Archive for November 17, 2006

Casino Royale (2006)

November 17, 2006

Bond is back — sort of. In Casino Royale, the new “reboot” of the long-running 007 series, the idea is that we’re picking up James Bond (Daniel Craig now) at the start of his double-oh career. So he bleeds, he lets his emotions get in the way, he’s basically a human learning to be inhuman. Abstractly, all of this is interesting, and probably necessary to get away from the bloated decadence that the Bond films had become. But, as it turns out, some of that decadence was fun. For whatever reason, the 007 series has been trending away from fun since at least the Timothy Dalton days, and now, with Casino Royale, there’s virtually no fun left. Congratulations, I guess?

None of this is Daniel Craig’s fault. He’s got the dead-eyed ruthlessness of Bond down pat, and he’s easily the most robust and athletic Bond since Sean Connery. Craig steps into the role with no fuss, and he’s able to carry the emotional weight Bond must shoulder. (There may be no sadder moment in all of the 007 films than this movie’s shot of Bond eating alone in an elegant dining room after his companion has been called away.) Craig looks at ease in the famous tux, and he looks at ease chasing a car on foot, his heavy arms swinging (though he does this maybe one or two times too many). If there are future Bond films that focus more on escapist fun, Craig has the physique and the attitude. But this only feels like a Bond film in fits and starts.

The cartoonishness is gone — there’s no supervillain this time, just some guy trying to win a bunch of money at poker so he can finance terrorism. There are no superweapons, no Q with the fancy gadgets (well, John Cleese as “R” had replaced Q; hopefully we’ll see him again). This is a realistic spy caper, presumably going back to the Ian Fleming books. And there’s some suave entertainment to be had from watching Bond stare down the bad guy across the poker table. But perhaps the Bond movies had their day, and that day was the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Connery and Roger Moore didn’t dream of taking the movies seriously. (It probably doesn’t help that the Austin Powers series taught a generation to laugh at Bond, not with him.) When you strip the 007 films down for action and “realism,” you lose the soul of those old beloved Bond movies — they might as well be Jason Bourne movies.

Well, the Bourne movies already grabbed Franka Potente, who would’ve made a great funky Bond girl, and the first xXx used Asia Argento (ditto). So what we’re left with, apparently, is the rather wishy-washy Eva Green as an accountant who hangs around to make sure Bond doesn’t blow all of MI6’s money at the poker table. Bond falls in love with her because she’s the one person he can’t figure out. Well, he’s young, he’ll learn. Eva Green looks good in smoky black eyeshadow, but she’s a slip of a girl — how does she go to bed with Bond and not break? — and vastly unmemorable even as eye candy. As in the past few Bond films, Judi Dench’s M remains the one woman supremely unimpressed by Bond and therefore the movies’ true heroine.

One sequence near the beginning, with the amazing Sebastien Foucan leading Bond on a merry chase across various cranes, delivers the old-style thrills. The rest of it is brutal punching and shooting, with a genital-torture scene tossed in for variety. We get it: Being a double-oh agent is rough work. But if that’s all the 007 franchise has left to tell us, maybe it needs a reboot less than a Viking funeral. Casino Royale may bring Bond back, but it leaves behind a lot of what made Bond Bond — the bigness, the outrageousness, the fun. And without those things, there’s really no point to this franchise.

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