Saturday, December 30, 2006

Casino Royale (2006)

I don’t want to dump too harshly on the new Bond film, since I enjoyed it more than I expected to, but it feels like a James Bond movie for moviegoers who don’t like James Bond. I wrote in 1999 about THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH:

Watching a James Bond movie these days is like visiting a favorite relative at Thanksgiving. You know exactly what's on the menu, and you know you're with good company; in fact, it's that very familiarity that makes it so nice. You know going in that 007 will ask for a martini, "shaken not stirred". He will introduce himself to someone as "Bond. James Bond". He'll visit a casino. He'll make love to three different women: one bad, one good, and one completely peripheral to the main plot. The main villain will chew out one of his henchman, and then unexpectedly kill a second one as a warning to the first. The heavy will also capture Bond, but, instead of killing him immediately, will either talk long enough for him to escape or contrive an intricate deathtrap (usually with a digital number countdown) from which Bond will somehow manage to free himself. And there'll be lots of gadgets, cool cars, exotic locations, chases, fights, explosions, stunts and imaginative methods of killing. And Q, the crotchety old man who supplies 007 with his fancy equipment, will get P.O.ed at him.

While some of the above occurs in CASINO ROYALE, not quite enough does for my tastes. But maybe I’m just being a fogey. What looks to me like a ripoff of the successful Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon has certainly struck a chord with audiences worldwide, as CASINO ROYALE is the most financially successful 007 movie ever made.

NOTE: In a technical sense, that’s true, since CASINO ROYALE’s international box office is an all-time high. However, every Bond movie from GOLDENEYE on, even the abysmal DIE ANOTHER DAY, has broken the box-office record of the movie just before it. And, of course, if one were to judge box office on the basis of ticket sales, there’s little doubt that THUNDERBALL or perhaps GOLDFINGER would prove to be the #1 Bond.

Eon Productions’ 21st James Bond movie is, of course, the most radically different of the series. Constructed as a “reimagining” of the 007 legend, CASINO ROYALE, which bears no resemblance to the 1967 movie of the same name, is a reasonably faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel and plays as an “origin story” of sorts. James Bond (the craggy Daniel Craig, a rough-looking blond with ears that stick out), who has only recently received his “license to kill” from MI6, is sent to Montenegro to compete in a winner-take-all Texas Hold ‘Em tournament (another sellout to yokel U.S. audiences) being held at Le Casino Royale. His mission is to prevent Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an underworld accountant, from winning the $150 million grand prize, which he will use to finance terrorist organizations. Bond is teamed up with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a more experienced agent who holds Bond’s pursestrings.

At 144 minutes, CASINO ROYALE is the longest Bond movie ever made, and it feels like it. After a fast-moving beginning featuring a pair of rousing action scenes, including an amazing parkour-flavored chase through a construction site, the movie bogs down a bit with the protracted card game and an overlong finale. Much of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis’ screenplay is pulled straight from Fleming’s novel, including Bond’s shockingly brutal torture at the hands of Le Chiffre. Although CASINO ROYALE is in many ways a fine action movie, I never believed that Craig was James Bond, and the general lack of gadgetry, wry one-liners, the traditional gun-barrel logo opening and even the legendary James Bond Theme (which composer David Arnold holds until the final minute) are missed.

1 comment:

Tim Leatherbarrow said...

I have to admit to having a soft spot for the Tim Dalton films. I enjoyed Daniel Craig, but cannot stand the 'Frenetic' action that is infesting all the action films ,Bourne ,Bond, Batman, etc,Quantum of Solace ,even to this day i have to wind back to find what just happened...I just hope they get it right for Skyfall.