Some of my fondest childhood memories involved heading over to a family friend’s house, whipping up some homemade pizzas, and watching James Bond movies like Never Say Never Again on their laserdisc player. That being said, I didn’t have too strong an attachment to the character.
Partly because the recent Bond films have slowly been sinking in quality (I could bring myself to see Die Another Day), partly because so many of the older Bond movies often have to survive only on their camp value (which is sometimes enough, and sometimes not), and partly because other spy franchises have supplanted the James Bond franchise (i.e. the Bourne movies).
So when it came out that Casino Royale would be a franchise reboot, I was pretty excited. After all, a reboot did wonders for Batman, allowing the character to slough off so much of the baggage of bad films and giving audiences a fresh perspective. And that’s just what Casino Royale has done for Bond: wonders. I knew something was up during the opening credits sequence, which lacked the requisite naked female silhouettes, that something was going to be different about this movie. And I was right.
The quibbles are minor — twenty minutes or so could’ve been trimmed from the film to make it leaner, the final act introduces a few too many twists and turns for its own good — but for the vast majority of its 144 minutes, Casino Royale is absolutely thrilling.
Daniel Craig is riveting as Bond as he gives us a peek at the man before he became 007, and the process he undergoes to become the world’s most famous spy. His ice-blue eyes have a laser-like intensity, and while he may not be as good-looking as Sean Connery, his Bond is the first one where you actually believe he could break your neck… and still look good.
Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as the villainous Le Chiffre — cold and calculating, and yet not afraid to get down and dirty when necessary, not afraid to really hurt Bond. Unlike so many other Bond movies where the man simply fixes his tie to shrug off the damage from a fight, Casino Royale shows us Bond getting really hurt, really bloodied, and really tortured. The gloves come off, and Bond pays mightily for his hubris. Which may remove some cool iconic status with the purists, but ultimately makes him more believable and sympathetic.
I could go on. The amazing action sequences, the exotic locales, the lovely ladies, the dry humor — all of the standard-issue Bond movie elements are there. But they’ve never been quite as exciting or revitalized as they are in Casino Royale.