I’ve always been a Bond fan. There are very few Bonds I don’t like and only a few I haven’t really seen (though many I haven’t seen in at least 8-10 years). The only problem is, fun as the franchise is, it’s all a bit samey; Bond fights a super villain and sleeps with a pretty lady and then makes a sarcastic joke as his bosses expense. Bond really wasn’t so much a character as much as he was a method by which to tell super spy stories, something I think Roger Moore’s take perfectly encapsulates; his first outing presents itself as in the same continuity as George Lazenby’s Bond as he places flowers on the dead grave of his wife, suggesting there are ppaces to go with this new casting of the character, but all of his subsequent films become increasingly more and more camp and disconnected. The same thing happened in Goldeneye; Brosnon’s first film attempted some critique of Bond and the genre, but his later films accepted the very stuff they were speaking against to begin with. Admittedly I do have a guilty pleasure for many of these campy movies, but the poiny still stands. Like superheroes in the MCU, old Bond feels like an excuse to watch things go boom. Not alwyas. But often enough.
Casino Royale changed that. It was the Bond film that made Bond a character and made the typical super spy features – reckless violence, hyper masculinity and not so subtle misogyny – flaws for him to over come. Because while this film’s plot is about Bond stopping the funding of terrorism by playing poker, it’s also very character driven. And most of it is about taking those aformentioned aspects of Bond and teaching him to let go of them. He falls in love, acknowledges the toll killing has on himself and is forced to face the fact his use of women gets them killed pretty early in the movie.
But no, this isn’t a preachy movie. It’s actually quite dark and brutal in terms of plot and subject matter, with moments of levity when we see Bond socialise and get into particuarly absurd set piece fights. It knows just how much of the classic Bond to bring in – the absurd action, supervillains and exotic locations – without drowining out it’s statement on the character.
And Daniel Craig himself might have proved to be the best Bond for the job. At least in this movie, because it’s no doubt his run has had a couple of downs. But Casino Royale was a brilliant starting point that your typical clean cut names like Brosnon Connery couldn’t have pulled off for this character. Craig’s Bond is more rugged, tough, fights dirty and bleeds when he catches a punch. He’s constantly vulnerable by being poisoned, tortured and heartbroken, but is still as badass as the audience expects Bond to be through the way he thinks, talks and shows resourcefulness whether he’s in a calm restaurant or in the middle of battle.
Craig isn’t the only one deserving of praise though – Eva Green as Vesper is a great Bond girl in large part to the fact she has agency and isn’t just someone who knows something Bond needs to fight the baddie and then sleep with. She has her own motivations, thoughts on the plan to stop the funding of terrorism, and the ability to not be loyal to Bond; in what might be this film’s biggest surprise the perfect Bond girl actually betrays him to her own death. Not because she’s evil or doesn’t love him, but because she’s written in a way that makes her more than a plank of wood for Bond to impose his will on.
I’m not trying to say this is the magnum opus of all action movies, or that it’s the pinnicle of writing – Bond shoots up an embassy in the first 30 minutes and there’s no consequence for doing so other than M telling him it was a bad idea. And then there’s Mads Mickelson’s less than ceremonious and quite abrupt exit to the story that I don’t think fit the pace of the scene it happened in.
But when you’re coming off the back of Die Another Day and need to reinvent your corny and dated character for modern times, and Casino Royale is the result… Within that context I do think they made the most perfect film that was achievable, even if there are a couple of holes to be poked in it here and there.
It has been quite a while since I watched a lot of the other Bond movies, but even so I do feel comfortable maintaining that Casino Royale is my favourite of the bunch. And because of that, I certainly would recommend it.