Casino Royale

Sunday, July 01, 2007

It’s strange, but despite being an excellent 007, Pierce Brosnan only made one truly great Bond film – that being Goldeneye. The others were either mediocre (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough) or downright dreadful (Die Another Day). Therefore the Bond producers had a mammoth task on their hands in order to rescue Bond, to move it away from the jokey, CGI-ridden, clusterfuck mess of the last adventure and back to what made the franchise so enjoyable in the first place – cool action, sexy women and a ruthless hero.

Loud, obnoxious objections were made when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond (oh my fucking god, he’s blonde!), but he’s long since proved his detractors wrong. His Bond is quiet, determined and a bit of a bastard. He’s the complete opposite of Roger Moore, who you felt was more happy firing one liners and drilling bimbos than busting heads and blowing people away. Therefore Craig’s Bond has more in common with Connery and Dalton, which can only be a good thing.

However, Casino Royale must be the first Bond film where 007 himself is the main piece of ass. Time after time we’re confronted with Craig’s bulging muscles. It’s enough to remind you of 80s action films, where the men, much more so than the women, were the main object of longing. Indeed, in the marvellous torture scene, Le Chiffre even compliments Bond on his physique as he prepares to hammer his ball-bags. His dialogue is delivered with such admiration that I couldn’t help but wonder if Le Chiffre was going to oil his pecs and wank him off rather than beat him up.

But homoerotic or not, the scene, for once, shows Bond in real peril. And for once Bond actually gets the crap beaten out of him and doesn’t escape the villain’s clutches via some convenient gadget. But having said this, Bond does show remarkable fortitude for someone who’s having his testicles smashed. He taunts the villain and laughs in his face. Ordinarily, this in itself would be laughable, but seeing as it’s 007 you can’t help but get a kick out of it. That’s our boy – his gonads may be wrecked but he’s still the man.

As well as being a tough Bond film, quite a bit has been written about 007 showing his softer side. For the most part, the scenes with Eva Green work well. The scene in the shower, for instance, where Bond comforts Vesper and sucks her fingers is very sexy (I’m sure it wet the drawers of many a housewife). But some of the later scenes, where the two decide to run off to Venice, feel a little pap. They’re never risible – mainly because Green and Craig have a lot of chemistry together – but they could have been improved. And their first encounter on the train is also a little lacklustre. Part of this is because Green, for all her style and charisma, never looks as if she’s 100% comfortable in the part (sometimes she seems to be trying too hard), but it’s also due to the writing. I mean, all the amateur psychoanalysis is incredibly heavy-handed and the stuff about Bond’s watch is just plain awful. ‘Rolex?’ ‘Omega.’ ‘Beautiful.’ Ker-ching! (By the way, anyone working for Omega who’s reading this: I have one of your watches; can I have some money, too, and some free gifts?)

But aside from these minor complaints, the film works like gangbusters. It’s truly up there with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, From Russia With Love, Goldeneye and Licence to Kill as one of the best Bond films. In particular what I like is just how ruthless Bond is in this film. As much as I get a kick out of dear old Rog delivering one liners and judo chops, I prefer Bond to be a cold-blooded murderer. I want him to seem like a physical threat. I don’t want him just to be a ladies man. Therefore I love seeing Craig strangle, drown and stab bad guys. And I like seeing him shoot people without batting an eyelid. In too many films these days we have the tortured hero; it’s nice to just have someone who’s unapologetically mean.

One of my favourite little Bond moments in this film is when he defeats a bad guy at poker and wins the man’s Aston Martin. The casual way that Bond asks for the valet ticket is a joy to behold. As is the moment when a couple of fat German tourists mistake Bond for a hotel employee. Again, I love the casual way that he smashes their Range Rover and tosses their car keys. This is the Bond we’ve been waiting a long time to see; a Bond of action rather than groansome quips.

Not that there aren’t some good lines in the film. There’s a nice little bit of humour after Bond nearly has a heart attack. ‘I’m sorry. That last hand. Nearly killed me.’ And I love Bond’s reaction to how he wants his Martini, shaken or stirred. ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’ You finally get the feeling that the series is shaking off the ghost of the past. It finally seems to be heading in a new direction.

Whether this new attitude is maintained, though, remains to be seen. After all, Goldeneye gave me false hope that the franchise was going to be reinvigorated and it quickly fell back into its old ways. But regardless of whether that happens, what we have here is a great Bond film. Or should I say, a great pre-Bond film, as it’s only in the final scene that we finally see the true 007 – this movie is all about how he became. And the final moment, where Bond finally becomes Bond, is maybe the highlight of the movie. Let’s hope it’s not downhill from here.

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