Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Casino Royale

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The most significant shot in Casino Royale—the latest revamp of the James Bond franchise—comes early, while new Bond Daniel Craig is getting his Parkour on and hopping from beam to beam at a construction site in pursuit of a terrorist bomber. When Craig severs a cable so he can rise up on a pulley, there's an insignificant insert shot of the pipes Craig cut loose, now tumbling on the ground. But it's only insignificant from a plot perspective. From a thematic perspective, the falling pipes reflect the mission statement for this new Bond: "Actions have consequences." This is a messier Bond than we've seen in a while. He's impulsive, he miscalculates, and when he kills someone, he gets blood on his hands, his face, and all over his clothes.

In Casino Royale, 007 has plenty of chances to get bloody. While doing an unauthorized investigation of a terror network, Craig makes contact with its chief financier, Mads Mikkelsen, who's on the verge of getting snuffed out by his clients after losing a pile of their money. Mikkelsen plans to win it all back at a high-stakes poker game, and Craig buys in, using money vouched for by Eva Green, an agent of the British treasury. In typical Bond fashion, Craig works at cracking Green's icy façade while simultaneously angling to ruin Mikkelsen at the card table. In decidedly un-Bond fashion, the plot then takes a couple of shocking turns, one of which leads to Craig being tied naked to a chair while Mikkelsen whomps him in the scrotum with a stout rope. (Oh, for the days of shark tanks and slow-burning lasers.)

Craig is fine as Bond, though he's better at playing stony and tough than he is at making wisecracks and wooing women. He's also a little adrift in this overthought reconceptualization, which positions Casino Royale as the secret agent's first adventure, and tries to shoehorn in pieces of well-known Bond mythology (the car, the cocktails) as though they were popping up naturally, for the first time. And while veteran Bond director Martin Campbell brings character-building purpose to the stripped-down, stunt-driven action sequences, he can't do anything about the typically superfluous plot and routine climax. In its overt attempts to balance high-spirited spy adventure with more realistic acting and action—conveying the realities of government-sponsored murder—Casino Royale is a step in the right direction for the Bond franchise. But it's a small, tentative step.