“The bitch is dead now.”
Can you picture Pierce Brosnan uttering that line? Never mind, Daniel Craig is James Bond now and he ain’t afraid to talk tough, kick ass and get his hands dirty doing it. Right from the striking B&W prologue, which is more film noir than the type of over the top stunts that usually open these movies, you know this ain’t the same old crap. As you watch how Bond earned his 00 status, which denotes an agent with at least two confirmed kills, you know all bets are off.
While the film eventually does resort to some of the 007 conventions, having him wear a tuxedo and drink martinis in a Montenegro casino, it’s at least refreshingly gadget-free. I mean, what’s the fun in an always impeccably coiffed and dressed hero who does nothing but make use of increasingly elaborate high-tech gizmos? Thankfully, Craig’s Bond is a straightforward badass in the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon tradition, if less jokey than Bruce Willis and not as wonderfully nuts as Mel Gibson. He does share the latter’s taste for torture, though (two words: scrotum smash!).
“Casino Royale” is more or less the gritty, back-to-basics, non-comedic adaptation of Ian Fleming‘s first James Bond novel that Quentin Tarantino had been saying he wanted to make. It’s too bad that the producers, apparently afraid that QT would stray too far from the formula, made the boringly safe choice of hiring “GoldenEye” helmer Martin Campbell, but he actually does a good job here. The film is not perfect, with its at once predictable and muddled plot, which culminates in an endless pile-up of twists, and a not particularly involving romance between Craig and an accountant (!) played by Eva Green (whose acting is sadly not as spectacular as her curves), but the action scenes are some of the most exciting I’ve ever seen in a James Bond picture.
See Bond chase Parkour pro Sebastien Foucan over, under and through all kinds of obstacles! See Bond jump on a tank truck being driven at full speed across an airport runway! See Bond brawling down a staircase with a machete-wielding Ugandan warlord! See Bond shooting mofos with a nail-gun while the whole building around them is collapsing!
And even though I’ve mentioned that the story scenes aren’t all that, there are some neat little character moments in between all the mayhem. I love that the cast is full of great international actors. Besides the British Craig and the French Green, we get Jeffrey Wright from America, Giancarlo Giannini from Italy, Isaach De BankolÃ© from the Ivory Coast, Simon Abkarian from Armenia, and last but not least, Mads Mikkelsen from Denmark. As villain Le Chiffre, he’s not as imposing as Orson Welles, who played the same role (with magic tricks!) in the dumbass 1967 “Casino Royale”, but he brings an engaging mix of creepiness and geekiness to the part. Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre is a pale, asthmatic math nerd who just happens to have a scarred eye that weeps blood (don’t ask), handle the money for a network of terrorists and enjoy torturing his enemies (two words: scrotum smash!).
At a whopping 144 minutes, “Casino Royale” is undeniably too much of a good thing – an hypothetical 90 minute version might have been the most relentlessly entertaining flick of the year. Still, as is, overblown and all, this remains a pretty damn cool ride.