On the surface, Casino Royale is a good movie. It’s just not a James Bond movie.
Not yet, anyway. I’m not saying this as a loyalist to a franchise that’s almost half a century old.
But then again the franchise is almost half a century old so to throw away some of the conventions of a Bond movie seems a little backwards. Why does an iconic film character have to earn his stars and stripes all over again? It’s okay with comic book characters because they’re always being reinvented all the time by artists and numerous interpretations through wonderful graphic novels. James Bond found his way through the world of film and, believe it or not, set the standards for action conventions. If I wanted to see a human James Bond I’ll wait till next year when The Bourne Ultimatum comes out. Why should the new James Bond be like Jason Bourne? Bourne has become the better franchise, even after this overrated and bloated movie. (It’s way too long with a neverending third-act.)
True, Die Another Day wasn’t much of an entry but it had the right spirit. Yes, the franchise has had its lows but it also had its share of highs. To disregard the high points of such an established franchise leaves a bad after taste to Bond afficianados. There is a reason why the franchise has lasted this long, no matter what you may think of it.
With Daniel Craig as the new Bond, it just feels forced. The guy can act no doubt, as we saw in last year’s Layer Cake, but let’s face it. He’s just downright ugly. “I’m all ears,” Craig’s Bond says in one scene, obviously poking fun at his own appearance. When did Bond have to mock his own looks?
Daniel Craig’s not a bad James Bond, really. He actually reminds me of Timothy Dalton who was an equally gritty and realistic Bond. But Dalton’s Bond knew how to have a good time. Craig mostly mugs and grunts his way through Bond. Not an inkling of what would (and should) become a collection of Sean Connery’s charms, George Lazenby’s looks, Roger Moore’s wit, Timothy Dalton’s finesse and Pierce Brosnan’s playfulness.
Casino Royale misses the magic primarily because it is so blatant in reaching its target demographic, perhaps the same demographic that lined-up overnight for the studio’s PlayStation 3 outside stores. For example, the plot revolves around Bond having to beat ubervillain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for the terrorist elite in a high-stakes game of Texas hold’em poker! (Dorm room crowds rejoice! A game you can understand!) Wouldn’t baccarat be a bit more realistic game to play for the likes of Bond and Le Chiffre? When a bartender asks if Bond wants his martini shakened or stirred, Bond quips, “Do I look like I care?” Dashingly smug is one thing, but being downright sarcastic loses the Bond-ian charm. If the writer’s were gonna do that, then they should have just changed the man’s drink. The movie, perhaps unintentionally, lacks a real sense of humor and a real sense of fun.
They call it a reinvention much like Batman Begins. Perhaps what they should have done to the franchise is rejuvenate it more than reinvent. I can look at all the past Bond films and catch all the highlights, (even with Die Another Day) proving to naysayers and revisionists that Bond films aren’t as trite as one might take them to be. A rejuvenation would mean not to go dark and macho (which is the obvious choice), but to actually give the conventions to a more apt filmmaker, like Tarantino or Soderbergh.
Perhaps future installments of the new Bond will harken back to golden ladies, babes with scandalous names, cool gadgets, Miss Moneypenny and Q. I look forward to it. I’ll give Daniel Craig another go come Bond 22. But right now this baby Bond leaves much to be desired and perhaps us Bond fans just aren’t used to it. Or maybe this is the end of the Goldfinger era. No more outlandish movies. Too bad. Looking back at it, that’s what made Bond such a cinematic experience different from anything else out there. Now he’s just another spy movie in the post-9/11 world.
James Bond is a ‘relic of the Cold War’ as M (Judi Dench) tells Bond in GoldenEye. In Casino Royale, she says she simply misses the Cold War entirely.
So do I, ma’am. So do I.