Casino Royale (2006)

You know you’re getting old and cranky when an old movie franchise is revived to the delight of both fans and critics, but you sit back in the theater and ask yourself “so this is Bond?” I really liked Brosnan in this role (even though deep inside I bow down to Connery), and I have a hard time understanding how a 40-year-old novel can be adapted to post 9/11 world of international crime and spying. But I have to accept that actors can be replaced and novels – rewritten. Casino Royale is a solid action flick, but it’s missing so many trademark Bond elements that I don’t know if it’s an issue of “starting over” or “trimming down”.

Daniel Craig steps into the role of James Bond with ease. The movie calls for a reboot of the series, and many characters/motivators are introduced slowly (or saved for later sequels). But you can tell right away he’s going to be a great Bond. He’s clumsy and quiet at the beginning (a rookie), overly sincere in the middle (which plays nicely into the plot), and is more careful of his words/actions at the end. Not seasoned yet, but definitely aware of the dangers of his profession. That makes sense. Same for M (Judy Dench) – she knows the spy business, but has difficulties managing Bond – so their earlier scenes work perfectly, as long as you forget the last 3-4 movies ever happened. Remember their first meeting in Goldeneye? That kind of cautious introduction, testing-for-thresholds, master/puppet relationship.

Everyone else in this film is a new face. I miss Q and I miss all the cheesy gadgetry, but it’s also a nice change when you have an obligatory damsel in distress (Eva Green) who actually has some IQ and survival skills. In older movies, Bond would just come to the rescue (remember Stacy from View to a Kill?) and that got tired very quickly. The FBI contact (Jeffrey Wright) better come back for a sequel. There’s more story there, I just don’t know if it stayed on the cutting room floor, or they saved it for later. It didn’t quite work with Jinx in the last film, but perhaps a male counterpart across the ocean would add a good dynamic to the series.

The villain – and that’s my second biggest beef – is underdeveloped. He is a financial advisor for terrorists, who takes huge gambles with their money. That’s all you need to know, and unfortunately, that’s all there is in the movie. No laughable plots to take over the world, no ridiculous fetishes or sidekicks – I miss that in the new movie. He’s just a bad man, but not an evil one. Perhaps there was too much cheesiness in Bond franchise, and the writers decided to trim that away. I think they took too much away.

On the plus side, the action scenes are amazing. They are lean, fast and effective. I kept moving to the edge of the seat, and clenching the whole body – and couldn’t stop doing that. That’s a good sign. The action is shot well, and acted believably – I don’t care if it’s Daniel Craig or a stuntman – looks exciting and real to me.

My biggest beef – and this is a serious problem in more films – is product placement. Not the cute kind where a logo or a product appear on screen just long enough to be registered, but a blatant, in-you-face-so-you-remember advertising. You’ve probably seen all the “Sony Spy Gear” commercials on TV. Well, it’s in the movie as well. Instead of cool gadgetry we get a laptop, phone, camera and a key chain storage device. Each is capable of futuristic tasks, like breaking into security systems, banks, tracking a person of vehicle, opening doors, seeing through walls. Ok, maybe not the last one – otherwise the phones would fly off the shelves. I want to see gadgets that are hard to build, let alone find. If I see a phone doing GPS tracking in 3d (there was a similar product placement in Mission Impossible 3), I’m going to get it. Unfortunately, there are no phones that do that – the filmmakers are just shamelessly promoting a brand. And don’t get me started on cars – at some point Bond drives a Ford. He steals an Aston Martin later, but initially he shows up in a Ford, and the camera makes sure you see the logo. Did anyone think that perhaps Ford brand will overshadow the trademark AM brand? Perhaps that was the whole idea, but you’re changing Bond universe to fit in precious sponsors. There are many more examples – even if you’re not looking for them. At a Miami airport (which should be filled with American planes) we see all kinds of fake, non-existent airlines. So far so good. Suddenly in a panned shot we get Virgin Atlantic hiding behind other no-name planes. That was deliberate. You removed all real brands, created fake logos and company names, stuck them on a bunch of airplanes and then you sneak in a sponsor. That’s shameless.

I know that by mentioning them again, I only keep promoting the brands. I don’t care – 3 people will read this review, so no big deal. What bothers me is that sponsors are no longer just peripheral to the story – their brands are written into the plot, and the plot is changed to fit a specific name. And just to think, if MGM studios (producers of Bond films) was bought by Universal or New Line instead of Sony, what other products Bond would be using in his daily routine?

Anyway, despite the product placement and a weak villain, I liked this reboot of the franchise. I wanted to see more Bond trademarks – for instance double entendres, but I think they’re on their way. The series is reborn with more energy, more intelligence, and better-written females (always a plus). Let’s hope the writers keep the spirit of the franchise and give us more Bond. And more M. And more gadgets.

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