We’re finally close to seeing No Time to Die in theaters after waiting impatiently to see what’s to come for the end of a saga. Now, it seems like the perfect time to talk about the recent James Bond films starting with one of the best when talking about the Bond franchise, Casino Royale, and why it continues to be a thriving action film years later.
What’s the Story: After receiving a license to kill, British Secret Service agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) heads to Madagascar, where he uncovers a link to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who finances terrorist organizations. Learning that Le Chiffre plans to raise money in a high-stakes poker game, MI6 sends Bond to play against him, gambling that their newest “00” operative will topple the man’s organization.
Think back to the year 2006. It was interesting and a relief to know Eon Productions and producers Michael Wilson & Barbara Broccoli would reboot the popular long-running spy franchise after the last entry, Die Another Day, ended up as a major disappointment. The decision makes sense. But doing an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel of the character must’ve been an important first step. It has been done before as a satirical comedy in 1967 and was played out earlier in 1953 for an episode of Climax. But it took a long time to get the rights acquired to make sure they can pull this off the way it intended it to be. Did I see it in theaters? No, but I wished. It took me a few years to finally watch it, and dare I say, Casino Royale is what dreams are made of for action fans alike.
A worldwide search was held to find the perfect replacement to be the next James Bond following Pierce Brosman’s departure, and it was the unexpected choice of Mr. Daniel Craig to get the job done. Back when this was announced and is still a thing now, not many loved this casing decision up top because he has blond hair and blue eyes. Apparently, it was so “controversial,” there was an online petition to recast him already. Not everybody was on board quickly. However, Craig rightfully proved the naysayers wrong since his first outing didn’t disappoint. The English actor has been in a few films like Munich, Road to Perdition, and though I haven’t seen Layer Cake yet, some have said his performance in that movie might’ve helped him score the iconic role, and it proves he was born to play this character. He gave off this range that makes this version of Bond different from what we’ve seen before in that it’s a more layered and driven person that probably hasn’t been explored. Craig’s thoughts on his character are different than when he started, but he updated the character the way he could. A great role that’s almost Oscar-worthy.
This was the perfect time to start the franchise over again and go in a direction that’ll be unlike those that came out previously. And who better than to make it happen than to get Martin Campbell, who’s responsible for giving the world Goldeneye eleven years prior. What’s to love about Casino Royale when I’m someone who still hasn’t seen the older Bond films in how it stays away from the usual tropes we’ve come to think about when associated with this series. When Campbell and the writers (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis) had the opportunity to make this more grounded in reality in having those moments to sympathize with the characters that go behind the casual ideas. Gone were the cheesy nature, wacky gadgets, and over-the-top madness from the villains in taking over the world; this was the beginning of taking things seriously for the saga and the character himself.
And though Dr. No was the first Bond film to be released, the idea to make this origin story of how Bond became a spy is fascinating because we haven’t seen that story play out before. The black-and-white opening where we see him kill his first two people is enough evidence that shows he’s truly a cold-blooded killer and shows he needs to get the job done, leading into a well-constructed three-act structure. Watching this showcases how it’s impossible to not get attached to through its life as a secret agent.
Just in this alone, the supporting cast can’t do anything wrong. Eva Green as the beautiful Vesper Lynd remains my favorite Bond girl we’ve ever had. The romance that comes between her and James isn’t your average fling that happens with most women the character interacts with when it’s possible the first for him to fall madly for her. One of the film’s realist moments must’ve taken many by surprise when we Vesper sitting in the shower after this realization she’s partly responsible for killing Obanno’s bodyguard with James comforting her. A fun fact about that scene is the script had Vesper only wearing her underwater, but Craig argued that she wouldn’t take the time to undress. And Mads Mikkelsen, Denmark’s finest actor, as the villain Le Chiffre is an incredible character, even more so this wasn’t a villain plotting to take over the world; he’s a flawed math genius in owning a ton of money. But the interrogation/ torture scene with the carpet whip is such a hard scene to watch, especially for a PG-13 film. For some reason, I remembered glancing at this sequence in the background while my mom was watching it around, having no idea what was happening.
Then when there are talks about all the action that’s delivered here, without hyperbole, those were some of the coolest action sequences I’ve seen when I first watched this since it’s almost impossible how these were pulled off without using CGI. Some have complained that it came off as Bourne-like and how it doesn’t come close to feeling classic Bond. If that’s your reason for disliking this, you’re 100% wrong. I think about these often, and it shows how Campbell can bring nice tension to each of them, almost as if they were the climax somehow. Basically, the first act has the most you’ll see, and you have to be the biggest fool on the planet to not find them mind-blowing. Quite possibly one of the best scenes involves this non-stop parkour chase of Bond and Sébastien Foucan’s bomb-maker through this construction site that I couldn’t look away from. The stunt work combined with David Arnold’s score is absolutely thrilling, and I didn’t want it to end. But I also have to mention the awesome car flip when Bond was attempting to rescue Vesper. That took about seven-barrel rolls from the Aston Martin DBS. Impressive? Yes since it was done in one-take. When I was ten, I got a toy Aston Martin DBS for Christmas, and yes, that was fun to play with. At the center of this is a high-stakes poker game at the titular Casino Royale. If you ask me anything about power or gambling, don’t because it’ll take me a long time to get the hang of it without appearing like a fool. If there’s one negative to say about the film is that it shows down at this point where it takes up most of the second act, but I still felt riveted by how the game will end and will all the money Le Chiffre desperately needs to win back. This also has one of my favorite lines in the entire film, “I’m sorry. That last hand nearly killed me,” right after Bond was poisoned after drinking his martini, quickly needing the antidote and defibrillator to stay alive.
Bond Theme Corner:
One of the most common aspects of the franchise is the theme song to accompany it after its opening. And I don’t know how we don’t talk about “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell (RIP) as one of the best I’ve listened to multiple times. Just the lyrics represents themselves well fitting into this first outing with the first half of the chorus reading, “Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you. The odds will betray you. And I will replace you.” The track has always been an underrated song, along with opening credits that gave it that old-school approach. For my money, it should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination.
In the end, Casino Royale is one of the greatest in the franchise, if not THE best to come out so far. The dark approach this took to make things right again without ruining everything made this the most watchable action film of the 2000s. And those who had doubts about this before walking in will ultimately be rewarded for what this brought to the table. While this wasn’t the number one movie at the box office (Happy Feet beat it by $700,000), at the time, it edged out its processor with $167 million and received some of the best reviews of the entire year.
Final Thoughts: Casino Royale isn’t your traditional Bond film, and that’s a great thing. What we have here is a fantastic reboot delivering on the incredible action set pieces/ stunts, story, and a great first impression from Daniel Craig as the famous spy.