I’ve never been a James Bond fan. Like Star Wars, it’s one of those franchises that eluded me in my formative years, and unlike that cornerstone I was decidedly unimpressed when I finally came across it. Even now I fail to grasp what so many find so entertaining about Bond, chauvinistic piece of two-dimensional cardboard that he is, especially since the majority of his movies are over-the-top and terrible. And spare me the whole ‘so bad it’s good’ argument. That’s fine for direct-to-video dross, but not sufficient for one of the biggest franchises in cinema history.
Thankfully, Casino Royale fixes so many of the problems I had with Bond, and much has been made of this. No more outlandish gadgets and horrendous puns, and the script insists on Bond being recognisably human. He’s still a ridiculously talented and unflappable bugger, but this is used – at last – to point out the emotional restraints he has placed on himself as a result. The script gets the ball rolling and Daniel Craig kicks it all the way to Sweden. He’s utterly magnetic in the role, ensuring both that we believe Bond has been in the military and that we can see the results. The vacancy in his eyes seals the deal. By taking Bond to such a remote extreme, Craig actually makes him more relatable by demonstrating what he is lacking.
He’s well supported by Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and some spectacular action sequences. The opening chase scene is gripping in its sheer audacity, taking us through car windows, up cranes, and into embassies, and it’s matched by a race-against-time on an airstrip, a stunning car flip, and other extravagances. While enormous, these sequences are somewhat credible and taken seriously, unlike the invisible car and other pun-ridden pursuits of the Brosnan films (although Goldeneye was good, I’ll admit). More remarkably, the action is supported by some poignant character moments, particularly when Bond comforts the shaken Vesper (Green) after he kills two men in front of her. Green herself enjoys a Bond girl role that barely resembles its predecessors. Gone are the condescending and useless portrayals of women of films past; Vesper can see straight through Bond’s shit, but is intrigued by what drives him all the same.
Sadly, the film doesn’t understand economy, taking far too long to tell its story and drawing out its climax painfully, making the idea of rewatching the film seem arduous. The poker game mid-section is inherently problematic, and while the script tries to enliven it by placing action in the game breaks, it’s still a hefty chunk to wade through. Plus, the build-up to the climax is so transparently doomed that the following twenty minutes seem oddly tacked on and a little dreary. And on a side note, why did they bother to cast Jeffrey Wright in such a small, unremarkable role? I hope they’re preparing to use him more substantially in the sequels, which in another break from tradition may well continue the story of this film. Like fellow rebooter Batman Begins, Casino Royale has cumbersome parts but still does a tremendous job of liberating the Bond paradigm from tiresome excess and reactionary worldviews.