Written by Fiona, a contributor to The Stub.
I’ve never been a fan of the bond movies..mainly because I dislike films centering around sexist egotistical men who cart around shudderingly bad one liners dispensing them at predictable moments and generally using them as substitutes for decent conversation. On the other hand I do enjoy watching car chases, occasionally gratuitous violence (albeit nicely choreographed) and gadgets. Hence, I have watched the Bond films. Admittedly, not being one of the real “bond generation” it’s hard to rate the latest instalment alongside the entire collection. <!–more–> My opinions of the earlier films (those leading up to Goldeneye and the Brosnan Bond) are marred by their obvious datedness – the car chases with the recorded footage running in the back window, the props and costumes afforded to the villains (ok so anything after the pantomime that was Dr No was bound to seemed sophisticated but..), and dear god the whole Bond in space scenario in Moonraker. Why is it that shifting a film franchise to space is the first move when the fear of a stale storyline creeps in? They even tried it with Leprechaun 4: In Space! (..of course those films were only fresh during that first instant when someone mused ” hey..I know.. what about a film about an evil..lep..lepard..no wait leprechaun?”.To which everyone in the boardroom nodded ascent because it was quite late and they wanted to avail of the special KFC chicken bucket offer – only 9:99 before 10pm). But I digress.
My point is that the earlier Bond films can never truly be compared to the later ones because they were marketed in a different age, to a different audience. They’re not bad, they’re classics for the way they introduced a movie format people enjoyed at the time (..the suave hero, the gadgets for every occasion, the beautiful women, the villains, each with their own oddities and style, the consistent action sequences..)
However, the bond film of recent years has had to watch its step. People want a Bond who acts a little more like you’d expect a man of his position to act (an emotionally detached, career obsessed spy with assassination duties and no real personal life). They want gadgets that at least make a nod towards logic, women with characters, and villains who are sinister and less a source of amusement and more a source of fear. While The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day seemed to wander farther away from this goal by bringing in more clichés, Casino Royale appears to have thrown most of the “urgh” parts of bond movies in the bin and polished up on the “yay” parts.
Daniel Craig doesn’t look like the other bonds did..he doesn’t even really look like bond should but this is a great idea. None of the other bonds looked like they’d definitely win in a fight (possibly why they had many, many gadgets..). They had sharp suits and sharp eyes for ways to outsmart and outmanoeuvre an enemy but Craig’s Bond has all this plus the physique of someone who looks like he beats up a good few people for a living. They also managed to equip him with a bit of emotional depth and some entertainingly caustic lines. We still have a lady-charming Bond with an ego but one who is a bit more realistic (as realistic as one can get in these sort of films..). Next to a Bond who’s trying to be more real you need to have girl who can capture the screen for reasons other than a clothing sacrifice. And Eva Green as Vesper Lynd (yes the signature weird bond girl name remains..) does this brilliantly during one of the better bits of dialogue to grace a Bond film in a long time. She’s more complicated than the clichéd bond girl characters that have been previously shipped in a desperate bid to counter criticism (the “frosty evil one” Miranda Frost, the “French obviously double crossing you Bond, evil seductress” Elektra King, the “she’s a real actress you know” Jinx aka Halle Berry, and of course the “she’s a scientist but still good looking” Christmas Jones). These have all been played by arguably good actresses but in the end either the character itself or the way they interpreted the role has failed. Green has both the engaging Lynd character and her own acting skills on her side and it works.
Leaving aside the acting, which is all round good, from the steady performance of Judi Dench as M to Mads Mikkelson as the central villain Le Chiffre (retaining the obligatory Bond villain features of a defining physical scar and disability – in this case, asthma. Lets not even get started on how Bond films hardly adhere to being PC in this area amongst many.). The action sequences also get a bit of a revamp in Casino Royale, availing of the more agile and younger Bond and making them more exciting. The familiar injection of humour into the sequences is retained but the stunts appear more believable with Craig executing them rather than Brosnan or for that matter the other Bonds, who always seemed too safely tucked up in their suits to get to grips with the action. The first chase scene is the real one to watch, particularly for its great use of cranes..muwhaha.
In the end, where the film disappointed me was the plot, or at least elements of it. It was brushed aside slightly in the eagerness to showcase the “new” Bond, to make room for the development of the Lynd-Bond love affair (more substantial than the usual Bond affair… and therefore at one point requiring a series of scenes involving lots of outfit and location changes which didn’t stir up romantic feelings. Rather they induced an urge to get out and get to the cinema bathrooms early before the queues formed) and the keen to please action sequences. There were only rudimentary links to lead Bond to his villain who seems to have some vague role in terrorism – maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention. The plot did redeem itself with an interesting twist and the film wrapped up nicely, and so some of the waywardness of the storyline can be forgiven. To summarize (which I probably should have done earlier), Casino Royale does for Bond what Batman Begins did for Batman – showing how the hero became the hero and attempting a reinvention of sorts. And to be honest, this is the better reinvention mostly because Bond really really needed one. I only hope that the new grittier Bond we see here manages to make it into the next instalments and that they don’t polish him up to be the Bond that he was….is….will be? I also hope they bring back John Cleese as Q. And more gadgets damnit.