007 Marathon: Casino Royale

Blog, Film

We’re entering the last leg of my 007 Marathon, which brings us to my favorite era of the James Bond franchise: the Daniel Craig years! Pierce Brosnan may have been the Bond that I grew up with, but I didn’t really care about the series until the 2006 reboot, which ditched all of the series’ cheesy elements, and took the “dark and gritty” approach with the characters’ reimagining, while also featuring the super spy at the beginning of his career as a 00.

What I love most about Casino Royale is its take on Bond as more of a damaged, brutal spy. M (once again played by the incredible Judi Dench) describes him as a “blunt instrument,” which couldn’t be more accurate. In the very opening scene of the film, we see that this is a vicious, deadly killer – who just happens to enjoy sleeping around and sipping on vodka martinis. All other iterations of the character took the opposite approach, focusing more on James’ heroic and suave side than the fact that he’s basically a highly trained killing machine. We’re reminded of this throughout the film, whether it be through incredible action set pieces (like the parkour chase through a construction yard, one of the series’ very best), or close-counter fights in stair wells and bathrooms.

Craig is my favorite Bond, not only because of how well he holds his own in the series’ new kinetic, aggressive action scenes, but because of how well he portray’s Bond’s emotional depth. Bond is not only damaged – he’s also well versed in hiding his emotions and closing himself off from the outside world, which makes his relationships with M and the various Bond Girls he encounters all the more interesting.

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Casino Royale didn’t just deliver my favorite Bond, but my favorite Bond Girl as well, in Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. We’ve seen strong women in these roles before, but Vesper is the first woman who truly feels like Bond’s equal on an emotional and intellectual level. She may not fire a gun or be a secret agent herself, but she doesn’t need to be one to be a strong, empowering character. Her relationship with James reminded me a lot of the relationship from On Her Majesty’s Secret Serviceand – as luck would have it – the story has a similarly tragic conclusion.

Another aspect of Bond that Casino Royale nails is the villain. Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen is great as Le Chiffre, despite the fact that the character’s arc and endgame is rather simple. He’s not trying to take over the world or incite another world war in order to obtain riches. He’s simply a corrupt banker who acts a bit loosely with his clients’ money, which ends up getting him into trouble with a SPECTRE-like secretive organization (which we later learn is called Quantum).

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I like the Bond/Le Chiffre dynamic because the characters play a psychological cat-and-mouse game (over a poker table) throughout the film. This shows us a lot about Bond, who begins the film as an arrogant new 00 agent who must learn to pull back his ego and use his mind to best his opponent. Le Chiffre is a physical threat as well, as seen by one of the most gruesome torture scenes ever seen on film, despite the fact that it’s more suggestively violent than visually gory or excessive.

Casino Royale may not have been the first Bond film I ever saw, but it’s the first film that really captured what I wanted out of this character, and what I want for the series in general. It’s not my favorite Bond movie (that will come two films from now), but it’s such an exciting, inventive and well-made reboot that it cements itself as one of the most enjoyable entries in the entire series.

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