By the end of my trip to Orlando, after a conference, a theme park, and a trip to NASA, I wasn’t up for a hectic night out. Instead, a bunch of us strolled down the street to watch the latest James Bond flick, Casino Royale.
I have a love/hate relationship with James Bond films. I like them for their cheesiness and sheer escapism. I also hate them for their cheesiness and escapism. Even my favourite Bond films — From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — are flawed.
I had heard that this time, Bond was going to be gritty. I was sceptical. That’s what they said when they introduced Pierce Brosnan too.
Casino Royale started with a terrific opening sequence, more like Harry Palmer via John Le Carré than the Bonds we’ve seen so far. Then came the Saul Bassian opening credits. After that, the story proper began… and it was good. Very good.
This time, it really was grittier. I kept wondering when it would descend into cheesiness but — apart from a slightly dodgy closing set piece — it never did. It was like no other Bond film before and yet it had all the classic ingredients: fights, explosions, beautiful women, tuxedos and pistols. Somehow it was simultaneously the quintessential Bond film and completely new at the same time.
It’s not perfect. It sags towards the end with more false endings than Return Of The King but it was never anything less than immensely entertaining to watch.
Much has been made of Daniel Craig’s performance and it’s all true. He’s excellent in the role. His Bond is arrogant and cruel and this only serves to make the character more interesting. He is ably abetted by Eva Green — last seen in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven — who radiates from the screen like a modern Honor Blackman, a combination of wit, intelligence and beauty.
The film-makers took a very brave step and did something that’s all too rare in a blockbuster movie: they didn’t insult the audience’s intelligence.
There’s a lot to please die-hard Bond fans here. This is an origin story that explains all the Bond quirks and paraphernalia. At the same time, the film draws a line under all the previous films. Casino Royale acts as if its the first James Bond film. I was convinced.
Objectively, Casino Royale might not be a great film — although it’s certainly the best Bond film by far — but I give itout of five, mostly because it surpassed my expectations and thoroughly entertained me.