When I first heard about Casino Royale way back after the farrago that was Die another Day, I had all but lost faith in the Bond Franchise. No Q (or R?) No Moneypenny? No gadgets? No explosions? NO BROSNAN? BOND IN THE _BEGINNING_? A movie based on Casino Royale, whose huge "set piece" in the book was a game of Baccarat? (I think that was the game, It's been a while.) I thought this was the end of everything. I mean yes the books were good, but the movies had set a certain pace, a certain level of expectation.
Bond without gadgets? Could it work?
Not only did it work, the movie was BETTER for it.
Casino Royale takes us back to the beginning of Bond's Career (oddly with the "new" M from GoldenEye firmly in charge.) Stripped of his gadgets, new at his job, Bond is hardly invincible-- and this is what makes the movie so great. Gadgets have a way of distancing Bond from the action, or making things too easy for him. Killing at a distance or using a rappel wire in the belt to climb away from the scene like Batman makes it too quick, too glib a thing for him to escape from danger. Much like his puns, the action in the last few movies were slick, but empty of substance if you examined them too closely. (The few gadgets that were deployed i this film were very low-key, stuff that even you or I could have in our possession, just souped up a tiny bit. nothing that makes a decisive difference in any fight.)
This Bond, without his toys, is FORCED to get right into the meat of the action. His kills, for the most part, are close up, dirty and brutal. You see the toll it takes on him not just physically, but mentally as well. He starts the movie rough around the edges, one step behind his enemies at first-- but not TOO far behind.
Stripped of his ability to just push a button and win the day, we get to see the other side of the Bond that we KNOW is there but who rarely peeks out-- the cunning, fast thinking
genius. He makes do with whatever's around him in an almost MacGyver-like way, but not as easily. This is not to say he's poetry in motion-- far from it-- like M calls him at one
point in the movie, he is still a very "blunt instrument".
This movie takes him from being just another "thug" hitman for MI6 to the beginnings of the suave stereotypes the later movies have displayed, but carefully balancing each ounce of
"perfection" with an equal dose of almost savage barbarity, either in his actions or his experiences, to remind us that he is still human, doing a very dangerous and very damaging job both mentally and physically.
Without spoiling anything I will say that the plot WORKS. IT isn't as convoluted as some might like, indeed the villain's motivation is quite tame, but it does hang together well. Bond's character evolves through the course of the film, and you can honestly believe he is an assassin and an intelligence gatherer. Some delightful lines between himself and "bond girl" Vepsa do much to flesh out his background and why he is the way he is, and indeed, she actually sets him down the road to becoming the man he will be. It shows us the human side of Bond, the arrogant side of him, the fallible side and the stone cold side. It's a very faceted story and is carried off well. The main problem is that the main climax of the plot, the poker game, actually occurs a half hour before the end of the film. An important plot thread takes up the last 30 minutes, but this is a thread that probably should have taken half that amount of time. It's not fatal, however, as it shows us what Bond would be like had history not gone a certain way.
The story is cracking, the plot believable, and the payoff very satisfying for Bond fans, if bittersweet, Two out of Two Dragonballs.
The movie is visually stunning as most Bond Flicks are. A primary complaint of mine from the last film was a lack of international locales. The old films would globe-hop with relish, treating the viewer to a variety of exotic landscapes. This film finally begins to take us around the world again, albeit on a limited scale. The action set pieces are not CGI love-fests, with movement that is fast and visceral, and stomach-churningly adrenalin pumping. The pace is fast and frenetic, and everything looks and feels incredibly dangerous. The personal
fight scenes and chase sequences are perfectly done, and we get to see how, even without portable missiles or laser watches, even the "new man on the job Bond" is still a one man
wrecking machine to be feared. Two out of Two Dragonballs.
Not much to say here, David Arnold puts in another excellent Bond Score, putting enough flourishes in from the last few movies to keep you firmly grounded in the fact that you still are watching a Bond film despite the fact that the cast and tone has almost completely changed. Interesting to note is that Bond very rarely has his signature tune in this film, with his personal tune being that of the OP song (which says a lot about his persona in the lyrics), and we only get the Bond theme at very significant moments in his persona evolution until
that fateful moment when he "earns" it and becomes the man we all know. Two out of two Dragonballs
The only things wrong with this movie were, as noted, the pacing issues, and maybe a slight bit of over complexification regarding a certain subplot near the end. It pays to listen closely to Bond when he's explaining why he's having someone hauled off, and it also pays closely to listen to his plans for Vespa at the poker game and what happens there, and right after. There are layers to the writing that will only become clear after the trigger is pulled on certain revelations, but they're easy to miss. This is a film that benefits from a second watching indeed.
For all the reasons above, this movie gets almost the highest rating bestowed by Suburban Senshi, six and one-half Dragonballs. Here's to a great rebirth of a great franchise!