A Non-'Traditional' Bond Triumphs!

After a build-up as convoluted and dramatic as a classic Bond film (with film stars Hugh Jackman and Clive Owen passing on becoming the new 007 because of salary issues, Barbara Broccoli's selection of blond, pugnacious Daniel Craig, 38, incensing departed Pierce Brosnan's many fans...who threatened to boycott the new film...and some film critics proclaiming the film a disaster before it even reached the screen), the new film version of Ian Fleming's first 007 novel, "Casino Royale" finally opened...and the film, with it's ruthless new James Bond, was a hit!

That Bond had been reinvented was obvious from the opening sequence of the film, shot in black and white, and preceeding the 'classic' gunbarrel 007 'introduction', itself; hard-hitting and brutal, Craig's Bond is clearly not the genteel "Gentleman Spy" of a generation of films, but a tougher, colder hit man, as dangerous as Sean Connery had been, in "Dr. No"...and was a clarion call that the increasing silliness of the Bond films...culminating in the ridiculous "Die Another Day"...was, thankfully, over.

The screenplay, by veteran Bond writers, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and Oscar-winning Paul Haggis, plants Bond solidly as a post-Cold War operative, with returning Dame Judi Dench, 71, as "M", practically nostalgic about the 'black and white' simplicity of the 'old days' (in a switch from her attitude in "Goldeneye", where she berated Bond for being an out-of-touch 'dinosaur'). She calls her newest spy a "blunt instrument", and her jabs at Craig, and his 'no-holds-barred' attitude are reminiscent of Bernard Lee's prickly exchanges with Connery.

The new 007 is rough-edged, and proud of it (my favorite moment is when a bartender asks if he wants his martini "shaken, or stirred", to which Craig snaps, "Do I look like I give a damn?"), but he has the signature cocky self-assurance, and looks nearly as good in a tuxedo as out of it (he is the most 'buff' Bond, ever).

With breathtaking action sequences (it's hard to top the first, a vertigo-inducing chase that begins at a contruction site, and ends with Bond demolishing an Embassy), Craig clearly shows he's more than equal to the rigors of Bond. When 007 thwarts an attempt to blow up the world's biggest airliner (another spectacular sequence), it interrupts the terrorist-supported cash flow of unscrupulous international banker Le Chiffre (portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, 40), who suddenly finds himself very short on funds, with a great many unhappy 'investors' (a clever update of the SMERSH angle of Fleming's 1952 novel). The banker decides to recoup the lost money in a multimillion-dollar private poker tournament, and British and American Intellegence (represented by the new 'Felix Leiter', Jeffrey Wright, 40, in a surprisingly small role) decide to slip agents into the proceedings, to 'beat' Le Chiffre at the tables...and who would be the best gambler on the British payroll, but the newest 007! Unwilling to entrust $10 million in Treasury funds to an unsupervised 'rookie', Treasury operative Vesper Lynd (French actress Eva Green, 27) is assigned as a 'watchdog'...and a romance between the pair is "in the cards"...

Bond and Lynd's relationship gradually blooms, and echoes the famous Bond/Tracy romance, in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", although fans of Fleming's novel, CASINO ROYALE, will be familiar with Lynd's 'secret'. The romantic subplot slows things, a bit (and in a film 144 minutes long, that is a dangerous move), but Craig keeps your interest, making his involvement believable...and the film's double-climax does pack a wallop!

The film does many things 'right'; it is the first relatively 'faithful' Ian Fleming adaptation since "On Her Majesty's Secret Servive" (even using Le Chiffre's excruciating method of torture, and Bond's final comment from the novel); while the long-standing 'nude women' opening credits have been discarded, and longtime regulars Miss Moneypenny and 'Q' are both missing, so are the silly gadgets and farfetched vehicles that have strained any credibility remaining to the series. One Bond tradition WAS maintained, however; references from both the Fleming Bond novels and previous Bond films crop up, frequently, yet subtly, from the literary Bond's preference in affairs with married women, references to his being an orphan and having attended Oxford, to his 'winning' a 1964 Aston-Martin, made famous in the film, "Goldfinger". Producer Michael Wilson even appears in a cameo, as a corrupt police chief (I kept looking for Barbara Broccoli to appear!). And watch out for when Craig delivers the immortal tagline, "The name's Bond...James Bond"...it's a showstopper!

"Casino Royale" is, honestly, a stunning, unforgettable experience!

Martin Campbell, the veteran director who revived the 007 franchise once before, in the first Pierce Brosnan 'Bond' film, GOLDENEYE, had done it again...

James Bond HAD returned!


"Casino" Sequel Action-Packed, but Shallow...

Following one of the longest of all Bond Films, "Quantum of Solace" clocked in as one of the shortest (at just 106 minutes), and Daniel Craig's second outing as 007, despite astonishing stunt work and Craig's mastery of the role, lacked the cohesiveness and strong plot of "Casino Royale". The end result was a film that, while entertaining, was a disappointment for fans hoping to see lightning strike again.

Directed by first-time Bond director Marc Forster, from a script by the "Casino Royale" team of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, the film quickly establishes itself as a sequel rather than a 'stand-alone' entry, as Bond pursues (and is pursued) by the sinister secret organization that 'turned' Vesper Lynd, in the first film. As everyone Bond is assigned to capture keeps turning up dead, "M" (again portrayed by the marvellous Judi Dench), is displeased, and accuses Bond of losing his professionalism, driven only by revenge.

After yet another suspect Bond is sent to capture dies (after attempting to kill 007), Bond meets beautiful Camille (Russian actress Olga Kurylenko) with an agenda of her own, and she unintentionally leads him to the film's major villain, millionaire 'philanthropist' Dominic Greene (Roman Polansaki 'lookalike', Mathieu Amalric). Despite an altruistic reputation, Greene is engineering a coup in Bolivia, to bring ruthless dictator General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), the man who murdered Camille's family, back into power, in exchange for some 'worthless' desert land. When Bond attempts to pass this information to MI6, he's ordered to stand down, and in true "License to Kill" fashion, he ignores the order, saves an unwilling Camille from the General (she planned to kill him, but he intended to murder her, first), and turns to "Casino's" René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) for help...

With both the villains (and their clueless allies, the CIA), and British Intelligence hot on his trail, Bond beats his way further and further into Greene's plans, but at a cost; Mathis is killed (and the evidence doctored up to frame Bond), and a pretty agent assigned to bring him in (Gemma Arterton), who he sleeps with, naturally, is murdered in his bed, and black oil poured her nude body (shades of "Goldfinger"!). Given a lead by his one CIA ally, Felix Leiter (again played by Jeffrey Wright), Bond and Camille eventually end up in the Bolivian desert, where Greene's secret plan will be revealed...

The ultimate goal of Greene's villainy seemed pretty mundane (he was gaining control of undiscovered water reservoirs to use as leverage against governments in draught-stricken nations...uh, wouldn't they simply ignore him, and buy from countries with surplus water?), the much-hyped 'secret' criminal organization wasn't the hoped-for first appearance of SPECTRE, but some group called QUANTUM (yeah, it's in the film title, but I think most fans wanted to see the link with 'classic' Bond that SPECTRE would have provided), and despite an exciting finale confrontation between Camille and General Medrano, Bond's final resolution with Greene was literally ripped out of "The Eiger Sanction" (a distressing finale for a series promising a fresh, original 'take' on 007...)

"Quantum of Solace" has been publicized as the second of a three-film 'arc', all involving elements from "Casino Royale", an intriguing concept, certainly...but for the franchise to keep it's old and new fans, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli will have to do more than simply homage famous 007 moments from the past, and 'lift' elements from other action films...The bold decision to cast 'against-type' Daniel Craig has certainly paid off, as he is the most 'definitive' 007 since Sean Connery...

...but for Bond to endure, it's going to require more than just a 'perfect' 007, and far more than "Quantum of Solace" delivered!



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