Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Casino Royale (2006)

As you’re reading this the latest James Bond film, simply titled “Skyfall”, is busy being a money making machine and picking up a ton of critical buzz. Many people are calling it the best Bond flick ever. I have yet to see it but I plan doing so in this weekend. In the meantime I thought it be a great way to warm up for the movie by watching and reviewing every single Bond film leading up to Skyfall…but then I realized that would be a huge undertaking and I’m lazy as hell. Instead I figured we’d look at the films that led up to the new one; namely the Daniel Craig era.

In leading up to 2006 Pierce Brosnan, the actor how had been playing Bond, stepped down from his role. The search for the new Agent 007 also lead to the studio deciding to toss out the baby with bath water and just reboot the whole franchise. This bothered a lot of fans. Things got worse when it was announced that Daniel Craig would be taking over lead character role. I guess he was too blond or something. I forget because it was something like seven years ago. Anyway in the spirit of starting over the new flick was going to be based on original creator Sir Ian Flemming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. It was directed by Martin Campbell, who also directed GoldenEye…which I really disliked.

 I am not a traditional Bond fan as I’d only seen a few of the films in the series and beyond Goldfinger I haven’t loved them. I especially wasn’t very keen on Brosnan’s films at all. But I remember being very intrigued by all the hullabaloo with this flick and I actually went to the theaters to see it; the first time I’d ever paid to see a James Bond movie. So were all the changes worth it?

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: There are some spoilers but it's not too bad and, really, this movie came out six years ago. Get over it.]



When you think about it this is really all Bond actually does
James Bond (Craig), an MI-6 operative has just been promoted to double-0 status (an agent who has a license to kill in the field). His first mission is to try to investigate a terrorist operation which soon leads him to Le Chiffre, a chess prodigy turned terrorist financier with a fondness for poker. But Bond is reckless as well as dangerously arrogant. The question is this: was it too soon to promote Bond, or can he prove he was the right man for the job?

You can’t review a Bond film without talking about the theme song. “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell is the song and the fact that it doesn’t share its name with the film already bodes ill. However the fact remains that it’s a ridiculously catchy tune that fits extremely well with the tone of the film; familiar, but with a gritty feel that makes it fresh. I dare say it’s one of the best themes for any of the 007 flicks, but then again it does click well with my Rock & Roll sensibilities more so than most.

And yet I don't give two shits about Chris Cornell
Anyway on to the movie. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this film. The tone of the film, as I mentioned above, is shockingly gritty and raw. When I usually think of James Bond I think of bad puns and misogyny disguised as entertainment but that’s not really the case here. Craig’s bond is a pretty serious guy and the puns and one liners are actually pretty low. Also the film sort of takes the underline notion of Bond and his treatment of women and kind of turns it into a plot point. It’s kind of like it’s a case study of what it is to be James Bond.

The action is fast paced and the fight scenes are brutal. From the chilling opening scene, to the parkour chase early into the film, to the airport scene; everything was done in a very interesting and attention grabbing way that didn’t feel like anything I’d ever seen in a Bond film. I don’t want to say it’s “realistic”, because that’s a weird word to use for a movie like this, but compared to the vast majority of the cartoony series it does have a certain sense of realism. Even the “death trap” scene at the film’s climax is rather mundane and a far cry from being tied to a table and having a laser pointed at the protagonist. I liked it.

Because Texas Hold 'Em is more interesting than Baccarat, I guess
That said I’m told that this flick took a lot from the Bourne Identity, which most people take as a negative. I for one loved the first Jason Bourne movie (not as interested in the others) so I’m not going to fault the Bond filmmakers for being inspired by it. The actual character of Bond is intriguing as he does not possess all of the likable charm of past incarnations (but that charm is still present, I should say). In fact, more so than what I’d seen before, Bond is what he’s supposed to be on paper; a coldhearted killer. It’s just that this film examines what kind of person can do that for a living and still be the witty, womanizing James Bond. Don’t get me wrong; Craig has his moments of that legendary 007 swagger but he’s also has an icy look about him and almost makes it feel like he’s sizing up everyone in the room for a body bag. And to make this better he actually slowly changes over the course of the film, shaping into the Bond we’re more used to. It’s a good slow burn.

Unsurprisingly I really liked Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. Vesper was strong, smart (more than a match for James as far as wit went), and didn’t take any of Bond’s usual bullshit. I loved the relationship between her and Bond because it’s one of the few times the normally womanizing secret agent actually fell for the Bond girl and thus the dynamic was very different from what we normally get. Recently a fan poll at IGN named Vesper as the best Bond girl in history which is amazing considering she’s one of the most recent. But I can’t disagree; she’s a great character and it’s too bad we won’t be seeing her again.

Plus, let’s be honest, this movie started my one-sided love affair with the gorgeous Eva Green. So I both love and hate the film for that.

Vesper: I'm the money.
Beta: Humina, humina, humina...
I love Casino Royale but it’s not a perfect film. The entire last act, from the final confrontation between Bond and Le Chiffre to the very end, is a bit dull and really drags. It gets a little better once the shooting starts up again but it really felt like the threw in a bunch of padding to fill things out. It really hurts the film since before that it was flowing so well and then suddenly you hit a brick wall of boredom. That said the final scene is awesome as it’s the exact moment where the main character fully evolves into James Bond, in my opinion, and leaves off with an insanely intriguing cliffhanger that had me literally salivating for a sequel. Also Le Chiffre is sort of a letdown as a villain. The idea of the character is amazing on paper but in practice he didn’t seem all that much of a serious threat. He comes off, especially at the end, as nothing more than middle management and this also hurts the film somewhat. The villain is usually just as important as the hero and when everything is said and done the villain is pretty much only memorable for his bloody tears. I think this area may have been the one place where channeling the more campy aspects of the classic Bond movies would have worked. Yeah, most of the classic Bond villains are little more than live action cartoons but I sure as shit remember the likes Auric Goldfinger, Oddjob, Jaws, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (And I haven’t even seen a movie with him and I still know who he is) more than Le Chiffre and other modern Bond villains. Le Chiffre could have been awesome with the right push but instead he’s just a guy who’s really good at math. And he never even uses that trait in an interesting way!

Pictured: Bond, Vesper, and Bond's Ego
Casino Royale is the best James Bond movie I’ve ever seen (as of this writing). It’s violent, action packed, has an awesome love interest, a great theme song, and is thematically interesting. Before I saw this movie I would never claim to be a fan of the film series but after I came out of the theaters I was hungry for more. I was left eagerly awaiting more from Daniel Craig. Even today the strength of this film alone has ensured that I will do anything to make sure I can see future Bond flicks. And that’s a remarkable outcome. It has its problems but none of them are that it’s cheesy or stupid; thus this is one of the best action movies of the 2000s. 

I give Casino Royale 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5



Pros 

-Interesting lead characters 

-Great action -Great them song 

-Well written plot 

Cons 

-The last act is a little dull 

- Le Chiffre doesn’t live up to his potential as a villain. 


Like I said I was really hyped to see a sequel and, unsurprisingly, I got one in the form of Quantum of Solace, one of the few direct sequels in the franchise’s history. How did that turn out? Check back later this week to find out.

2 comments:

  1. Pierce Brosnan did wonderfull job in the past bond films, but now Daniel craige is doin his bond character very brilliantly. The tone of the film is shockingly gritty and raw, as you stated above. Craig doing his bond character very seriously.

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    1. In theory I don't dislike Brosnan as James Bond, but I didn't like any of the films with his playing the lead. I'm pretty sure it was an issue with the tone of his films and not his performances. For what the movies were all about I'd say he did fine a job.

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