PG-13 for possibly being the most intense Bond movie. There's the regular alcoholism and chauvinism, coupled with violence. But it is all just much more. There's nudity without actual genitalia being on screen. Major characters die absolutely tragic deaths. But the violence is actually about the intensity rather than the fun of it all. There's a pretty memorable torture scene. Daniel Craig's Bond is punishing. While I adore this movie, it probably will be the last Bond movie I'll eventually show my kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
Apparently, when you want to redefine James Bond, you call Martin Campbell. I'll explain why in a second.
It's so odd that when I actually have the time constraints of a workday, I find these little nuggets of time to write. The few minutes between classes, I accrue these minutes like precious moments of time. It's either that or look at my phone and that I know is a waste of time. But when I'm home for Thanksgiving break, there's no scenario where I can actually get quiet writing time. So I took Thanksgiving Break for what it was: a break. I oddly didn't watch a lot of movies during break. It was all about Star Trek: Discovery for me. But it is good to come back. It's so funny that I knew that Casino Royale was going to be my next movie, a movie I really wanted to write about for weeks. But if something is ever going to get the ball rolling again, it's a movie that I really want to write about.
It's so odd that I'm almost at the end of my Bond watching. I mean, I have to go back and knock out some of the early Connery films. I apparently havent' watched Dr. No to Thunderball at least in four years. I never thought I would confidently be able to say that. I've established that I used to have the Bond movies on a regular loop. It's just that there are so many movies that I'll never be able to see and it's weird revisiting something that is so comfortable. But that's why I absolutely adore Casino Royale. I love this movie so much. I think a lot of people do. It might be a nearly perfect James Bond movie. Unlike GoldenEye, which was also directed by Martin Campbell, Casino Royale was never meant to be part of the same canon as the previous movies. Normally I'd huff about such a thing. After all, those movies are really enjoyable and reboots often seem lazy. But the Bond movies also have a terrible mythology. They often ignore their own character bible if the story suits it. It's really weird that Ernst Starvo Blofeld often has a hard time recognizing James Bond, despite the fact that they keep on meeting. As part of what is necessary to make a good reboot, Casino Royale somehow wins by dumping my favorite elements of a James Bond movie. Gone is Q and Moneypenny, for now. There are gadgets, but they are possibly the most practical gadgets ever. A portable defibulator doesn't even feel like spy-fi so much as something that we should all have in our cars. But most depressing is the gunbarrel.
Oh, I know the gunbarrel teases its way into the opening, pre-credit sequence. (Also, the credit sequence is my favorite sequence of all. Just putting that out there.) But Casino Royale takes a lot of its cues from Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. One of the staples of the Bond movies is that it never really develops the character of James Bond. That seems to be a broad swipe at a long running franchise, but 007 has always been more plot and spectacle motivated than actual mythology motivated. One of the few actual sticking points that kind of / sort of sticks around is the death of Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is why I kind of love that movie. But even that death doesn't really affect the other movies too much. Bond seems to be on a warpath at the beginning of Diamonds are Forever, although that film never directly addresses On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond visits the grave of Tracy at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only. There are also some veiled nods to the fact that Bond is a widower. But that's really about it. As a contrast, Casino Royale completely embraces that James Bond himself should have needs and character motivations. I don't think that I'm the only one who has subconsciously named Casino Royale "Bond Begins". It is about the man. While the pre-credit sequence may be about how the man got the number, he really isn't the James Bond of legend until the end of the film. While I haven't watched Quantum of Solace in years, I know that they tried extending that mythology into the second of Craig's films unsuccessfully.
So no gunbarrel and no Bond theme...until the end. That's because Craig's era is very focused on making sure that these stories have a coherent mythology for the character. They want him to grow. Or shrink. Maybe that's what's more telling about Craig's characters through these movies. He spends the film as the dynamic character. The beginning of the movie is almost him playing secret agent instead of being a secret agent. Yes, he's ruthless, but that's because he was trained to be ruthless. There are warmer sides to this character as Eva Green's Vesper Lynd slides into his life. We see him smile. He becomes vulnerable and sees his job for the toxic mess that it always was. I love that he's about to quit being 007 while on his first mission as 007. What's understood is that Bond is never about the talent. He has the talent from moment one, as shown by the parkour sequence leading into the embassy. Possibly no other secret agent at MI-6 could pull of what he did, despite the fact that he was reprimanded for his actions. But the film is about shrinking him back into the mold and understanding the value for his guardedness. Because at the beginning, Bond is conceptually guarded. He knows that if he lets people into his life, it will weaken him as an agent. But it is when Vesper betrays him at the end (I know it is more complicated than that), he knows what it is like to be vulnerable and how it has weakened him. It's a fireman studying fire versus actually fighting a fire. It's interesting.
And maybe that's why I never really understood the relationship that builds out of Spectre. I've only seen that movie twice. (TWICE! Do you know how many times I've watched the other Bond movies? The answer is "Too many times.") Because Campbell really makes us fall in love with Vesper like Bond falls in love with Vesper. It is low and slow. Honestly, despite having amazing action, there is almost a romance movie quality to Bond and Vesper's relationship. Because the Bond franchise has always kind of had a problem telling us that a woman was capable without letting us simply understand that a woman was capable. I look again to Exhibit A, Christmas Jones from The World is Not Enough. You can tell us all day long that a character is a genius who is not interested in a relationship. But Vesper doesn't have to say anything like that. Instead, we see these two people who genuinely have animosity for one another. Through trust and delicate situations, they actually seem to care for one another. You can see the moment where James Bond stops being 007. It's perfectly timed. It's the shower. Seeing that moment where Bond isn't afraid to look disheveled and perfect. He's not being a bull-in-a-China-shop. He's being a human being who understands what it is like to encounter death for the first time. It's really touching. It's why Vesper's betrayal, as justified as it was, hurt so much. He gave up himself and she took a risk.
Is Vesper a good person at the end though? There's a narrative there that could be explored. Maybe it has been through extended universe novels or something. But Vesper Lynd betrays Bond because she has a boyfriend who is being held hostage. She wears that jewelry as an oath to the one she loves. Yet she does fall in love with James Bond. There's actually a kind of gross thread running through the story of Bond being attracted to women in relationships. We think that Vesper isn't one of these women, but she is. It's this great amount of foreshadowing going throughout. But her attraction and love for Bond is romantic for us, but what about that guy? I mean, she sacrifices her life for not one, but two men. (Although that guy totally died, right? Oh. I just read the Wikipedia article. Apparently he is a character in Quantum of Solace.) But from Vesper's perspective, she is actually kind of betraying this guy who is going to be killed by Le Chiffre.
The last note I want to make about this whole thing is that it is really weird that this is a movie that was adapted from a book about people playing cards. In Fleming's original novel, it was Baccarat. Three movies exist based on this novel, mainly because the Bond people didn't feel it necessary to secure the licenses to a book that thoroughly lacks action. But somehow, Campbell made possibly the most riveting movie out of a kind of boring framework. Look, I like Fleming's novel. But if you are looking for the James Bond of the silver screen, this book doesn't really have it. Yet, the major foundational supports are in the movie. I mean, you probably wouldn't recognize these as the same stories, but it does tell the interesting parts of the tale. Le Chiffre, the Casino Royale, the betrayal, and the torture are all in there. Sure, the other elements are definitely Hollywooded up, but who cares? Considering that a lot of the Fleming adaptations have absolutely nothing to do with their source materials, this is a really impressive feat.
I always used to say that From Russia With Love was my favorite Bond movie. That was the snob in me. It's still my second favorite in the series, but Casino Royale is so darned good that I can't keep pretending that Bond's second outing was his best. Casino Royale has everything that I want in a Bond movie and I won't apologize for that. This movie holds up.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.