In late 2016, Spectre was released. Although it didn't blow away the fans of the franchise nor the critics, it was yet another solid installment in the franchise. Spectre was good, Skyfall was great. But it was Casino Royale, the first Daniel Craig Bond film, that proved to longtime fans of the series and a new generation of moviegoers that a certain British spy still has a place in cinema.
A new James Bond movie has a lot to live up to. Casino Royale does not just meet our expectations, but surpasses them while reinventing the character of James Bond, and the franchise. Where are the larger than life weapons? The outrageous villains with elaborate and convoluted plans? The sexy high class women throwing themselves at Bond? absent. This is a new kind of Bond movie. The excellent casting choice and acting skills of Daniel Craig, the intense action scenes, and the way it surpasses our expectations of a Bond film are just some of the ways Casino Royale triumphs.
It is doubtful anyone could surpass Sean Connery’s portrayal of James Bond, but Daniel Craig comes close. The actor reinvents the character in the best ways. Casino Royale was the first book in the series so it is a fitting place to reboot the franchise.
In the moody black and white pre-title scene, we witness Bond earning his “00” status. He needs two kills to qualify. We see his first target die in a brutal confrontation taking place in a men's restroom. The fight is unlike anything we have seen in past Bond films. Bodies crash though stall doors, porcelain gets smashed and ends with James drowning his victim in a bathroom sink. His second target, a traitorous MI6 section chief, he simply shoots while being assured that killing gets easier, to which Bond impassively agrees. Bond’s dry and witty quips aren’t quite as common in Casino Royale as they were in past films, but Craig’s delivery helps the movie take itself just seriously enough to be excellent.
The way that Daniel Craig portrays Bond is what drives home the message that this is a new species of secret agent. Yes, he still seduces women, and of course he punches and shoots bad guys just like any blunt instrument of the crown should. But this is a more unstable, rogue Bond, one who makes M (the returning and welcome Judi Dench) worry with his brash methods. This Bond is haunted, and not yet housebroken, electric blue eyes reflecting intelligence and danger.
Casino Royale’s willingness to move away from expected tropes of the series is perhaps best demonstrated in a scene where James orders a drink, when asked “shaken or stirred?” by the bartender, Bond tersely responds “Do i look like i give a damn?"
The action continues to strive for excellence. The fights are cringe inducing and realistic, punches truly seem to connect. Encounters with danger leave their mark on bond, physically and otherwise. But he still manages to be a dashing poker player while sporting bruised knuckles. Early in the movie Bond has to hunt down a potential terrorist in a parkour chase full of construction cranes, nauseating drops, and death defying stunts. When I first watched Casino Royale in late 2006, I had never seen anything like it before. The scene is so memorable that Casino Royale is credited with starting a wave of parkour enthusiasm.
The corny stock plots that we have seen in past Bond films is almost entirely absent. There is no over-the-top supervillain this time around, no giant laser aimed at the polar ice caps, and no high tech fancy gadgets. Director Martin Campbell clearly wanted a more serious, realistic spy film, and Casino Royale succeeded in finding a great balance between realism and fun.
The villain Le Chiffre is a banker for terrorists, but he loses a large amount of money due to Bond foiling his plans and is now in a substantial amount of debt to very dangerous people. He intends to win back his losses and more in a high stakes poker game. Bond as MI6’s best player is ordered to win. Bond receives funding of 10 million dollars from the British treasury which is represented by the smart and beautiful Vesper Lynd (Eva Greene). Not only does she need to keep an eye on Bond and the money but fend off his advances. She proves to be unimpressed by Bond's charms. The scene where they meet is some of the best dialogue in the entire movie.
Casino Royale is 144 minutes of pleasant surprises and pure entertainment. The film is very balanced between action and engaging dialog, especially in its stronger second act. Every time you start to feel like you have had enough talking, it throws some high octane action your way. This installment revives and refreshes the Bond series because it is much more true to the vibe of Ian Flemming's novels. As an incredible way to kick off the modernized Bond franchise, Casino Royale just may be the best Bond film ever made.