The new James Bond is no longer Cole Porter with a pistol.
He’s Jack Bauer in a tux.
I’m happy to report that advance reports of the alleged “feminization” of James Bond in his latest screen adventure, Casino Royale, were wildly inaccurate. There’s absolutely nothing feminine about the new Bond, Daniel Craig.
Moreover, Casino Royale represents a reinvention—and revival—of the James Bond franchise, doing for 007 what Batman Begins recently did so brilliantly for that superhero.
At last, there are no over-the-top Dr. Evil characters trying to take over the Known Universe; no over-the-top gadgets from “Q”; no over-the-top nuclear time bombs that Bond disarms just as they tick down to 007 seconds left before Armageddon.
In addition, there are no lame, witless puns; no lame, time-wasting flirtations with Miss Moneypenny at MI6; and no lame, vacuous, “Bond girl” mannequins with IQs smaller than their bust measurements.
No, this entry in the series finally takes its tongue out of its cheek to deliver a tightly-written, suspenseful plot; fine acting from an excellent cast; realistically bloody-and-brutal fight sequences; jaw-dropping stunt work; eye-popping locations and sets; and, most importantly, the best James Bond since Sean Connery.
Okay. I know, I know. And, yes, I love what Sean Connery did for the character. Since the 1960s, his suave-yet-manly turn as Bond has been the gold standard against which all his successors in the role have been measured and always fallen short.
Like debonair GQ cover models, previous cinematic Bonds soared above the ever-more-preposterous action landscape largely untouched and unruffled, never really getting any blood on their well-manicured hands. You simply couldn’t believe that these fashion plates could ever really do the amazing things that they were doing, that they were ever truly in any serious jeopardy—and thus, that anything important was ever actually at stake. Over time, the sheer silliness of the plots and villains (especially in Roger Moore’s execrable outings) sank the series into campy parodies of Ian Fleming’s thrillers and of his matchless hero.
But Daniel Craig gives us the most physical, masculine, and credible Bond ever. He has dared to remake the character completely, taking his cues from the novels rather than from his pretty-boy predecessors. No foppish Roger Moore, he. This is an intense, icy-cold, commando-tough, ruthlessly relentless agent and assassin, whose boss, “M,” aptly describes as “a blunt instrument.” His elegance in public settings is largely camouflage—a sophisticated cover that allows him access to targets in high places.
But the essential man is a tough guy. A very tough guy.
Craig’s lean, wolfish face and chiseled body make him look like a dangerous predator even when decked out in black tie, playing poker and sipping port. Instead of an international playboy, he seems more like the valedictorian of a Navy SEAL class.
And he not only looks but acts the part. Craig’s fight scenes are more athletic and brutally realistic than anything ever seen in a Bond film, leaving his character battered, bruised, and bleeding. . .but his adversaries dead. You find yourself thinking: Boy, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to mess with this dude.
The story takes place at the very beginning of 007’s secret-agent career. A major financier of international terrorism, known as Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), has a fatal weakness for gambling. Bond is assigned to bankrupt him of his $100 million war chest in a high-stakes card game at a posh casino.
Shaken and stirred, you’ll want to raise a dry martini to the new James Bond.
The plot (screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Oscar-winner Paul Haggis) is crammed with action, intrigue, thrills, surprises, and suspense. But, for once, the romantic subplot is just as good. It’s no longer merely an excuse for Bond to have another meaningless fling with some forgettable piece of eye candy. Instead—in a series of quiet, erotically charged scenes that allow time for excellent acting and real character development—the British Secret Service’s ice man thaws completely, falling in love with the lovely, brainy, complex Vesper Lynd (mesmerizing French actress Eva Green). Her presence in his life forces Her Majesty’s most lethal, cold-blooded secret agent to confront his gradual loss of soul and feeling—and to make value choices that will shape his character and future.
For fans of previous Bond films, there remain some judiciously selected throwbacks to sacred traditions: stunning locales such as Prague, Lake Como, and the Atlantis Resort in Nassau; edgy confrontations between Bond and his iron-lady boss, “M” (played once more by the magisterial Judi Dench); a brief appearance by Bond’s veteran CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright); a sleek, sexy Aston Martin; and those two famous lines that have become mandatory in any Bond flick, but which are tweaked here to delightful effect.
However, make no mistake: This is a serious action film—intelligent and intense, even while extravagantly entertaining. Though it runs long (two hours, twenty-four minutes), it rivets you to your theater seat.
And afterwards, shaken and stirred, you’ll want to raise a dry martini to the new James Bond.