As played by Daniel Craig, James Bond is more than a little bit of a thug. He wasn’t born to wear a tuxedo … he does seem to have been born to run, though, as there are several sequences with Bond running like Lola (including an opening sequence featuring “free running”). You used to be able to start a review of a 007 movie by saying “we come to these movies because …” followed by the writer’s own theories on the topic. Who knows why people will go to Casino Royale, but what they’ll get is different from what they used to get in Bond films. Casino Royale is a movie first, a James Bond movie second, and after so many decades, that’s a good thing. But it’s a better movie for being a James Bond movie, because we bring our own preconceptions to the character, and watching them deconstruct and then begin to reassemble is more fascinating than if the main character was named Joe Blow.
It has been famously stated that each film maker, approaching a new Bond movie, set out to make another From Russia With Love and ended up making another Thunderball. Instead of a character study set in the world of spies, you get a special effects party with dry quips. With Casino Royale, they finally made another FRWL. The actions scenes are terrific, the best since at least On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, largely because they’re about human beings, not about gadgetry. This Bond can use his fists … more than once Casino Royale matches the intensity of the Sean Connery/Robert Shaw fight in From Russia With Love. Craig adds a lower-class dynamic that works well, as if Stanley Kowalski had learned some manners and found an outlet for his more violent impulses.
Readers of the original novel will be glad to know … well, maybe “glad” isn’t quite the word … interested to know that the infamous carpet-beater ball-busting torture scene makes it into the new film. The book version is one of the most memorably revolting passages I’ve ever read … the film version isn’t quite as puke-inducing, but it is guaranteed to make the men in the audience tense their groins a bit.
We sat in front of a few women who found Craig’s buff muscularity to be pretty damn sexy, and it’s safe to say this James Bond is a different kind of sex symbol. Different … in the end, that’s the key word. This is recognizably James Bond, but shown from an angle that allows us to learn something new at long last.
It’s far from a perfect movie … it goes on too long, as so many movies do any more, and the plot isn’t always as clear as it could be. But the action setpieces are among the best in the history of the series, the extended poker tournament is fascinating and thrilling, and Craig more than fills the shoes of his predecessors.