Retro Review: Casino Royale
With news beginning to surface about the upcoming James Bond film—Daniel Craig’s fourth installment as 007, to be titled ‘Spectre’—it’s time we all took a look back at the film that rebooted the franchise. Casino Royale offered a fresh take, and it may well go down as not only Craig’s best work as Bond, but the best Bond film ever made.
Right off the bat, Casino Royale establishes that it’s meant to restart the franchise, as the film commences with Bond’s first kill and his promotion to “00” status. He’s then thrust into a mission tracking down Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financial terrorist who shorts stocks and then causes them to drop by engineering terrorist attacks against their companies. Bond’s pursuit takes him to the Bahamas and then to Montenegro’s glamorous “Casino Royale,” where he and a small team from MI-6 are meant to play poker against, and bankrupt, Le Chiffre in order to get to his creditors.
Along the way, Bond encounters the usual array of action-packed obstacles, each complete with a new take on what gets him through it all. He meets a particularly acrobatic adversary in the film’s opening sequence and instead of taking him out with advanced weaponry (or something of the kind), he chases him down in a stunning display of parkour. He encounters a beautiful woman he’s made to work with (Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green), and instead of merely seducing her, he falls head-over-heels in love with her. And, faced with a high-stakes poker challenge that doubles as a showdown with a terrorist, he shows off bluffing and card-playing talents. The end result is the same-old Bond story elements with an all-new approach from the central character, and frankly it was fascinating.
Really, Casino Royale is a bit flat when it comes to plot. But it’s how 007 handles the relatively ordinary circumstances that makes the film so interesting to behold. Consider the following.
For starters, parkour isn’t the only way in which this version of Bond impressed audiences with physicality. Matt’s Movie Reviews called Craig’s Bond “ruthless, arrogant, and cocky,” and that extended to every moment of conflict on screen. This Bond uses his fists first, his gun second, and advanced, futuristic tools pretty much never. At one point early in the film he blows up an embassy with a single shot toward some sort of gas tank. Later on, he battles to the death in a casino resort using only his bare hands to strangle an adversary. And still further on, he laughs off a torture scene while Craig’s ridiculously fit body is on full display. Every action sequence in this film was dripping with raw, human physicality, and the character was better for it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also see Bond displaying a keen sort of intelligence unlike his former wittiness. Craig’s Bond is still witty, but at the Montenegro poker tables, he’s also calculating and analytical in a slightly unfamiliar but deeply intriguing way. And this side to Craig’s Bond is aided by the fact that the poker scenes in this film aren’t messing around. In fact, to someone who doesn’t understand the game, they might even have been somewhat confusing. Betfair’s poker site offers some insight on how to play the game, and if you study up a little bit you’ll see that all of Bond’s quipping and maneuvering at the tables is done according to real rules and situations. It’s a simple game with complex undertones and Craig deftly turned it into a tense stage for international espionage—no easy feat, particularly given that not everyone understands poker the way these filmmakers did.
And finally, there was the love interest. We’ve seen Bond “fall” for his Bond girls time and time again, but never in a way that felt so permanent and convincing. Eva Green offers a captivating performance as Vesper, and one can watch this film and truly believe that Bond was willing to leave his career behind and follow her around the world, which at one point seems to be an option. Reading through the Rotten Tomatoes comments on this film from its release back in 2006, the most common praise of the new version of Bond was that it felt real, and human. The genuine love Bond feels for Vesper is a big part of that shift, and ultimately the key element that made this a uniquely enjoyable Bond film.