Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Casino Royale

The recently-released-to-DVD Casino Royale brings Bond back to the world with force. As opposed to the "I don't want to mess up my hair" Bond of the Pierce Brosnan days, Daniel Craig comes in swinging as a rougher, tougher James who isn't afraid to F people up who get in his way.

For the record, I'm a 007 fan. I've seen nearly all of the 21 Bond films. I even enjoyed Pierce Brosnan's rendition of the character. I mean, he's the Bond we grew up with. GoldenEye was one of the greatest video games ever made, even if the movie didn't garner that same glamor. Sadly, though, the Bond franchise has steadily dropped since 1995, with horrific releases like Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day leading the downward spiral. (The World Is Not Enough was slightly better, but didn't come anywhere near the brilliance of Bond's glory days with Connery and Moore.) Brosnan's witty demeanor and suave charm were all well and good, but audiences were growing tired of heinous computer graphics (Bond surfing on a tidal wave? Are you kidding me?) and boring, predictable one-liners ("I've never had Christmas in Turkey." - The World is Not Enough). Martin Campbell returned to the franchise with a new outlook, and I like the way the future is looking for James Bond.

Also for the record, I was not a Daniel Craig fan until I saw Casino Royale for the first time in theaters. In fact, I was in definite opposition to Craig playing the role. I had no clue why the guy who was in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider deserved the chance to be the next Bond. I thought that Clive Owen would have been a much better choice, but then I heard that Clive himself shot down the role after it was offered to him, which makes me love that guy even more. I even thought that Jason Statham would have been a cool Bond, but realized that he has much more of a cult following with films like The Transporter series and Crank, and he doesn't need to rely on international moneymakers like Bond to make a living.

Daniel Craig is a breath of fresh air as this era's favorite super-spy. His hardened looks and rugged physique (how gay does THAT sound?) lend well to the representation of the character in this revamping of the franchise. On a small side note, I'm also a fan of these current revitalizations of film franchises; Batman, Superman, Bond, etc. all have done a great job in making these films more serious and losing all the over-the-top ridiculousness that previous incarnations have instilled into the pop culture vein. Don't get me wrong, camp can be fun sometimes, but when films rely on it to succeed (and it's not The Transporter), it's probably going to fail.

For those of you who haven't yet seen Casino Royale, the plot follows Bond as he gains his famous "00" status and searches for a man named Le Chiffre, a terrorist stock market broker who intends on blowing up a jet in Miami and other nefarious things in order to make a quick buck. After Bond foils this plan, Le Chiffre plans a high-stakes poker game at the aptly named Casino Royale in Montenegro, and Bond connives his way into it with the help of Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green).

This film was noticeably slower than I would have liked, but I still thought it was really well done. I'm not embarrassed to say that I prefer fast-paced movies to slow ones. They don't ALWAYS have to be fast paced (as evidenced by one of my favorite movies of all time being The Shawshank Redemption), but in "action" films like this, they really should continuously flog your senses with stunts and lighten up on the filler. In any case, I really enjoyed Craig's performance and I thought the plot was entertaining, especially considering the novel was written back in 1953 and the screenwriters attempted to stay true to that story (for the most part). Also, with the recent "poker craze" of the past decade, I'm sure the screenwriters were itching to cash in on that in a major motion picture (Rounders aside, of course). This new revamping of Bond didn't utilize any of the standard gadgets that Bond fans have come to love, either. That was half disappointing and half refreshing at the same time. I didn't want the movie to lose its down-to-earth appeal by ruining it with a lot of cheesy gadgets, but I wouldn't have minded a FEW thrown in there.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the opening scene in which Bond chases Sebastien Foucan through Madagascar, highlighting free running in motion. I'm amazed at what these guys can do, and it was really cool to see a little part of that on display in such a high-profile movie like Casino Royale. I was pretty sure that Kovar and I invented the sport, but apparently there have been people in Britain and France doing it since the early 80's. I hear there's a French film called District B13 that came out last year and features free running pretty heavily, so I might have to check that one out in the near future. I'll let you know how that goes.

If you haven't seen it yet, do so. If you're a Bond fan, then you'll enjoy it. If you're not a Bond fan, then you'll probably enjoy it because it's not quite like other Bond movies. So you're pretty much in a win-win situation. I know these words are rare, but here they are: I can't wait for the sequel. Until next time...

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