By Corey Birkhofer
Casino Royale, UK / Czech Republic / USA / Germany / Bahamas, 2006
Directed by Martin Campbell
When I sit down to watch a James Bond movie, my suspension of disbelief is expecting several constants:
1) Over the top stunts, each progressively more complicated than the previous, in which Bond somehow finds a way through unscathed;
2) A cheesy arch-villain who has maniacal plans to take over the world and doesn’t stop until the very end;
3) A beautiful woman who Bond is able to bed in record time without missing a beat.
These are just expected elements of the Bond franchise for me. Now, if any of you are Bond fans out there, you’ll all pick who your favorite Bond was (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan), so let’s take a moment to see how the newest Bond, Daniel Craig, does inheriting the torch in Casino Royale.
As quoted in Wikipedia: “The film is a reboot, establishing a new timeline and narrative framework not meant to precede or succeed any previous Bond film. This allowed the film to show a less experienced and more vulnerable Bond. Casting the film involved a widespread search for a new actor to portray James Bond, and significant controversy around Craig when he was selected to succeed Pierce Brosnan in October 2005.”
Personally, if I’m going to take the time to watch a Bond flick, I do tend to prefer the Connery/Moore era to the more current ventures. Ultimately though, who is watching a Bond film for the acting? As such, I don’t really care who is playing Bond, as long as the action in the film is good. Admittedly, it has been quite some time since I’ve watched any Bond films, so I kind of surprised myself when I decided to rent Casino Royale last weekend.
Expecting an over-the-top CG nightmare, as is often the case with action films these days, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the franchise had maintained its standard of real explosions, real cars flying, and over-the-top real stunts. In the opening scene of the film alone they waste little time kicking ass with an incredible on-foot chase scene through a third-world country construction site. This opening scene actually got me pretty fired up to sit down and enjoy what I thought was going to be a pretty decent action film. So with the bar raised, I got cozy in my seat and settled down.
So what happened in the next two-and-a-half hours of the film?
Okay, maybe I’m being unfair, but to be honest, when I watch an action film I expect the stakes in each action scene to be a little bit more intense and interesting than the previous. So after getting pumped by a great opening scene with the stakes being raised to unbelievable heights, the film sorts of sets itself up to be unable to meet the intensity and thrills of the killer opener. It did try to keep my attention with an elaborate scene of Bond preventing a terrorist attack at a Miami airport, but then where did the next stage of action take place?
A poker table.
Yes, a poker table. But, oh, let me apologize, a very high-stakes poker table. Oh, hold me back! In all fairness, the stakes of the game are pretty high, with Bond aiming to win so the organizer of the game cannot use the winnings for evil purposes, but it just sort of feels too novelistic, rather than the stuff of cinema. Narratively speaking, with the sequel, Quantum Solace, set to follow Casino Royale, there is of course a larger arc being set up in the first of these two films. However, in watching Royale as a stand-alone Bond film, you’d hope for at least some sort of closure at the end, as well as ever-increasingly-high-stakes action scenes. In this venture, you get neither, not to mention the film was void of the #2 expected element I want when going into a Bond film: a maniacal arch-villain.
Who do we get for a villain in this film? Some feeble card player who gives really long stares? Come on, we’ve got to try a little harder here! Perhaps I need to watch Quantum Solace next and judge the films as one collective piece, but if you want my two cents on Casino Royale, it’s definitely one of the more skippable entries into the Bond archive.
To recap, what did this film do wrong? 1) It never raised the stakes of the complications set before Bond; 2) it totally dropped the ball in creating a good main villain/antagonist; and 3) it was just plain too long! About the only element they didn’t miss was the usual Bond girl, but that was not enough to win this film back for me.
In short, if you’re going to make an action film, be sure the stakes become progressively complicated and don’t blow your proverbial load in the first 10 minutes. Maybe the creators wanted to open with a bang to make the audience like and accept Daniel Craig as the newest Bond, but to me they used up their whole deck and just set the film up to be a series of less interesting action scenes and a boring denouement.
Contact the Author: CoreyBirkhofer@MoviesIDidntGet.com