A Soft Reboot Done Right
Despite reading the original Ian Fleming novel, I must admit I haven’t seen a lot of the Bond movies. With vague recollections of Goldeneye and a few of Sean Connery’s outings under my belt, James Bond is a series I haven’t fully invested in.
On the eve of a new James Bond being announced and No Time To Die hitting cinemas, what better time to go back and re-watch Daniel Craig’s tenure with renewed vigor. Casino Royale serves as a soft reboot to the series as a whole, going back to when 007 first became an agent.
Unlike the action-packed, bombastic Pierce Brosnan movies, Casino Royale is a whole different animal. From the opening action sequence to the cold close, Daniel Craig’s reimagining of an arrogant, cold Bond perfectly matches the tone of the movie.
The result is something that ticks all the usual hallmarks of the James Bond series but does so while reinvigorating and reinventing the character for a whole new generation.
In order to get this right, the story for Bond’s first outing had to be pitch perfect. Thankfully, the narrative here is excellent. The story itself unsurprisingly revolves around James Bond not long after earning his licence to kill.
Following a pretty disastrous PR stunt in search of a bomb-maker, Bond sets out on a globe-trotting adventure to find a man named Le Chiffre. This powerful man is a banker pulling the strings and playing the stock market to his advantage. He’s also involved with terrorists across the globe and certainly not someone to mess with.
Thankfully, our new Bond doesn’t take too kindly to caution and goes straight for Le Chiffre’s metaphorical jugular. After Bond foils one of his schemes, Le Chiffre tries to recoup his losses by setting up a high-stakes game of poker at Casino Royale in Montenegro.
This is just the ticket Bond needs to stop this man before it’s too late. Only, things aren’t quite as simple as they first seem. All of this builds to a climactic final showdown in the watery paradise of Venice as secrets are revealed and James Bond earns his license the hard way.
Much like Doctor Who, Bond’s biggest hurdle was always going to be getting fans onboard. In that respect, the first 10 minutes of screen-time are absolutely crucial to sell the tone, mood and character.
Seemingly aware of this, the black and white noir opening is absolutely genius. Not only does it pay homage to the original’s tone and feel, it does so while reinventing Bond as a much more gritty, edgier character than we’ve seen before.
Daniel Craig is the obvious star of the show here though and from that opening sequence onward, he only grows with confidence. It’s not until the halfway point of this 2 hour 20 minute picture that we actually see some compassion and heart from this character.
There’s only a couple of teasing glimpses of vulnerability but it’s enough to add so much more depth to his persona. It also allows for a much more complicated and internally conflicted Bond to play out on screen.
The rest of the time though our Bond has the swagger, arrogance and confidence to carry almost every scene. The only time he’s usurped is when Mads Mikkelsen arrives as Le Chiffre. Given the amount of controversy and questions surrounding Daniel Craig’s appointment though, Casino Royale really solidifies Craig as a natural James Bond.
As mentioned earlier, all the usual tropes from this series are here in full display. Beautiful girls, a topless Bond, fast cars and breathtaking vistas are all shown in their glory throughout the movie.
Director Martin Campbell has really done a fabulous job with this one and coming from a TV background, he’s clearly brought the hallmarks of the small screen to this blockbuster. This is especially apparent when it comes to the overall pacing.
Despite its lengthy run-time, Casino Royale never drags on for longer than it should. Every time the movie slows down and allows for more intimate character moments, another action sequence waits round the corner.
These set pieces are tense, nail-biting and incredibly well-shot. Whether it be a race through an airport to stop a bomb or a falling building in Venice, each of these different segments bring a fresh wave of urgency for Bond to try and tackle going forward.
That’s to say nothing of the various Easter Eggs and nods to the series as a whole. Seeing Bond scoff at the notion of a shaken or stirred Martini “I don’t give a damn!” or the final line confirming he’s “Bond, James Bond”, this is a film as much for fans as it is for newcomers to the series.
This duality is ultimately why Casino Royale works as well as it does. You don’t need to have any prior knowledge of the Bond franchise nor do you need to be a fan to go into this one and have a good time.
This is a gritty, well-written crime drama that reinvents James Bond for a whole new audience. It’s a wonderful film in its own right and one that solidifies Daniel Craig as one of the best iterations of James Bond to ever hit the big screen.
Verdict - 8.5/10