Daniel Craig is the biggest departure from the Bond mould yet. He is not conventionally handsome, doesn’t have an easy smile, and always looks a little bit pissed off. His casting was met with praise in some corners and dismissal in others. For some, his casting is a breath of fresh air, while for his detractors, there was panic because they were afraid of change and the idea of this angry, light-haired (he was dubbed James Blond by the insanely creative British tabloids), and thuggish Bond scared the bejesus out of them. Craig was the shot in the arm the franchise needed though. Brosnan had become Roger Moore 2.0 and Bond had become a bit of a joke. Austin Powers had skewered the series to gradually diminishing returns and movies like the XXX series based their entire plots around the idea that the smooth talking, tuxedo clad spy was an old-fashioned and uncool idea. Bond needed to either hang it up or come out swinging, which leads us to 2006’s Casino Royale:
Casino Royale (2006)
Dead Franchise: Die Another Day essentially killed the Bond franchise. It was like smelling salts waved under the audiences’ collective that snapped them out of their stupor and seemed to remind them that Bond had about a forty percent success rate, and, if they were honest, more misses than hits. It reminded everyone that the Bourne movies were better and that Die Another Day was a much more effective Bond spoof than anything created by Mike Myers. A bell tolled around the world, and everyone prepared to put Bond to rest.
Much like they had years before with Batman, whose own clunker movie, Batman and Robin, had seemed to be the death knell of that movie franchise. Bond was dead. But a good character can’t stay dead, and once Batman Begins had showed that a popular character could be rebooted less than ten years after the franchise ending movie, the Bond producers decided that they wanted a piece of that too.
Bond Begins: Casino Royale is young Bond. He opens the movie becoming a double-O and spends the rest of the film gradually becoming the spy we know and love. It is stripped down version of Bond. No Q, no Moneypenny, minimal gadgets. The only character/actor retained from the Brosnan years is Judi Dench’s M, because when you have Judi Dench playing M, you keep Judi Dench playing M for as long as you can. They also move her characterization back to her Goldeneye character in the sense that she is unrepentantly sick of Bond’s shit from the get go. This is not motherly, smirky M. This is ‘if you don’t think I’ve got the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong’ M.
Best Bond: So does this young, cocky, arrogant, angry Bond make for a good movie? No. It makes for a great movie. It makes for the best Bond movie. Daniel Craig brings something dangerous to the role and is a million years away for Brosnan. He is not a great looking man, but he exudes charm and danger, as Bond should. Woman are attracted to Bond because he is the promise of adventure and danger, not because he spies on them in the shower (Moore in Golden Gun) or blackmails them into sauna sex (Connery in Thunderball) or because he meets them and the script requires it (happens too many times to properly reference).
And speaking of the women he attracts, Eva Green is incredible in this movie. She is so cool and so beautiful and gives such an assured performance that is it disappointing that she is not the main character in this movie. The same can be said for Mads Mikkelson, who is a fantastic Bond villain who barely does anything but sit like a coiled viper across a card table from Bond and radiate pure, undiluted hatred towards the spy. I would happily switch these three actors and have them play any of the three roles and be happy.
Overall: Simplicity is key. There is a lot of action in this movie (the parkour chase is pure gold) and yet a majority of the action is just two men seated at a table trying to outthink each other. It is a credit to the filmmakers that they manage to make the poker scenes as tense as any of the chases, fights, and shoot outs.