agent.
The opening sequence alone showed his rugged and unwavering commitment to his mission, but that entire chase scene (choreographed by Free Running creatorSebastien Foucan ) foreshadowed, as subtle as a brick, what this new Bond film would have in store for us fans. I believe that Martin Campell, (as written about above but still worth repeating) who saved the Bond series before with Goldeneye, should take a look at other suffering film properties (as J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek) and help Hollywood breathe new life into other near dead franchises.
Aside from the action and clever quips, one of the more impressive elements to this movie is that James, known for his disposable women, shows a softer side the likes have never been seen before. He falls completely for a woman who is so much like himself, her allure makes James almost as helpless to her charms as other women are to him…if that makes sense. Vesper Lynd (played by the gorgeous Eva Green) is a complex, strong-headed, smart and yet completely vulnerable woman who just simply catches James by surprise. He sees her almost as the confident mirror image of himself and that disarms him to his core. Anyone who is a fan of the series should recognize that the shower scene (where James comforts Vesper) is, what I think, the most impacting segment of the film because it shows everyone that “Mr. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” has a heart and soul and he reveals it big time. It was so touching it can almost drive you to tears. God I love that scene…but I digress.
Next on my list of high points (and this movie was nothing but), coming light-years since Peter Lorre played Le Chiffre in the Barry Norman TV short film, Mads Mikkelsen played probably the most menacing Bond villain of all time, which is fitting since he is (chronologically) Bond’s first foe. He was even more mentally intimidating way than even the iconic Dr. No or overused Blofeld. His demeanor was ice cold, his focus and intensity was riveting (not to mention that creepy bloody tear-duct…”nothing sinister” you say?, yeah right) and he was nearly crippling with the rattan chair and knotted rope. Boy if that didn’t make you cringe and pucker, it was probably because you already had your eyes hidden by your hand.
Now I’m a fan of consistency, but as I wrote above, this movie was really it’s own animal. I mean how can you have Judi Dench as M, a black Felix Leiter, set it all in the present day and above all have no Q?? How the hell is this supposed to be an origin story?? Well, despite my purist attitude, once the opening sequence (sensationally done and my new all time favorite btw) I really could care less about consistency because everything worked so well. And to go back to Q for a second, sure he’s a lovable character and essential to the universe, but after a while all the gadgets got so custom fit for things he might need them for, the contrivances that built his gadgets into the plot kept getting sillier…I mean come on, and invisible car?? That’s along the lines of the Thunderball jet pack in the 60’s but an invisible car is jumping the shark if you ask me. But forgoing consistency actually freed the writers to make this new Bond.
I loved Daniel Craig in Layer Cake (which is similarly a sensational movie) and from what I read, it was his role in that that got him this part. But whatever the reason, I’m glad he’s here as Bond and I can’t wait to see how the series progresses. Small note here, since this ending of this movie leads up and into Quantum of Solace (technically the first Bond sequel), I suggest watching these two back to back. I think these should have been written, shot and released almost in succession (as was done with Lord of the Rings, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions and Kill Bill), because, even though QoS is about a whole new villainous animal, the “Vesper” storyline is finalized and there is closure to the plot. I was disappointed in QoS as a whole but got satisfaction with the advancement of the “Mr. White” story arc and how they resolved Vesper’s plot line.
But at the end of the day, and evident every time I watch this, Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig hit Casino Royale out of the park. I absolutely adore this film and think it’s one of the very best in the franchise (right up there with Goldfinger and From Russia with Love). Too bad QoS was a letdown, but fear not fans, as is the case with all of 007 films, “James Bond will return in…“,well whatever #23 will be called in 2012, myself and Bond fans everywhere will be looking forward to it.