Monday, December 04, 2006

Daniel Craig – the new James Bond: Casino Royale

In this remake of ‘Casino Royale’ (145 mins) Brocolli has given us almost a complete make over of the whole 007 genre. No big, lavish sets, no ‘wham-bam’ stuff from the great lover, just a more vulnerable, thoughtful agent than those before.

No savoir faire – well not much, as per Connery, the iconic Bond up until now, no eye-brow raising flippancy a la Roger Moore, the longest serving Bond, and no classic good looks from the ever immaculate head of Pierce Brosnan, but a more human Bond. Sure, he can still punch his weight with the hardest thugs on the movie planet, and he still appeals to token, sultry femme fatales, but a lot has changed.

For a start, a lot of the hallmarks of 007 are being threatened: the shaken, not stirred cocktail gets the ‘Hey, I’ll have a Babycham’ treatment as everybody round the card table orders one.

Later, after a particularly heavy mauling, Bond’s reply to the question, “Shaken or stirred?” is “Do I look like I care!” finally burying the old cocktail cliché forever.

Craig falls in love for real, has a meaningful dialogue with M (Judi Dench) and his badge is under threat from MI5. Broccolli gives us more, by leaving out more: no inane schoolmaster talk from Q, the gismo expert, few gismos, no Moneypenny waiting faithfully at her desk while James propels his headwear nonchalantly at the hat-stand, and no memorable villains.

No equivalent of Oddjob, or Jaws, and no Goldfinger, Bloefeld, Rosa Kleb, Dr. No – no super-villains to help us cheer our hero on to the inevitable end – no total destruction of the megalomaniac’s plans, no ending up on a remote island with the girl.

It’s not just that the Bond movie has another Bond – ‘Casino Royale’ was a noticeably lower budget production – no grand sets, no Nail Island scenes, no Monaco casinos, but instead, Montenegro, a chase through a building site that reminded me more of Tarzan and Harold Lloyd than 007.

Don’t get me wrong – the fights were as good as ever, the chases - through the cranes and superstructures of half built hotels, were heart stopping, lightning fast and spectacular, but they were not full of what we have come to expect – cars that turn into boats, volcano craters that hide rockets, underground cities full of monorails. But I liked it the better for that.

We saw the real Bond, superfit – tough as old boots - sometimes caring - but vulnerable too (he almost died) without being too smooth or verbose – he even had to win the Aston Martin in a card game, for goodness sake.

Some things don’t change – the baddies were current baddies – not cold Soviets, megalomaniacs with wild dreams, low life drug barons - thugs from pre 9/11 days - but blokes we could readily dislike – money launderers with connections to international terrorism.

Ian Fleming might be turning in his grave again, but at least they are not using him as a fan anymore.

Robert L. Fielding