Bond, not Blond

Last night we went to see Casino Royale the new James Bond movie, and it’s definately a thumbs up – with some reservations. Like many fans of the series I was mildly concerned by the choice of a blond actor, however talented, to play Bond – but the high class of acting and toughness of Daniel Craig has won through to create a new, darker yet highly enjoyable Bond. Read on to find out more – although be warned, there are some spoilers…

After the campy 60s Casino Royale there was no way this Bond could be anything other than dark. In fact almost to counter the saturated colours of the last version, this new Royale starts in black and white – although I have to say the choice of ‘dramatic’ angles actually made me almost laugh in their naivity and seemed to echo the other. That laughter was soon quelled as Bond brutally and realistically achieves his double-0 status with his two first kills. More ‘Layer Cake’ than James Bond.

Then the titles… which weren’t good. They really need to stop using computer generated cleverness on this and get back to basics.

We cut to later, Bond is now in the African jungle hunting a potential bomber with his inexperienced partner. One slip up and Bond is thrown into a man on man chase through jungle, market and building site – but this is no normal Bond chase. No gadgets, no cutting corners just man against man as they literally race up scaffolding and jump across fatal heights in an amazing balletic display of speed and violence. This alone made the movie worth watching for me, while simultaneously making me feel vertiginous as they run across cranes. Amazing.

The trail of the bomber leads Bond onwards towards bad guy LeChief’s airport ‘terrorist’ plot, demonstrating the frailty of the leads he has to react to in order to save lives, whilst destroying property. The script deftly takes Flemming’s original novel and interjects the modern fear of terrorism while maintaining the development of Bond’s cold detachment and athletic prowess. Again, gadgets are at a minimum, but thrills are not.

The stage is now set for the title player, Casino Royale, to make an entrance as LeChief has to make back the money he lost after Bond thwarted his plan. Now this is the first point at which I feel the film looses itself a little bit, as more supporting characters are brought up with minimal introduction – all apparently integral to the plot. Some script editing would be useful as we deal with the new ‘Bond girl’ Vesper Lynde, Mathis the local bureau contact, corrupt police, more henchmen (& women) for Le Chief and a plethora of supporting poker players. Yes, poker not bacarrat. In amongst all of this, Bond has to cooly out play LeChief, win all the money, get poisoned and almost die, fight some guys, woo the girl and invent a cocktail. Guess what. He manages it all, but it takes some time – which could easily have been trimmed.

The game is won, all is good. But wait, there’s more! Betrayal, a chase, an amazing torture scene which, if you’re a woman will have you drooling and if you’re a man will have you wincing and calling your gym at the same time. Then, somehow, Bond escapes, he recuperates, gets the girl and goes on holiday. Here things, to my mind, really start to fall apart… After Bond ‘escapes’ the torture chamber I was convinced that he was being drugged to give away the passcode to the money, but turns out I was wrong – turns out the film makers needed a good 10 minutes of film to convince us that Bond and Vesper were in love. Star Wars II anyone? In fact it almost looks like the same European lake… Ug. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of writing here is infinitely better than Lucas’ pre-pubescent efforts at love scenes, but it’s still drawn out.

Oh wait. That wasn’t the end. The usual model of ‘Bond and girl float off into the sunset together’ is royally turned upside down. It’s a great twist, leading to another good sequence, but no better than what went before. Plus at the end of it all we get Dame Judi Dench delivering some platitudes to Bond about how he’s learnt, before he goes off to coldly get his revenge. Then the film ends, not with a cliff hanger – but with the introduction of the new, darker Bond forged from fires of betrayal and loss.

Sigh. So almost perfect. This could have been the best Bond film ever, even knocking the early Connery efforts off their podium. Just a little bit of editing, a little bit less Sony product placement and a few less characters to identify and understand. Maybe next time?

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