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By Thom Yee

Casino Royale images courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Casino Royale is the first Bond movie I ever saw.

There.  I said it.

Though, to be more accurate, it’s the first Bond movie I ever saw all the way through.  Sure. I’d seen bits and pieces of various Bond movies at various times, pieced together which ones were usually Moneypenny and which ones were usually M.  Eventually I figured out why a picture of Sean Connery signed by Roger Moore was such a funny joke.  But I never cared about any of it.

Casino Royale is the first Bond movie I ever saw all the way through that I actually cared about.  It inspired me to go ahead and watch all the preceding Bond movies.  In order.  All 20.  All in less than a week.  All the way through.

And to be honest, I still didn’t really care about any of them.

I can appreciate the Sean Connery era for its pioneering take on what we view as the super-spy as well as for the general ‘60s-ness.  Roger Moore’s Bond fits perfectly into what those films were trying to be (though he did get way too f*cking old).  I think that Timothy Dalton is a criminally underrated Bond, and the closest in look and spirit to the ideal.  Pierce Brosnan brought an untouchability to the character that was somewhat enjoyable (though Brosnan was a little too strikingly handsome).  I even liked George Lazenby.

I can appreciate each of the Bonds for what they were, but I was a little bored through most of the Connery Bonds, I was horrified by a lot of the Moore Bonds (I don’t want to see James Bond dressed up like a clown), I was indifferent to the Dalton Bonds (and annoyed by John Glenn’s trademark directorial choices), I disliked all of the Brosnan Bonds other than GoldenEye, and I don’t remember much from Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (except the opening song, which is still my favourite).

Having said all of that, I’m a huge fan of James Bond.  And it’s all because of Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig is the first Bond I could ever imagine anyone genuinely liking in terms of being an actual character.  Sure, he’s reasonably handsome, looks good in a tuxedo, and [eventually] drives a great car (Ford Mondeo notwithstanding), but he’s also cold, hard to know, and wouldn’t necessarily stand out in a crowd.  He’s suave and charming, but in a way that isn’t cloying or unbelievable.  For all of his James Bond-ness, he’s not a cartoon character.  He kind of feels like he might be a spy.

More than in any previous film in the series, Craig’s Bond is a human being.  Brash, overconfident, and in better shape than most of us can ever hope to be, but still possessed of flaws and emotional depth.  Look at Craig’s face as he looks at himself in the mirror after killing Obanno and his henchman.  He’s not just recuperating, he’s questioning his entire existence.  Look at how he treats Vesper when she can’t get the blood off her hands. The disaffected rage as his betrayer is dragged off.  The sorrow he feels as he hangs over this now-lifeless body after the film’s climax.

Daniel Craig in the best gun barrel sequence of all

By film’s end, he’s a changed man.  He’s resigned to his fate, and by the time his arc is complete at the end of Quantum of Solace (Casino Royale’s direct sequel and the first direct sequel in the franchise), whether he’s doing what he does for queen, country, the good of the free world, or for us — the movie-going populace, he has experienced genuine loss.

Bond’s counterpart in this film, Vesper Lynd, plays a huge part in shaping who and what Craig’s Bond will become.  And I do mean counterpart as Eva Green’s Lynd is much more than just another Bond Girl. Their relationship feels very pointed, very sharp, very aggressive, and very real.  It’s easy to see why Bond would fall for her, even without watching Ms. Lynd’s neckline as she walks into the poker room to distract the other players.  Because she’s smart and quick and every bit Bond’s equal if not superior.  Having watched and admired Green’s Vesper Lynd throughout Casino Royale, it’s impossible not to feel her presence throughout Quantum of Solace, even if, for obvious reasons, she can’t literally be there.

The action scenes in the film are truly impressive as well.  Instead of cartoon-ish corkscrew car jumps, sleigh rides on cello cases, or perilous ski jumps punctuated by Union Jack parachutes, we find astonishing (and logically sound) free running set pieces, sinking Venetian buildings, and genuinely thrilling car chases.  These scenes are well-executed, visually stimulating and, most importantly, not glaringly, knowingly, desperately cheesy.

When it comes down to it, Casino Royale is about losing your humanity.  It’s about hardening yourself because you need to be hard to survive in the world, super-spy or not.  And that’s what informs Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond and Casino Royale as a whole.  Unlike every previous Bond (with the possible exception of Lazenby — ha, guess I do remember something from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Craig’s Bond has genuinely discernible emotions.  And as Bruce Lee would put it, “We need emotional content.”  Because until the producers had put Craig into the role, every other Bond has been nothing more than an exhibition.

Casino Royale final score: 9.5

On the Edge

  • Casino Royale also has my favourite gun barrel sequence of all the Bonds, and one that actually fits into the movie. In best-to-worst order, I’d rate the gun barrel sequences as:
  1. Daniel Craig’s (in Casino Royale)
  2. Pierce Brosnan’s
  3. Timothy Dalton’s (a little too slow)
  4. Roger Moore’s (Bond shouldn’t need to brace his shooting hand with his other arm, and in the earlier ones, he clearly wasn’t shooting at what he was looking at)
  5. Sean Connery’s (initially a weirdly huge jump to the left and then a turn that seems to leave him off balance)
  6. George Lazenby’s (just really floppy, like he didn’t even want it to look good)
  • Ah, for the halcyon days of Sony Ericsson feature phones.  The phone the free-running bomb maker was using looked sort of like a T68i, my first dream phone, and quite coincidental as bomb maker was also my first dream job.
  • I hope to some day own a boat, mostly so I too can tell my guests they have five minutes to leave or they’ll be thrown overboard.
  • Eva Green looked so good before putting on her makeup (or at least as without makeup as an actor in a big time movie can be in a scene where the character is putting on their makeup).
  • Apparently Bond doesn’t signal when he’s pulling into a parking spot. Dick.
  • I’ve never played in a poker tournament, nor can I claim to have any understanding of how to actually play poker (besides inappropriately yelling “Yahtzee!” every half-hour or so), but is it really okay to just suddenly step away and miss huge parts of the game?  Wouldn’t that be a great way to skip right to the final round?

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Image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Quantum of Solace review

Image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Skyfall review