First off, how awesome is that poster. It’s a fan art by a guy called Jeff Chapman. Find his Deviant art pager right here and tell him how cool it is. Did anyone read my review of Die Another Day I posted last night? Wasn’t really much of a review. More of a rant about how much I despise that film. Prepare to read the total opposite. Not sure how you’d prepare for that… try tensing up a little… anyway, click the link for the review!!!
Thankfully for the Bond franchise it’s producers have always shown some level of quality control. There’s time where they’ve allowed the series to go too far in one direction, Moonraker for example, but they’ve always had the common sense to know that if you keep going bigger there’s nowhere left to go except straight to the Moon. After the absurdity of Moonraker Cubby Broccoli decided that the next Bond should be more down to Earth. They succeeded with For Your Eyes Only which provided the most grounded version of Bond during the Roger Moore era. The last Pierce Brosnan film was the diabolical (did I use that word in the last review?) Die Another Day. It was terrible. It turned the Bond franchise into a dudebro pile of steaming idiotic nonsense filled with ridiculous set pieces and a complete lack of charm. The film was the most successful Bond to date. Thank God Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson are more concerned with quality than money.
Casino Royale takes the brave approach of restarting the entire franchise by telling the story of Bond’s first mission. Now reboots are ten a penny these days but they usually come after a series has failed spectacularly and worn out it’s welcome after just a few films. It took Bond 20 films and 40 years to get restarted, and that was following the most successful film in the series. But this had to happen. Not because Bond had gone too far, it really had, but because there was still one Ian Fleming novel that hadn’t been accurately represented on film. There are two previous Casino Royale adaptations, a made for US TV version that bears little resemblance to the book featuring a gambler hired by the CIA called Jimmy Bond, and the 1967 spoof adaptation that had even less to do with the novel. Less said about the latter the better. Suffice to say this adaptation of Casino Royale is far more true to the book but has been heavily modernised to truly restart Bond on a good footing.
The film’s pre-credits scene is one of the best in the series. Entirely presented in black and white, even the MGM and Columbia logos are colourless, we see Bond completing his mission to earn himself the status of a 00 agent. He has been sent to kill an MI6 section chief who’s been selling information. Unlike any previous Bond pre-credits scene there is no action sequence, no stunt show and little flash at all. Bond talks to the MI6 chief, explains his first kill who was the informant that led him to the chief and then before the chief can say that the second kill is easier Bond has put a hole in his head and finished the sentence for him. We see everything we need to know about Bond and the new tone in this opening scene. He’s cold, emotionless and prepared to kill. He’s smart enough to remove the bullets from the chief’s gun before he gets to his office and in the flashback fight we see just how down and dirty a fighter he can be. The whole sequence is capped off with a return to the scene with the informant as he raises his gun and Bond kills him giving us our gun barrel sequence which any Bond fan would have noticed was missing. This is one of my favourite pre-credits sequences. It is the antithesis of everything that was endemic of the Brosnan films. It is perfect.
For a film that features some of the best action sequences in the series Casino Royale is heavily focused on it’s character relationships and the development of Bond as a 00 agent. His relationship with M (Judi Dench) is tense but you can see the beginning of their respect for each other. As the film progresses all the elements that make up the bond we know start coming into place. He is probably the most human he’s ever been represented as in this film and at a few points there’s talk of his “armour” that he uses to stop others getting close. Armour that is chipped away by the gradual building of his relationship to Bond girl Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), only to be rebuilt by the films final scenes. Vesper is easily one of the best Bond girls in the series. She’s one of the most fully developed characters in the entire series.
Vesper is sent to manage the $10million entrusted to Bond to win a Poker tournament being held by villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) to enable him to win back all the money he’s lost thanks to a failed plot to blow up a prototype air liner. The aim is for Bond to win the cash so Le Chiffre is left to answer to all his criminal world backers. As the film moves along a mission she expects to be a simple case of supplying the funds to Bond for becomes a rude awakening in the dangers of Bond’s job. There’s a scene where Bond kills two African terrorists, Vesper is right in the middle of the brutal fight and it shakes her to her core. A little later there is a scene where she’s going through a bout of post-traumatic stress due to witnessing the killings and we see Bond show a small part of his human side when he comforts her showing that he hasn’t forgotten what damage killing someone or witnessing a murder can do to a person. It helps fuel the believability of their romance later as they have shared a close moment. This is so far more developed a romance than in most Bonds where usually it’s based on how quickly Bond could get the girl to the bed.
Casino Royale is one of the most dark and brutal Bond films in the series, maybe not as violent as Licence To Kill, but it’s the tone that makes the difference. Every time someone is killed in this film it has a point and is usually not a pretty death. Daniel Craig’s Bond does not fight with flair, but does show his excellent marksman skills. It’s odd that the Dalton films were often criticised for being too gritty yet you can see that they’re were almost the template for the this new Bond. The only gadgets are practical devices. Bond’s mobile phone is his most common gadget and even then the only flashy thing it does is display the location of a tracking device he hides on Le Chiffre. His car, an Aston Martin DBS V12, has but one gadget. A secret glove compartment that houses some medical equipment and a spare gun. Both get used. This is such a refreshing take on the Bond series. Stripped of all it’s accoutrements and written with some great efficiency.
This is the second film directed by Martin Campbell and much like GoldenEye it breathed a lot of life into the series. It’s a shame he doesn’t put half as much effort into his other films as he does the 2 Bond films he had directed. This is honestly his best work, and by a country mile. I’d like to see him direct another Bond someday to see if he just managed to fluke his way to this sort of quality each time. I think he’d make another great Bond film though, he is clearly a fan, as are the writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The only issues I have with the film is the slightly slow progression to the film’s final act and that Chris Cornell song. I like the melody used from the Cornell song ,You Know My Name, but the song itself does nothing for me. The title credit sequence it is presented over though is amazing. The style I reminiscent of the artwork on the original Casino Royale novel but has the animation sensibilities of the works of Shynola. It’s an amazing piece of animation by Daniel Klienman, who managed to produce the one good moment in Die Another Day. He’s produced some great Bond title credits since he started on GoldenEye, which was also a great sequence.
Overall the film is nigh on perfect as a Bond film. Effectively it could act as the gateway drug to becoming a fan of the Bond series serving as both a great introduction and a excellent example of quality modern action film making. I still say that From Russia With Love is my favourite Bond but the key word there is favourite, not best. Technically I couldn’t dispute that this is the best made Bond film, I just prefer From Russia With Love as I have a lot of love for that era of film making which gives it the edge for me. Fact is though, anyone that leaves either Casino Royale or From Russia With Love out of their top 5 Bond films is a fool. Casino Royale went on to become the most successful film in the entire series taking over $160million more at the box office than Die Another Day. This restores a lot of my faith in humanity and goes to prove that genuine quality can win over pure nonsensical flash. Still doesn’t explain how Dredd did so badly though. Next up, Quantum Of Solace!!! Oh shit…