Blond. James Blond.

I don’t like Bond. James Bond. Never have. But I loved the newest James Bond film, Casino Royale.

That’s the short review. Here’s the longer version:

Daniel Craig, 007First off, I never really understood the appeal of the Bond mega-series (21 films in all now). All that silly machismo, each Bond actor slyly winking at the camera with his oneupmanship and super-spy bravado. All the eye-rolling double entendres, the blatant raw sexuality. All the explosions, and over-the-top action. I’ve seen probably 4 or 5 previous Bond movies over the years, and I’ve forgotten all of them.

What always bugged me the most was the complete disregard for plausibility. Bond couldn’t lose. He always got the girl(s), he always thwarted the villain by the end, and saved the world. Always. He just couldn’t be beat or hurt or affected or reached or understood. He was basically a superhero without the cape.

Not so the new Bond. Daniel Craig, the first ever blond Bond, has just taken the throne of Britain’s favorite MI-6 spy. And is he ever impressive!

The guy was brilliant in Layer Cake. He was radically different as a sniveling son in Road to Perdition. He’s the perfect choice to bring some long-overdue pathos to the Bond franchise. And the writers were no fools. They wisely mined his acting chops to flesh out this character, revealing depths that just weren’t there before. To make this chapter not feel completely out of place, they keenly go back to the beginning, telling Bond’s first mission.

This is an Origin Story {1} to be sure. There are some nice payoffs to long-time Bond fans about the beginnings of various Bond staples: the famous martini, M’s name, his car, etc. As with other great origin stories — Batman Begins comes to mind — Bond has issues. Although only subtly hinted at, he seems to have an inner struggle to be normal, to have a stable relationship and a regular job.

But of course those hopes are crushed by his enemies and he’s forced to continue in the spy business. The difference in that formula from the previous Bond flicks is just how much we feel the crushing. Craig’s Bond can be hurt. Badly. He’s beaten to a pulp at least twice. He nearly dies of poisoning. He’s outrun, he’s out-gunned, he’s beaten in cards. This is the first Bond that’s at least partially human. Yet Bond is most definitely lethal. He’s a lot more street instead of ballroom. If the previous Bonds were Superman, this Bond is Batman.

One of the first baddies is a Moroccan terrorist who’s also a skilled “free runner” {2}. At first, free running looks something like an uncontrolled tumbling and jumping off of walls, tree limbs, or any other obstacle. But in reality, it’s highly skilled acrobatics and athleticism. Sebastien Foucan, the founder of free running, did all the stunts as the villain. The art really has to be seen to be believed. And the foot chase scene is incredible.

Also, this is to my knowledge the first spy movie to acknowledge the conspicuousness of the finger-in-the-earpiece. I can’t stand this almost universally accepted Hollywood hand gesture. You know it when you see it: undercover spy is window shopping casually while watching his target out of the corner of his eye. Meanwhile his superior is speaking to him through the tiny walkie-talkie in his ear. And then his finger goes in his ear, to what? Hear better? What’s that all about? Soar thumb is what that’s all about. Not this Bond! He calls his fellow spy on the maneuver. It’s about time!

But as with so many other really well told Origin Stories (Batman Begins, Spiderman 1, X-Men 1), I’m not particularly looking forward to the second Craig Bond installment. Quite frankly, all the best elements that made this film so special — the small imperfections, the harder edges, the chance for failure, and the journey to hero — will be gone by then. In the sequel, Bond will likely be back to his old shenanigans, chasing high-class skirts and shooting baddies with flawless ease.

Bond is dead. Long live James Bond.

Footnotes:

  1. An “origin story” is the beginning of any good comic superhero/mythic god/good-guy tale. It usually tells of the hero’s discovery of his heroic qualities, his training and journey to heroic status, his struggle with inner demons, his fall from grace, and finally his salvation and/or victory. See Wikipedia for more info. []
  2. Free running is the aesthetic cousin to the French art “parkour” []

11 comments

  1. OK, you convinced me Rob! In the UK you usually get at least 2 chances per year to see each Bond film on the telly box… but since I’m not presently in Her Majesty’s Kingdom, I’ll cough up to see what Her Majesty’s Man is driving this time around.

  2. Excellent review, Rob.

    I was just telling Julie this morning how much I missed your movie reviews/comparisons.

  3. Never liked James Bond?! I thought there was a Man Law against saying things like that… ;)

    BTW, L4yer Cak3 was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

  4. Yeah.. I called the guy he chased at the beginning of the movie the “African Spider-Man.” I swear his legs had to have springs in them.
    Great review.. for someone who’s not a Bond fan.
    I loved them all, save for the original Casino Royale and the last 2 Brosnan films.

  5. Rob, we saw Bond last night with Carl, Mary, Tom and Karen. We all really enjoyed it. I held my breath a lot!!! The scenes were so fun!

    We enjoyed your visit. I get excitable when you guys visit. Karen teased me last night! I can’t seem to keep it under control when girlfriends come over.

  6. We loved the visit too. It was great as usual to hang out with your fam!

  7. Glad you liked it, excellent review. I plan on reading this novel sometime soon as the reviews I’ve read of it seem to mirror this film…that it is the only Bond story where he really questions the morality of what he is doing, etc.

    Not sure why you don’t understand the appeal of the Bond films…the style of the films and the basic story structure seem to be successful in many genres…as with everything some films are well done, others aren’t. I admit that I was tired of the old Bond formula, which is originally why I didn’t want to see this one as I thought it would be more of the same. But all the things you listed actually make movies like the Bond movies appealing…I think the problem with the more recent ones wasn’t the actor or the use of the old cliches but that the stories were just so weak. I’m actually looking forward to the next film with Craig just to see what they do with him and with the franchise. I think if they continue to rely on modern day technology and don’t get back to the gadgets and continue to keep him slightly gritty that they can actually go back to some of the old Bond staples and still make a good film. I guess that remains to be seen. As for now I will definitely say that this is my favorite of all the Bond films and the only one I’m likely to see multiple times.

    Sorry we missed you guys the other day. I hope you give the D’s a little advanced warning next time. It would be nice to meet your wife…and of course see you as well. ;)

  8. What I disliked the most about the previous was Bond’s perfection. He was just too good. It’s the same reason why I like Superman, but I don’t love him. In the end, you know he’ll win without any permanent damage. Batman however is just a man with cool toys. And the best Batmans have been the ones that get hurt, where his choices have real consequences.

    This Bond had internal conflicts, doubts, and weaknesses. That’s always a good thing for creating believable struggle.

  9. I’m with you there, I’m not a big fan of Supes for the same reason. I did enjoy this latest Superman movie but it hasn’t really changed the way I feel about the character.

  10. Karen is a big Bond fan. She sees them all at the theatre. She said she liked Casino but it isn’t her favorite. She really missed the gadgets.

  11. Well-said start to finish, Rob!

    Bond: “Vodka martini.”
    Waiter: “Shaken or stirred?”
    Bond: “Do I look like I give a damn?”

    I liked most of the Bond films but I think Ian Fleming would definitely agree that this one is much truer to his books- the sources of it all. In stories of any medium I’ve always been most interested in the journey and struggle of a hero, not the inevitable destination. Bond’s vulnerability in this flick was part of what made it so compellingly fantastic for me. With that said, I do agree that the departure from the mold, the gritty realism and jaggedness of James Bond are precisely what will kill the sequal- or at least the relative quality of it. Nevertheless I will still be pulling for it and will probably see it. From Royale with love…

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