After the tragic debacle of Die Another Day, the James Bond franchise was in dire need of a reboot to bring the character back down to earth. Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli also needed to do something fresh with the character, as the franchise’s novelty had long worn off. The result is 2006’s Casino Royale, which manages to do something new with Agent 007 by hitting the reset button and returning to Ian Flaming’s original vision of Bond. It’s therefore quite fitting that Casino Royale is an adaptation of Fleming’s first Bond novel, making this the first 007 film in over a decade to be based on a pre-existing source. This is not the first time that Casino Royale has been adapted – it was previously made into a telemovie in the 1950s, and a 1967 spy genre satire with David Niven. This is, however, the first canonical adaptation of the story, and the first serious big screen treatment of the source. Casino Royale also diminishes proverbial Bond movie staples; it foregrounds drama and strong violence while keeping one-liners, sexual gags and gadgets to a minimum.
Not long after being promoted to 00 status, James Bond (Craig) lands in hot water with one of his MI6 commanders, M (Dench), due to his proclivity for killing suspects. For his next assignment, 007 is paired with alluring accountant Vesper Lynd (Green), who’s hired to keep a sharp eye on the loose canon. Bond’s mission is to thwart terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), who seeks to win a high-stakes poker tournament at Casino Royale in order to aid international terrorist cells. Sent to the titular casino in Montenegro, Bond enters the poker tournament with Vesper acting as his aid. As Bond and Vesper sink deeper into the assignment, the pair begin to fall in love, which puts Bond’s cold heart to the ultimate test.
The only real problem with Casino Royale is its lack of typical Bond elements. Unlike Licence to Kill and For Your Eyes Only, the filmmakers here got a little too down to earth for their own good, eliminating what makes Bond films so much fun. By taking away the stuff which distinguishes Bond from his imitators, Casino Royale just feels like any old modern actioner, indistinguishable from the Bourne movies or any other PG-13 action movie on the market. Furthermore, running at a sizeable 144 minutes, this is the longest Bond film to date, and it does feel like overkill. The story is decidedly skinny, and the poker tournament feels a bit too extended. The romance between Bond and Vesper particularly grinds the pace to a halt. Paul Haggis was recruited as a co-writer for the film, and his hand in the scripting yields mixed results. Dialogue is admittedly stronger here than in most Bond films, but some of the chatter sounds too self-consciously Oscar-esque, like allusions to Macbeth (of all things). Complexity is welcome, but this material is corny beyond all belief.
Martin Campbell helmed Pierce Brosnan’s remarkable 007 debut, GoldenEye, making him a smart choice for Casino Royale. Campbell excels as an action director, and he truly knows how to mount an effective Bond-buster. His approach favours smooth, glorious wide shots, and his filmmaking seems to be allergic to shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing. Hence, it’s possible to watch all of the fight choreography and easily discern what’s happening. Moreover, Campbell can do action, suspense, torture and romance, all the while maintaining a crucial air of edginess. The stylish first scene of Casino Royale really sets the tone; it’s a grainy, black-and-white introduction to the new James Bond, showing the agent getting his wings. Also notable is an early chase sequence that’s especially remarkable for its use of real stunts, giving the set-piece true weight and excitement, and reflecting the film’s harder, grittier tone. Fortunately, the quality of the action never flags. The centrepiece of Casino Royale is, logically, the poker game. To the credit of Campbell, he almost overcomes the ostensibly drab nature of playing cards, but not quite. As a result, the film often lags throughout the tournament.
It’s a shame that Pierce Brosnan had to depart the role of James Bond, but he would not have been suitable for the new direction that Casino Royale takes. Daniel Craig, in spite of the huge controversy surrounding his hiring, is a solid 007 in the mould previously established by Timothy Dalton in the ’80s. Craig is particularly notable for the way that he makes Bond seem vulnerable; he makes mistakes, he hurts when he bleeds, and it looks like his sweating is the result of genuine exertion rather than careful make-up application. Craig is a real man’s man, too; a rugged, tough-as-nails action hero who looks to be in his element dispatching bad guys. As the requisite Bond girl, Eva Green is beautiful and convincing, while series veteran Judi Dench continues to impress in her fifth appearance as M. Unfortunately, Mads Mikkelsen is a weak villain, forgettable and non-threatening. The intention, clearly, was to create a more “realistic” bad guy, but here’s the thing: realism to this extent is boring.
Many probably assumed that the Bond franchise would silently fizzle out after Die Another Day, as it seemed that the franchise had run its course after 40 years. Fortunately, Casino Royale gives the long-running series a new lease on life, ensuring that Bond can still go on for many more years to come. However, while a step in the right direction, Casino Royale never quite reaches the greatness that it had the potential for, as it feels a bit vanilla without the proverbial Bond film characteristics.