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:
First 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.
- 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.
- Free running is the aesthetic cousin to the French art “parkour”