OK, this is the 21st century. So, maybe it’s time for even the Bond genre to get a tune-up for new generation audiences. At least that’s what the producers thought.
But the New Bond is as disappointing as New Coke. Nothing beats the original.
For starters, the producers seemed to make sure to keep everything out of the screenplay for “Casino Royale” that made the Bond series unique, exciting, engaging and fun.
The so-called “Bond formula” balanced sadism with sensuality, and ironic humor. Sadly missing from this film too are the other Bond staples: gadgets, buxom blonds, and wonderful little quips and double entendres. This all gave the Bond series a comic book adventure cadence and buoyancy. It didn’t take itself too seriously.
But “Casino Royale” jettisons all this and just keeps slogging along with relentless action scenes, brutality, banality and not much else. Yes, the action scenes are astutely choreographed, filmed and edited. But they are needed to shore up a saggy, dragged-out and somewhat convoluted plot.
The opening immediately warns you that this is not “classic” Bond. It sets the film’s heavy tone. Bond brutally assassinates two criminals, one by drowning in a lavatory sink, in black-and-white film noir, no less. By contrast in the “Goldfinger” (1964) prequel, Bond blows up a narcotics operation, changes into a tux, romances a cabaret dancer, and easily dispenses with an assassin, all the before the opening credits.
The opening credits of “Casino Royale” alone are another warning. There is not one stylized silhouette of a female model, which was the glamour signature in almost all Bond films. Instead, we just have silhouettes of guy shooting each other and bleeding in Technicolor across the screen. Yuck!
What’s horribly pretentious is that the whole film tries to chronicle the apprentice Bond’s transition into a 007 assassin. But it’s as contrived and unconvincing as Anakin Skywalker’s metamorphosis into Darth Vader. And, in the end it’s even sappier than the brief marriage of George Lanzenby’s Bond to Dianna Rigg in the 1969 “on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
Frankly, I’m not Bond’s psychologist and so I really don’t care to delve into life’s little traumas that shaped 007. I’m content with accepting that he just grew up that way.
Daniel Craig is terribly miscast as Bond. He’s a blue collar Bond. He looks self-conscious in a tuxedo. He’s too hard chiseled in appearance for the debonair Bond as invented by Ian Flemming.
Craig could have just as easily been cast as one of the villains in the film. His strident, driven demeanor reminds me a little bit of Donovan Grant, the SPECTRE assassin played by Robert Shaw in the 1963 “From Russia with Love.” Craig is humorless, and too much on the edge for my tastes. Actually, his squinty eyes, big upper torso, and gait reminds me a little of Popeye the Sailor.
Like the Timothy Dalton Bond, he has no sense of playfulness either. His romantic side seems forced in the film’s few dull and gratuitous lovemaking scenes. And, the women cast to play opposite him in this film can barely gain admission into the sorority of Bond babes.
Equally lackluster is Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of high-roller Le Chiffre. He doesn’t fit into the shoes of previous legendary bond villains such as Goldfinger, Largo, and Blofeld. Frankly, Mikkelsen is just plain creepy, but not scary. As the top bad guy he seems to be on Valium most of the time.
The silly torture scene at the end is also out of character for him. Mikkelsen doesn’t have any of the bully, bluster and swagger of the classic Bond villains. Please give me just one script line like Goldfinger’s: “I expect you to die Mr. Bond!” Ho hum.
All of this makes for just another forgetful spy movie with lots of fists and blood and guts, nothing more. It’s wrapped itself in the James Bond mystique ? which will guarantee a good box office ? but pays no homage to the genre.
It’s too bad the creators felt they hand to change such a celebrated formula that has sustained the popularity of Bond series for nearly four decades.