December 2006

Casino Royale

If you thought the old Casino Royale was an anti-Bond movie, you’re right. But in its own way, the new Casino Royale, made by the “official” James Bond movie-production company, is almost as much an anti-Bond movie. On balance, it is much better for it. It throws away many of the conventions of typical Bond movies.

The opening credits are especially fun to watch, despite the absence of scantily-clad women, and the classic Bond theme is completely absent until the closing credits. Improbable gadgets are generally missing, and Q is on holiday. Admittedly, the cellphones all have screens with HDTV-like resolution, and Bond does have a defibrillator that’s about the size of a paperback book, but other than that, there’s very little technology that’s beyond what’s available today, with a little bit of movie gloss—Bond is using cinematic versions of Google Earth, GPS, etc. Mostly, I suspect, this is because everyday technology has come so far, and is so pervasive that people might be less willing to suspend disbelief on anything that pushes today’s limits too hard.

Bond’s main talent in this movie is his ability to tolerate repeated and severe ass-kickings. The bad guys in this movie are all really tough, even the anonymous ones. In a typical Bond movie, 007 will quickly and easily punch out random thugs and send them packing with lines like “the little fish I throw back.” Not here. The bad guys higher up the totem pole are not trying to take over the world or ransom the UN for the sum of (pinky to lip) one million dollars, they’re just trying to make a profit as it self-destructs.

This movie is also unusually talky for a Bond movie, necessary to show him developing a relationship, which is also unusual.

While I liked it overall, the movie did have some problems. The first reel or so feels like a series of disconnected events. They aren’t—there is a connection between them—but something in the storytelling doesn’t quite establish that strongly enough. You have to pay attention to the low-energy scenes (while you catch your breath after the high-energy ones) to keep things straight. Some implausibilities are explained after the fact with throwaway lines.

Overall, though, I like it as a movie on its own merits, and as a Bond movie. It’s a curious thing that, with any kind of franchise movie, one tends to evaluate it in terms of how it relates to other pictures in the franchise, not just as a standalone piece.

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