You’d have to have been living on a rock for the past few weeks to have not heard the hype surrounding the new Bond movie, Casino Royale. You’d have to be living under that same rock for the entirely of your life to not know about James Bond, and the image associated with the character and the franchise.
Critics have been nearly unanimous in their praise for the new Bond movie, which is unheard of for the character and the franchise of late (to say nothing of the bipolar nature of critics- if one papers in town loves it, the other must hate it). To be honest, they’d probably have to screw it up real bad for me not to have seen it at some point. I mean, it’s Bond, for crying out loud. Even with the outrageously over the top feel of Die Another Day, it wasn’t enough to turn me off the franchise (though the thought of Halle Berry managing her own series off of that almost did).
So I was excited when the boys planned an outing to see the film today- once we got our time straight, we set off for an afternoon matinee at Chinook. But how did it turn out?
(WARNING: This is where you’d stop reading if you don’t want to hear about the movie. I’ll give you a few lines in case you’re a slow reader, and spoilerize it to match the background color. Click and highlight to read, or if you’re on email, STOP READING RIGHT NOW)
Though I did ultimately enjoy Casino Royale, I found myself disappointed, and the observations of our group of moviegoers seemed to square with that. I wasn’t expecting it to be the “best Bond movie ever”, as some had opined, though Josh‘s initial post-credit assessment of “worst Bond movie ever” seemed a little harsh. It was an entertaining movie at times, but seemed to be lacking in structure and pace, especially at the bookends, and had some genuine head scratching moments.
Casino Royale is very much what you’ve probably heard- a film that’s not nearly as stylish or ‘out there’ as previous Bond films. Though it’s got more than it’s share of over-the-top action, Bond gets down and dirty, and gets more than his share of bruises. The one liners, for the most part, are left aside- and when they are there, there’s an undercurrent of intensity that’s been missing since Connery left the franchise.
The big question: How was Daniel Craig? He’s an abrupt shift from Brosnan, to be sure. His expression, at times, seemed like it was cut from stone. For my money, his style thus far is a combination of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton, though he was lacking Connery’s charm for the first act of the film (which made any attempt at womanizing completely lose it’s credibility). Needs to be more expressive, even if Fleming’s character wasn’t so. For now, he’s behind Brosnan, Connery, and Moore in my Bond rankings (and to cut off any other debate, I’m not saying what order the first three are in).
At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Casino is not a short movie. This wouldn’t have bothered me, if I didn’t come out of there thinking they could easily have shaved about a half hour off it, and not lost anything of any real value. It really seems to drag in the last act.
Something I found weird was that though it had it’s share of Bond-ian action, most of the tension came in a high-stakes poker match. Yes, poker- they do a little of this in the movie. In fact, they do a lot of it. If you can’t watch poker on TV, you’ll find yourself getting exasperated at points. If you can, you’ll be able to predict the hands of the players with frightening accuracy (as I did).
That’s not to say that there wasn’t some good to be found. Casino gives the character of Bond depth and dimension that was previously untapped in the franchise, and explores some of his motivations. Eva Green was probably the first Bond female lead that you felt could really stand up to James in a contest of wits, and they had some great exchanges, even if the progression of her character came straight out of the ‘female romantic interest’ playbook. Judi Dench did a good job again as ‘M’, and we even get a tease into her history near the beginning. And, for classic Bond fans: Felix Leiter makes his return, and plays an important role in the resolution of the plot. Also, I liked Chris Cornell’s theme song. One of the better ones of late, for my money.
In the final estimation, I did enjoy Casino Royale, despite it’s flaws. It gives viewers a different take on Bond, and that wasn’t entirely a bad thing. It would be wise for The Powers That Be to continue to develop what they’ve learned here, while remembering has made Bond fun and successful historically. I think Daniel Craig will work for the new direction they’re taking with it, though it wouldn’t hurt for him to smile every once in a while.