Sorry, what was that name again?
After 21 movies in 44 years, the James Bond series has become The Thing That Will Not Die. Of course, if seven movies with Roger Moore as Ian Fleming’s Agent 007 wasn’t enough to kill the series off, surely nothing ever will; Moore sulked through his movies with contempt for everything around him—except, presumably, his paycheck.
Twenty-one movies is the “official” tally—those produced by the late Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, beginning with Dr. No in 1962. There have been three unofficial Bond adaptations, and two of those were based on Fleming’s first book, Casino Royale, the rights to which got away from Fleming because he didn’t really know what he was doing. (And here’s a trivia question for you: Who was the first actor to play James Bond? Nope, not Sean Connery. It was Barry Nelson, in a 1954 TV drama. The other Casino Royale was the 1967 spoof of Broccoli’s first four Bond movies.)
This new version of Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig as Bond, boasts several firsts. For one thing, of course, it’s based on Fleming’s first book. It’s also the first time that Broccoli’s Eon Productions has been able to snag the rights that got away from Fleming so many years ago. And it’s the first James Bond movie to star a man who wasn’t born when the first Bond picture was made.
Connery, Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan—and, oh yeah, that George Lazenby guy—have played the big-screen Agent 007, licensed to kill in the line of duty. Now Craig assumes the mantle, and you know, he does OK. No one has ever brought to the role the dashing mix of steel and insouciance that Connery did, but Craig gets within striking distance, and he might have gotten even closer if the script had given him the jaunty one-liners that Connery enjoyed.
Casino Royale begins with Bond being promoted to “double-oh” status, after all these years. Continuity of plot is clearly not a high priority in the James Bond universe. Neither is continuity of action, except in the sense that the action must be continuous. In that, Bond fans will not be disappointed in this latest adventure.
After a prologue in which Bond offs his first two bad guys, the newly minted 007 chases a would-be suicide bomber on foot across an African city—fortunately for our sense of excitement, the bomber is under the impression that the way to escape a relentless pursuit is to clamber up a building under construction and run out to the end of a crane. In true Bond fashion, Craig manages to keep up with him without breaking a sweat (in Africa, yet) or running out of breath.
From there, Bond decamps to the Bahamas (a hat-tip to Dr. No), where he stalks a villain driving “a beautiful 1964 Aston Martin” (hat-tip Goldfinger), whom he chases to the Miami-Dade airport in time to thwart another bombing, non-suicide variety.
Finally, after an hour (give or take), it’s off to Europe for that high-stakes card game at Casino Royale. By now, at last, Bond has met Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Green plays the latest in a 42-year string of smart, sleek, sexy Bond Girls, a career move that worked such magic for Claudine Auger, Daniela Bianchi and Maud Adams. Bond’s adversary is the vulpine Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), trying to win the money he needs to continue his nebulously nefarious activities. Will Bond thwart the villain or merely add to his winnings? Does it matter?
No. Suspense isn’t the point of James Bond movies; the point is action, sex and glamour. And Casino Royale provides all that. Not that the plot matters (quick, summarize the plot of Moonraker or Live and Let Die), but writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis hew fairly close to Fleming’s original, once they get around to it, including Le Chiffre’s method of torture involving a seatless chair and a nude Bond. Director Martin Campbell invests the action with his usual exuberant disdain for the laws of physics (see GoldenEye, Vertical Limit, and both Antonio Banderas Zorro movies).
One change from Fleming probably was wise. Where the book had Bond and Le Chiffre playing baccarat, the movie switches to Texas Hold ’Em. Audiences have the comfort of knowing that, what with the movie’s all-but-incomprehensible plot, at least they’ll be able to follow the game.