Welcome to Sundays with Bond … James Bond! Over the next five weeks, as we ramp up to the (hopeful) premiere of the 25th James Bond Movie, No Time to Die, I’ll be looking back at Daniel Craig’s illustrious career as British Secret Service agent 007. I’m rewatching all four of his previous films and writing about them here. Please follow along for my stirred (but never shaken) look back at Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and—in early October—No Time to Die.
Casino Royale (2006)
I love Casino Royale. I think director Martin Campbell did a great job re-rebooting James Bond, something he did with the first Pierce Brosnan film, Goldeneye, back in 1995. For once the Broccoli family (producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the daughter and stepson of legendary Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli) got the casting just right, something that doesn’t always happen in Bond films.
Like everyone, I was a bit apprehensive about Daniel Craig’s casting as James Bond. The “Blond Bond” part didn’t bother me … and in fact, I had loved him in Layer Cake, a seamy little bit of modern British noir, that was more a suspense film than action film. But after the Brosnan films sinking more and more into the kind of ridiculous incredulity that Roger Moore saw in his later Bond movies, just about anyone (with the possible exception of Rowan Atkinson) would have been a good choice. The jury was definitely out for me on Craig until I saw the movie, and even then, I was on the fence about it until the very last scene, when Bond confronts Mr. White. That first time in the theater, there was something off-putting about this new Bond movie to me. Where was the famous Bond musical motifs? Where was the “Bond … James Bond” must-have line? Well … all of that happened at the very end, and that’s when I finally appreciated the movie.
I watched it again last evening, and I have to say, 15 years later (which is very hard to believe … Craig now holds the record for being the longest-seated Bond, if not the most movies) it’s still a great movie. Campbell’s action scenes are amazing, and the utter dangerousness of Bond is palpable, something that definitely had to happen in the Jason Bourne/post 9/11 era. Bond had to be re-imagined: he had to be deadly and dangerous, because the world needed a 007 that was up to the job of meeting the real-life dangers that confronted us every day. We no longer needed Pierce Brosnan driving invisible cars around ice palaces or Roger Moore in clown make-up and speaking clever, throwaway bon-mots. The world had changed and Bond needed to keep up.
From the clever and action-packed pre-credits scene (one of the shortest in the franchise’s history and shot in black and white, to boot), that definitively establishes Daniel Craig as a James Bond you’ve never seen before, to the lush, computer-animated credits scene, Casino Royale just hums along, like a fine British automobile. There’s a bravura opening action sequence involving a chase through a construction site and an embassy, showing Bond at his most ruthless. They make a kind of cursory attempt to establish Bond as some kind of computer hacker genius (he knows M’s log-in and password on her own computer in her own home), which is something they didn’t pursue in subsequent films (they brought back Q in Skyfall to fill that need). In fact, there is only M, no Tanner, no Q, no Moneypenny, underscoring the fact that this Bond is definitely a loner. The film is, essentially, “Bond Begins,” reestablishing the character from the ground up, even giving him a valid reason to own a 1964 Aston Martin, rather than try and prove that all the previous movies are part of canon and there’s been only one James Bond since 1962. Casino Royale is also very faithful to Ian Fleming’s book (his first James Bond thriller), even though it has to modernize some of the story elements. It keeps the horrendous torture scene and the book’s most famous line, which in the context of the movie reveals how deeply hurt Bond is by Vesper’s portrayal.
And they have Bond fall in love, something that hasn’t happened since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, way back in 1969, when one-shot 007 George Lazenby fell for Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (aka Tracy) played by the wonderful Diana Rigg, still—in my humble estimation, the best “Bond girl” ever. The casting of Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is key to the success of the film, too. She’s absolutely wonderful and there is amazing chemistry between her and Daniel Craig, believable chemistry, in fact. I find it hard to believe we’re expected to accept Lea Seydoux’s Madeline Swan as Bond’s true love in Spectre and No Time to Die. She’s a pale blond, wispy girl compared to Green’s vibrant and empowered Vesper Lynd.
For the most part, this Bond film is well-cast, including the carryover of Dame Judi Dench as M, Mads Mikkelsen as chief bad guy, Le Chiffre, Jeffery Wright as CIA agent Felix Leiter, and some various and sundry lesser good and bad guys (Tobias Menzies plays a kind of thankless Tanner-like role as assistant to M). The one place it goes south is with Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis, who seems to be mouthing his lines both phonetically and awkwardly. He would go on to play Mathis in the sequel, Quantum of Solace, for the most part just as badly.
There are parts of Casino Royale I don’t like (the extended airport scene; the convoluted stocks scheme Le Chiffre takes part in), but I think it’s the second best Craig film (after Skyfall). Other than the extremely antiquated cellphones (which were top of the line Sony—the film’s distributor—products, I’m sure, for 2006), it still holds up today and is exciting and action-packed and definitely stands alongside the Bourne movies and the Mission: Impossible franchise, which rejuvenated itself around its third film, also in 2006. It’s definitely a Bond for the new millennium and Craig is almost perfect in it (he’d reach perfection in Skyfall).
There is an interesting if somewhat ironic new documentary now available called Being James Bond, which tracks Daniel Craig’s journey as 007 over his five films, including the soon-to-be released No Time for Die. It’s about 45 minutes long, and while we hear Craig and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson talk about the films, we don’t see them; the entire film is made up of clips from the movies. The ironic part is that it’s available for free on Apple iTunes (do they still call it that?). Last time I looked the Bond franchise was now part of Amazon, since they bought MGM, which controlled the series since absorbing United Artists (and for the record … I still miss the UA logo fronting each new Bond picture).
Next Sunday: Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bond from 2008.
As part of my work for the Comic-Con Museum, I hosted a Zoom discussion with Mark A. Altman and Ed Gross about their Bond book, Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized History of James Bond. If for some reason the linked video below disappears, go to YouTube.com and search Comic-Con Museum James Bond.