“Casino Royale” is, to put it mildly, the best James Bond movie in god only knows how long, and it was also one of the ten best movies of 2006. For once we got a Bond movie that actually bothered to take itself seriously, provide us with a villain who was not actually interested in world domination and a Bond girl who is not just there for display.
It also gives us Daniel Craig who takes over the iconic role of Bond. Many people keep saying that this actor or that actor is the best Bond since Sean Connery, but it could not even be truer for Craig as he brings a rough and tough intensity to the role that I have not seen in ages. All the naysayers saying that Craig had no business being Bond got increasingly annoying, and it is immensely satisfying that he got the last laugh on them all.
Before “Casino Royale,” the Bond franchise had been going downhill for years. The last few 007 adventures were best approached with very low expectations as they were becoming increasingly silly and made you wonder if another Bond movie was even necessary. The franchise finally hit rock bottom with “Die Another Day” which, while never boring, seemed to written and directed on autopilot. Watching it again, it’s easier to see that the filmmakers had simply run out of ideas, and that invisible car was all the proof you needed for that.
I came into “Casino Royale” with my usual low expectations, and it didn’t take long for the movie to exceed them in every way. This one had all the things I was desperate to see in a Bond movie: great acting, great writing, great direction and great characters. Craig brings a rawness to the role that I know that Pierce Brosnan really wanted to bring to 007 himself, and his Bond is vulnerable, far from perfect and not at all worried if his vodka martinis are shaken or stirred.
This movie also has one of the very best Bond girls in recent memory in Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. She is not one of those Bond babes there for her physical beauty more than anything else (namely acting talent). She matches wits perfectly and has great chemistry with Craig. I love the first scene where she is introduced to him and they try to keep their poker faces up with each other. She gives Vesper a remarkable intelligence most Bond girls never get to exhibit, and she proves to be as unforgettable as Diana Rigg was in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
Judi Dench is back as M, and she is a lot more frazzled than usual. Her bite in this role is a lot bigger than her bark this time around as though she has been unchained from the stiffness that affected the previous Bond movies, and she really is a live wire this time around. Dench, as a result, seems to be having way more fun as she coolly refuses to cut Craig’s Bond any slack whatsoever.
“Casino Royale” also has some of the most invigorating action scenes of any recent movies. The whole African rundown sequence at the beginning of the movie was brilliant and defines breakneck pace. The chase at Miami International was right up there with it, and I loved the unblinking look on Craig’s face when Bond got his man. Directing this entry is Martin Campbell who also helmed Brosnan’s 007 debut, “Goldeneye,” and he once again reinvents the Bond franchise for a new actor, but he does it in a way that’s even more invigorating than what he did before. Along with longtime composer David Arnold, they give Craig’s first 007 adventure a look and feel that is much different from what came before it, showing that neither is afraid to challenge the formulaic conventions of the series.
But it’s also features the first truly genuine love story in a Bond movie since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” You want Bond to be with Vesper and to stay with her all the way into the next movie. Most romances in Bond movies don’t last long as he is quite the womanizer, but this movie gives us a Bond at the very beginning of his career and before he becomes a cold man. This romance has an emotional weight we don’t ever expect a Bond movie to have, and it makes watching “Casino Royale” all the more refreshing and enjoyable.
We have had a bunch of long running franchises go back to the beginning for a much needed reboot, and that trend doesn’t look to end anytime soon. Seeing Bond at the beginning of his treacherous adventures thankfully reinvigorates this franchise which was in need of a serious overhaul. For once we can look forward to the next 007 movie with excitement as the possibilities for where Craig’s Bond can go are infinite. And here’s hoping that Craig hangs onto this role for a long time as he has truly made this character his own to where the shadows of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and even George Lazenby never ever hover over him.
James Bond will return, and we look forward to that more than ever.