James Bond is a character that has been defined and redefined by every actor to portray him. Sean Connery first made the character a suave but brutal secret agent who would kill a man just as soon as he would make a wry joke about it. Bond films over the eras have had a tendency to alternate between being either serious but cheeky, or outright parodies of themselves. 1970’s era films starring Roger Moore saw Bond become excessively schlocky, even venturing into space (mainly because of the popularity of Star Wars). The 1990s and early 2000s saw Pierce Brosnan at first bring Bond out of the Cold War setting in the fantastic Goldeneye, but then descend into excess when he drove an invisible car in the awful Die Another Day. Brosnan departed from the franchise after that and it would be another four years until Bond returned.
The decision to cast Daniel Craig as James Bond, as well as the decision to turn Casino Royale into an origin story of sorts, following Bond as a new 00 agent on one of his first adventures, allowed the franchise to start with a clean slate and emphasize the true core of the character. Adapted from the first book by Ian Fleming, Royale portrays Bond as someone who was not invincible and often made serious mistakes with deadly consequences. Over the course of the film, the brash new agent learns to trust no one and divorce himself from his emotions.
The villain of the film is a banker for international terrorists named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson). Appropriately for the grand nature of Bond villains, he has one dead eye which occasionally cries blood. After a series of poor financial decisions renders him bankrupt, he decides to win back his money by gambling at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond’s mission begins here, as he must play against Le Chiffre in order to ensure that he loses and has no choice but to seek protective custody in exchange for information. The tense rounds of poker (a surprising diversion from Bond’s usual game of choice, Baccarat) are intercut with threats against Bond and his partners. Scenes of Bond spying on his enemies and tracking their movements provide suspense and style that had long been missing from the series. Close quarters fight scenes throughout the movie recall the fight on the Orient Express in From Russia with Love.
More than just another sultry fling, Bond’s love interest this time around is the beautiful and enigmatic Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). As the agent who oversees Bond’s funding (“I’m the money,” she remarks as she introduces herself), she keeps a watchful eye on him and proves to be his intellectual match. She shares his keen eye for detail that allows both of them to excel in the field of intelligence. Upon their first meeting, she discerns that Bond is an orphan, and sizes him up for a proper dinner jacket. Their relationship is one of the few times Bond has genuinely been in love with a woman and considered her a lasting partner. (The only other instance being in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which he actually gets married.) After the action at the casino reaches its climax, be careful not to write off the segments that follow between Bond and Lynd, as they venture far from the well-worn formulas of the franchise.
This relationship, as well as Bond’s new, rugged demeanor, show Craig as a realistic Bond for a new age. His motivations are deeper than that of the usual action hero. Certain cliches and trademarks one might expect from most Bond films are absent this time around. Q and his gadgets take a backseat to more practical espionage tactics. Slowly, Craig is surely settling into the tropes of the 50-year franchise. But this time, he makes his character earn them, rather than inheriting them and taking them for granted.
Daniel Craig’s latest outing as Bond, Skyfall, is currently in theaters. Adrian Sobol’s review can be found here, and Drew Morton and Mike Mierendorf’s discussion on its ranking in the Bond pantheon can be found here.