Retro Review: Casino Royale

When it comes to James Bond, I guess we got used to the gadgets, suave and impulsive nature of the super-agent. What the series seemed to forget was what a spy actually is.

This formulaic tendency can probably be followed back to the all the way to the beginning. The best of the Bond series were the ones that forgot formula, had an engaging story, a smart and attractive leading lady and remembered what being a spy was all about.

No matter if you’re favorite Bond is Connery or Moore, one thing is for sure that we always remember why we love James Bond. The allure of the world of espionage and intrigue, of course.

I can safely report that the series has finally found its way back to what makes Bond tick.

Casino Royale” is based on the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming which in the novel put Bond (Daniel Craig) inside a high-stakes baccarat tournament as he tried to nail his nemesis and arms dealer Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) . Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, is sent by M (Judi Dench) to look after Bond and the money he is using in the tournament. This was his first mission as a secret agent and fleshed out who the man behind the tuxedo actually is.

In the new film, the novel has been contemporized switching the game from baccarat to poker and deepening the playing field. There is a lot going on in this film and the stakes have never been higher.

Bond on his back again this time with actress Caterina Murino.

Casino Royale” could be the greatest thing to happen to James Bond since the debut of Sean Connery back in the 1960s. Over the years, audiences always had their favorite Bond. My favorite was always Roger Moore only because he was the perfect Bond for the lush 1980s and he was the Bond I grew up on. My favorite films of Moore’s era was 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only” which for me was one of Moore’s more serious Bond films. “Eyes Only” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” being the best he made as the suave secret agent.

I guess I was one of those who got caught up in the formula and when Moore retired after “A View to a Kill” they tried to reinvent the Bond series with “The Living Daylights”. The film itself was quite enjoyable except for 2 aspects. One, you had probably one of the worst Bond girls of the franchise with her damn cello and of course there was Timothy Dalton who hated being Bond and it showed in a lot of his scenes. The scenes where they let the man act and for a second he forgot he was Bond were the best scenes of the two films he made.

Bond cradles his love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)

Frustrated with the series in general, the producers looked to Pierce Brosnan to pave the way for another rejuvenation of the series. Brosnan brought back the grandeur of the series and probably followed more in Moore’s formulaic footsteps than say Connery but with every entry in the Brosnan films the filmmakers tried to make it bigger and bigger.

They truly had lost their way as the original scripts became more and more plastic. They had forgotten what Ian Fleming wrote about in his novels.

“Casino Royale” is another reawakening of the series as a whole and instead of following in Moore’s footsteps this film’s Bond is a lot more rugged, crass and emulates Connery a lot. Craig’s performance is out of this world as this secret agent and you can see how much desire and drive he has to play this character. He is amazing and I have no doubt that Craig is the man for the job.
What makes Craig’s performance so revolutionary is that he is able to be suave, vulnerable, emotional, flawed and lethal in just one look. He shows that Bond isn’t a superhero but a human being. That is what a lot of the previous films forgot and what Ian Fleming stressed so much in his novels.

Eva Green makes Vesper Lynd, a strong and passionate woman who is Bond’s equal on many levels. I really liked that Green allowed her character to be vulnerable without it resulting in the typical damsel in distress scenario. Her character is also stubbornly strong at times and emotionally crippled at other times and this aids in the depth that Green is able to explore with her performance.

Director Martin Campbell, who directed Pierce Brosnan’s first outing “Goldeneye”, makes an overly lush and detailed film. Every scene and set is intricate and breathes all over the screen. His action sequences are executed flawlessly. And I have to say they are some of the best I have seen in the series.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis have given Bond a new lease in life by going back to the beginning. One, they embraced the first book in the series. Two, made him more human. Three, made him more like the first James Bond, Sean Connery. Lastly, made him a secret agent who can operate in today’s world. I loved the perfect balance between humor and more serious tones.

The only tiny problems I had with the film was the film’s opening song and Le Chiffre’s girlfriend, Valenka, played by Ivana Milosevic. The title song by Chris Cornell feels routine and uninspired but saved by the slick “house of cards” graphics accompanying the song but it is one of the better Bond themes in recent memory.  But what is it with Bond anthems these days? There was Madonna’s seizure-inducing Die Another Day which still haunts me to this day. They all have been just so boring. My complaint about the character of Valenka is that there isn’t anything interesting about the woman. Some of the extras are more interesting than this wasted character. There needed to be alluring and more to her. She is worse than a Jenny Flex. These minor flaws are way overly compensated by the brilliance of everything else in the film.

“Casino Royale” could be the best Bond film on record. But it is going to take some time before we know if audiences embrace this new version of James Bond. I really hope they do because in my eyes “Casino Royale” is the perfect Bond film and Ian Fleming would be proud.

5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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