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THE DAMN REVIEW: Casino Royale

First and foremost, apologies this too so long to write. I now have FOUR backlogged action movies in my memory, so I’ll be back writing a lot more!

Reboots, remakes and pseudo sequels seem to be all the rage these days…from Spider-Man to 21 Jump Street to Total Recall to Prometheus…it seems as though there are a lot of flicks out there that are profiting off of slightly stale characters. That reason alone is what drove me to re-watch and review the 2006 James Bond remake/reboot/sequel Casino Royale. Now before we get into the damn veggies of this review please let me just say that I never imagined that someone could take a character that had just fenced Madonna and had sex with Halle Berry on a carpet full of diamonds and make them dynamic, original, badass, interesting, and compassionate. Much credit is due to Neal Purvis, Paul Haggis and Robert Wade for doing that.  Also, in that same vein, I never thought I would want to know the motivation of the spy that has graced pop culture for more than half a century. I was always gleefully under the assumption that James Bond was just an amazing secret agent that loved to sleep with amazingly attractive women. So, Casino Royale really smacks you in the face with the fact that it is a real film. One that’s full of absurd explosions and womanizing and quips and alcohol, but a real film nonetheless.

“What do you mean you don’t want to hear my back story?”

The first thing about this movie that is obviously different is Bond himself. Daniel Craig, who’s obviously not a brown haired gentleman, is strikingly different from the rest of the Bond’s who have graced the film medium. The second is that he’s not an established killing machine womanizing super-spy; this is the beginning of his journey to becoming one! And Craig plays Bond thusly, as a cocky rookie with something to prove. Appropriately playing the authority figure trying to keep a leash on 007 is Judi Dench, reprising her role as M. Her matronly back and forth with Bond does a really good job at telling us exactly how far he’s gotten in the agency, and just how disobedient he is. Also, Craig’s one liner delivery is top notch. I never really saw Bond as much of a quip dropper in this ‘real’ world, but he finds room for a ton of great, hilarious one liners.

Apologies for the fadeout…stupid uploaders.

So, after parkour-ing down a bomb maker in Madagascar in a ridiculous and awesome chase, Bond finds himself in the Bahamas, tracking the bomb makers contractor Alex Dimitrios. Now, Dimitrios has been working with big bad Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an investor who works closely with African freedom fighters, among other lowlifes. After Bond successfully derails Dimitrios and ensures that Le Chiffre’s playing of the stock market fails, he is entered into a poker tournament thrown by Chiffre (is Le his first name?) wherein we meet the wonderful Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who slowly melts Mr. Bond’s heart. It’s precious.

“I intend on sleeping with married women exclusively, please don’t be so hot around me.”

Enough of hearts melting, what about faces melting?! The action in Casino Royale is among the best of the 2000’s, for several reasons. The first of which is that it feels real. Yes we see Bond in a parkour-off with one of the sports pioneers Sebastian Foucan, that leads to the top of a crane atop a construction site. But every time Bond jumps more than 5 feet it’s visible that he’s a human being and he has to at least stop and pant before running onward. Too many action movies play their heroes as superhuman, and while that is entertaining, it’s also a nice diversion from the norm to have the protagonist actually move and react like a person, granted he is a ridiculously toned and well trained person. Another reason the action is so good is because there’s just so much of it on such a grand scale. With some of the movies I’ve watched for the action is relatively contained, Die Hard is obviously set in one place, Road House is confined to a small town, even the Expendables deals with a lot of 2 good guys vs. 10 bad guys style fights. Casino Royale is a globetrotting festival of all things action. Bond, like I said, free runs through Madagascar, destroys a man in a bathroom, watches a building collapse in Venice, fights a man in a gas truck in Miami, beats up Africans in Montenegro and even makes two games of poker seem tense. Yes, the poker in this movie is definitely something that is well done. There are a few techniques that get repetitive, most notably showing one mans great hand just to have it beat by the man opposite the table of him. If this was used once it’d be great, but the fact that we have to deal with it several times makes it one of those things where as a viewer I found myself going, “Well yeah that hand is great, but since I’m seeing it he has to lose!”

The characters in the world really make everything work overall, which is a great thing. I’ve mentioned Bond and M, but there are a few others that really add some reason and rhyme to the world of 007. Eva Green is perfect as Vesper Lynd, an accountant with a tongue as sharp as Bond, but who has absolutely no idea how terrible the day to day activities of a secret agent are. Her job of melting Bond’s heart makes sense. Bond doesn’t want her at first, and through their interactions, and her reactions to putting holes in people’s heads, he sees how fragile she is, and just how absurd his job is. Also, we have everyone’s favorite informant Rene Mathis played by Giancarlo Giannini, who not so subtly pushes Bond and Vesper together. He’s just a suave older guy trying to help his fellow man (OR IS HE). However, I must admit, that Mathis’ suavity is sidelined during the poker tournament, as he  constantly feels the need to narrate the game to Vesper, who apparently has no clue what poker is. Lines like, “A full house!” and “He’s rubbing his eye!” really add a corny commentary to intense sequences. Even the sadly underdeveloped Le Chiffre is a Hans Gruber style bad guy who outwits Bond several times over, again showing Bond’s rookie status. His crying blood and using an inhaler are corny traits, yeah, but for a Bond bad guy, it could be worse. Also, a small fraction of credit must be given to the bumbling loser who can’t quite get the job done in Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter. His awful poker skills and outright revelation to Bond that he is an American secret agent strangely fit, regardless of how awkward they are. The whole point of these interactions build a world for this new Bond to dwell in, and they do a great job with it.

“When I’m short of breath I use my inhaler.”

My biggest problem with this movie comes in it’s fourth act. After the poker game, when Vesper and Bond are in Italy, the plot gets really whacky and all sorts of ridiculous things happen in a matter of five minutes. Knowing that the Bond series is indeed a franchise, I think this act would have been an awesome act one for the next film in the series. Leaving the movie on the note it did felt a bit uneven, especially considering this was a Hollywood affair. But that’s not even a huge deal!

So yeah…for a remake/reboot/sequel Casino Royale is incredible. The performances are all there, the new world of James Bond is great, and left me as a fan waiting for more. Shame Quantum of Solace wasn’t all that great…

I said I watched four more movies to write reviews for now did I? Well…what’s next. I don’t know..something outta sight. Something that’s just right. Something like Black Dynamite!

ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Daniel Craig

(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures)

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