Having been a huge fan of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, I wasn’t too thrilled of the news that “Die Another Day” would be his last time as the suave spy.
While Brosnan made for a great Bond, his material wasn’t the best — a problem that doesn’t plague his replacement, Daniel Craig, in the stellar “Casino Royale,” a streamlined back to basics approach for Bond that hits all the right marks in rejuvenating the franchise for a new generation.
“Royale” is based on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel — modernized by screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis.
Director Martin Campbell directed Brosnan’s best Bond film, the 1995 hit “Goldeneye,” and quickly proves he hasn’t lost his touch in delivering quality super spy action. From an impressive opening fight atop a crane hundreds of feet in the air to an airport shootout to a massive concert hall, Campbell delivers many memorable moments to a series famous for them.
Since this is Bond in his earlier days, he’s prone to making mistakes and leading with his chin a bit more than you’d be accustomed to, but he still indulges in all of his favorite vices — booze, women and exotic cars.
The film’s first extended fight scene quickly shows the new look Bond. While his opponent utilizes a parkour to evade capture, Bond is a straight up brawler and at one point literally runs through walls chasing after his prey. Craig easily handles the debonair, coolest man on Earth mindset of Bond, but where he really makes the role his own is in how he gives Bond a less playful, more intense edge that always seems to be simmering just behind a condescending smirk or remark.
It’s a different approach for Bond and a wise change so Craig isn’t playing Bond the same way as Bronson, Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton before him.
The back to basics approach is refreshing as Bond isn’t overshadowed by the latest gadgets or souped-up car. “Royale” is all about Bond, but the filmmakers wisely bring back Judi Dench to reprise her role of “M” for a fifth consecutive Bond adventure.
Bond tracks down a terrorist organization funded by a banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Campbell adeptly captures the globe-hopping aspect of being a secret agent as Bond treks all over the world trying to track Le Chiffre down.
Bond is joined by British Treasury official, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, “Kingdom of Heaven”), who fascinates him for her unwillingness to be his normal vapid companion. Craig and Green’s chemistry is such that even though you know it’s a Bond movie, you almost want to see the professional ladies man settle down and find happiness with Vesper.
The film’s big showdown isn’t a shootout, but rather a card game and yet Campbell still is able to make that interesting. There’s a bit of a lull before the final act and it’s the one drag to an otherwise excellent film. I’m already looking forward to Craig’s next Bond adventure.
Rating: 9 out of 10