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November 21, 2006 > Casino Royale

Casino Royale

by Jeremy Inman

Friday marked the release of the first James Bond film in four years and the twenty-first film in the long-running series: Casino Royale. Ironically, the latest film is actually the first Bond story ever told, based on Ian Fleming’s premiere Bond adventure of the same name.

Casino Royale tells the story of Bond’s initiation into the ranks of MI6’s “Double-O” division of secret agents, a goal not easily met. Bond is charged with the task of defeating Le Chiffre, a wealthy banker, in a high stakes game of poker. Only his opponent is no ordinary banker, Le Chiffre bankrolls many of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, and it’s up to Bond to relieve Le Chiffre of that bankroll and bring him in for questioning.

As expected, and without ruining too much, Le Chiffre, as well as numerous other interested parties, do whatever is in their power to insure Bond’s failure, resulting in all the glorious fight sequences, car chases, and suspenseful moments fans everywhere have come to expect from any proper Bond flick.

However, instead of merely following the conventions set by the previous 20 films, Casino Royale reinvents them for modern audiences. After all, though it is Bond’s “first” adventure, it takes place in 2006 and not the 60s, and thus doesn’t necessarily precede the first 20 films in terms of the story, but restarts the franchise anew, much like Batman Begins and Superman Returns. The film’s got everything you’d expect from any of the Sean Connery films (which makes sense considering Casino Royale is the book that set the mold for a Bond adventure), only somehow freshly done. There’s the beautiful but mysterious love interest, Vesper Lynd, the over-the-top action sequences (like Bond’s fight with a fleeing bomber atop a construction site in Africa) and Le Chiffre as the quintessential Bond villain: eccentric, physically unimposing but overwhelmingly cold, sadistic and complete with a creepy eye scar and a penchant for torturous deathtraps, so the audience knows right away who the bad guy is.

Most important was Bond himself, played to all his charming, sophisticated, and arrogant glory by newcomer Daniel Craig, the sixth man to step into Bond’s tuxedo. Much contention and speculation surrounded who might step into the role following Pierce Brosnan. Names like Julian McMahon (of Nip/Tuck and Fantastic Four fame), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in the X-Men films), and even Clive Owen were considered for the role before it ultimately went to Craig, whose only real mainstream roles prior to this were a supporting role in the first Tomb Raider movie and a leading role in the excellent movie, Layer Cake.

Craig immediately proves himself exceptionally capable as Bond. The film’s younger Bond is still rough around the edges, much the way Connery (arguably the best Bond) played the role. He’s not quite used to wearing the fitted tuxedos and he hasn’t quite come to terms with the more lethal necessities of his role in employ of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In other words, he’s obviously got a lot to learn, but he picks it up quickly. He’s still just as resourceful and clever as we remember him.

The film benefits immensely from being based on the first Bond story ever told, even though it’s twenty-first in line and the beginning of a new era for the franchise. It was a wise decision by the producers to start their run by telling Bond’s origin story for the first time (not counting the 1967 Peter Sellers/Orson Welles farcical version of Casino Royale).

It’s unclear why filmmakers waited as long as they did to tell this story. Whether their goal was to find the right Bond, to release the film at the right time for the audience to accept it, or to save the best for last, they accomplished all of this. With all the charm and sexiness of the classic films, a refreshing old school approach to the action, and a keen attention to pacing and story, Casino Royale is the definitive Bond adventure – not only one of the best Bond movies ever made (right up there with any of the Connery films) but one of the coolest action movies this year.

 
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