Casino Royale (2006)
Directed by Martin Campbell
The new James Bond fails to live up to the hype. Instead of a Queen's ace, he's a royal boar.
Blond, James Blond
Throughout his storied and gloried history, one would tend to think it would be fun to hang out with any of the Bond incarnations and have a pint, or, more likely, a glass of champagne or a vodka martini (shaken, not stirred).
The new, blond Bond, portrayed by Daniel Craig (Munich), packs such a massive ‘tude, however, tipping a glass with an inmate on death row in the Federal pen would seem more pleasurable.
Why does this particular Bond have such an attitude and a chip on his shoulder the size of a skyscraper? Because, it is divulged, he was an orphan.
Judi Dench, the sole holdover from the Pierce Brosnan days, calls Bond a "blunt instrument" and "emotionally detached." Those aren't exactly terms of endearment and that's this new iteration's biggest problem: the new Bond is hard to care about.
Granted, this Bond is definitely the most rugged since Sean Connery, but now the formula has gone to a new extreme. This Bond is tough as nails; so much so, when a nail gun lodges an 8-inch nail in his shoulder, he merely pulls it out while on the run without so much as a wince. What this RoboBond desperately needs is a little humanity, the kind that made the bruised and battered Indiana Jones such an empathetic and sympathetic character.
This Bond isn't afraid to go around with his face cut up; but those wounds do heal might darn quick. It must be those Special Blend Secret Agent Vitamins he takes.
Bond Begins... Sorta
The problems with Casino Royale, unfortunately, don't start and end with the overblown shift in direction with the lead character.
The same problems that have plagued so many Bond movies gone by still crop up. Most notably, the villains are extremely dry. While the Broccoli compound overhauled Bond, they failed to do the same for the bad guys.
The main heavy is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, King Arthur). He's taken some terrorists' money and invested it in card games, so he's betting his life he'll make a killing at the card tables. Instead of petting a pussy cat or having any kind of eccentric individuality, this baddy on occasion needs to take a hit from his inhaler. He's also got a scar that crosses his left eyelid.
Oh yeah, and he has an odd condition which causes him to "weep" blood.
That is a nice touch, but he's still a boring villain. Then again, so much of the film's "action" takes place in its namesake, Casino Royale, that boredom is a consistent complaint. Watching Bond and Le Chiffre play cards is maybe only slightly more exciting than watching those celebs of the moment try their hand on ESPN.
Granted, Le Chiffre does bust Bond's balls, almost literally. But it's almost more fun to root for the bad guys because this Bond can be so abrasive, it seems like he deserves every punch thrown his way.
Bond in Love
Casino Royale is not, however, without its merits. Even though Q and Moneypenny are nowhere to be seen, the CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, Syriana) is brought back into the fold after a checkered cinematic career. And, above all else, Eva Green (Kingdom of Heaven) turns out to be the best thing to happen to Bond since Pussy Galore. As Vesper Lynd, Green creates a major rarity: a hot and smart Bond babe. To use a Bondian double entendre, things pick up nicely when Vesper arrives on the scene.
The verbal jousting between Vesper and James is fun – and it's through Vesper's influence that the scruffy, practically-dressed Bond turns into the suave, tux-sporting super agent.
But, even as Vesper turns out to be the film's greatest strength, a lack of story-telling savvy also turns her into something of an albatross.
As the movie seems to wind down, it veers off with a severe shift in tone. Bond falls madly in love with the girl and is willing to give up his secret agent lifestyle. But, of course, there's a reason why Bond is Bond and treats women the way he does, so this one movie takes great pains to set up the rugged Bond, his ill-fated romance, and the aftermath.
Maybe that docket would've worked better over the course of two or three movies, giving the Bond series a sense of story continuity that has never really been there before.
Well, as promised during the end credits of this outing – and all those others before it – James Bond will return.
And there is hope that next time will be more fun. Bond ends Casino Royale finally decked out in his tux and with his classic theme song finally getting a chance to blare once again.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.