This weekend I finally saw the new Casino Royale James Bond movie, starring Daniel Craig. Unless future Bond films with Craig get corrupted (like the previous ones), Bond is back because he has been reinvented, thus reinvigorated.
My first Bond films were Dr. No and From Russia With Love as a double feature in 1964. Sean Connery was truly marvelous and the films exciting. However, as terrific as Sean was as James Bond, his talents could not stave off the seedy trivialization that producers Broccoli and Saltzman brought to decades of Bond films. No wonder Connery left.
For some reason, producers "Cuffy" Broccoli and Albert Saltzman went for "effects" over story, plot, and dialogue. Copious action replaced thought, including an incredible emphasis on women and sex. Technological gadgets took the place of characterization. After Connery left, the character of Bond went into severe decline as one actor after another took Connery's place, and each actor was worse than the preceding. Bond bottomed out with Pierce Brosnan, soft-formed, sissy looking and behaving actor, whose Bond seemed afflicted with severe, chronic constipation, or, put another way, Brosnan's "acting" suggested a corpse trying to do the hip-hop. Each actor and story became more and more banal over the decades.
Replacing Brosnan was the only way to begin salvaging Bond. All the actors, except for the early Connery, had played Bond "tongue-in-cheek," as a smart-ass. Fleming had the good fortune to die and never had to watch his beloved James Bond become feminized, dewy-eyed, and almost feely-touchy.
Following those first two Bond films in 1964, I ran out and got every Bond paperback and read every one, often more than once. I went to Bond movies faithfully for years, having to struggle more and more to find the wheat amongst the growing chaff. One or two of Brosnan's, and I stopped seeing Bond films, even on television. When the Daniel Craig film, Casino Royale, came out in 2006, I did not go see it. The publicity chatter made it sound like more of the same, just with added violence. When it showed up this weekend on DirecTV, I took a chance.
Am I glad I did. Violence? Malarky. Instead of supergadgetry, Bond meted out justice. Mercy? Never, just desserts instead. No wonder the softy, lefty critics were unhappy with the new Bond.
Fleming's Bond novels began with Casino Royale. This book introduced the character of James Bond, a new 007 British Secret Service agent. (Surely everyone now knows that his "00" designation means that he is trained and authorized to terminate with extreme prejudice bad guys and gals ("license to kill).)
The Bond character was written to be a highly trained, intelligent agent, able to function very creatively and autonomously for long periods of time all over the globe. He answered directly to the Secret Service Chief, known only as "M." He used quality armaments but only a few sophisticated pieces of state-of-the-art technology sparingly as needed to field work. His every assignment was unique, exceedingly difficult and complex, and involved matters at the super-secret state level. Nothing was trivial about the character, his missions, or his performance.
The new Casino Royale deals with the evolution of the new relationship between the new "00" agent Bond and "M." This relationship is critical for setting the tone for all new Bond films. Bond's field assignment is to take out a big money criminal known as "Le Chiffre," who funds and supplies terrorists. Another subplot involves Bond having to choose a career as a "00" or resigning to live the married life. Lurking in the shadows is a supersecret and powerful villainous organization actually running evil things out of sight, and Bond will have to deal with them in future adventures.
Daniel Craig superbly plays Bond, better than anyone since the early Sean Connery. Judi Dench continues her role from the Brosnan days as "M," replacing deceased Bernard Lee. She is an absolutely superb Margaret Thatcher like very strong woman character [if we could only have her character as our woman president and next president!]. Craig and Dench interact the way the roles should have always been played.
Here is a sample of each character. Early on, after the new 007 breaks into M's apartment and her computer in pursuit of his assignment, M enters and catches him. As they talk, Bond says that he has cracked the code surrounding her name as "M," and has found that her real name is ... She stops him abruptly with a hand gesture and tells him "One more syllable, and I will have you killed." There is no question who is boss from then on, but they begin developing a profound respect and trust in each other.
Craig plays Bond straight, without any tongue-in-cheek. He takes Bond seriously, and Bond becomes the serious character he should always have been. He portrays the way Bond uses his brain, creativity, training, and athleticism without ludicrous gadgetry. Craig's Bond is mind-in-action.
Craig's Bond is tough. He locks onto goals and stays with them like a pit bull, but he also gathers contextual information as he goes so that he does not develop tunnel-vision and set himself up for mistakes, injury, and death. Gone are those cutsy one-liners. The reinvention extends to his trademark cocktail. When asked if he would like a vodka martini shaken or stirred, he said, "I don't give a damn." Furthermore, his Bond does not smoke. Gone also is the super-suave, super-handsomeness. Craig looks very much more like a battle-hardened agent rather than an adonis. His face has strong lines, right to his firm, blue eyes which look you straight in the eye and dare YOU to blink.
The "Bond women" in this film are not the eye-candy sex machines which added to the ridiculousness of most of the Bond films. These women fit into Casino Royale as integral to the story, instead of as air-head erectors of men.
The villains are clearly drawn, except for the deceptive female lead who does not emerge as having been complicit with the villains until the end. The central villain of the film, Le Chiffre, has his villainy diluted by the growing awareness that he is only a high-level employee of a shadow group of very big villains. Enough about the super villains emerges to tell us that Bond will have his hands full from them in the future.
Thankfully some of the traditional Bond music was kept in. Losing those would have been terrible. However, the title song was eminently losable as banal rock crap. New graphics introduced the film, were very well done, and were very different from those for all previous Bond films.
The finale was perfect. The shadow organization has almost killed him, has killed the female, and have even killed Le Chiffre as unreliable. Bond wants them badly, so he tracks one of them, a "Mr. White" to his swanky villa on Lake Como. We do not see him do it, but we quickly learn that Bond has shot Mr. White in the knee as he steps out of his automobile. Mr. White drags himself across the gravel to the entrance of his villa where he encounters Bond standing over him in an expensive, three-piece suit, holding a very fancy weapon with a silencer. Mr. White looks up to Bond. Looking down at Mr. White, Bond says for the first time in the film, "Mr. White, my name is Bond. James Bond." The film ends right there with you just itching for the next one.
It is impossible not to think that, were there Brits these days like M and Bond as played by Dench and Craig, Britain would still be great, in the far more rational sense. Britain would not have any Islamization problem because the Ms and Bonds just wouldn't allow it.