Casino Royale
Director: Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Mask of Zorro, Vertical Limit)
Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 144 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     The debate about which Bond is the best is a debate that will never end and never be determined conclusively. Thankfully, Casino Royale doesn't help the argument come any closer to a consensus. It will only thicken the question as Daniel Craig has put new life back into the Bond franchise with a dirtier, tougher and more human 007 that some will argue is the best yet. Casino Royale has done for the Bond franchise what Nolan's Batman Begins did for the Batman series: revitalized it and gotten rid of some of the schlock and tired gimmicks.

      Though I'm not ready to totally dismiss the other Bonds and call Craig the best, I will admit that he is fantastic in the role and all the haters (you know, the "we can't have a blonde Bond" idiots) of the past months are now probably hiding in a dark room somewhere fearing a verbal retaliation from critics and fans alike. Craig is easily the buffest of the Bonds. A hulking man that instead of climbing over walls, breaks through them ala the Kool-Aid man. Instead of just shooting an enemy with his silencer, decides to beat them into oblivion. Instead of relying on gadgetry and innovation, uses muscle and grit. He's got piercing blue eyes and devilish charm that isn't so much witty as it is devious.

      Since this is a return to Bond's roots and the story of how he becomes a "00," Bond is not quite the perfect killing machine that knows everything yet. He learns lessons the hard way throughout the movie, slowly becoming the cold blooded killing machine we've come to know over the years. There is no Q, no Moneypenny (though she's alluded to in one scene) and most importantly, no gadgets - not one. This is a Bond that relies on brains and brawn to solve problems; not an exploding pen or an invisible car with missiles.

      Overall, I'm very happy with the new Bond; both in character and in substance. But this is not to say that I don't take issue with a lot of things in the movie. I think lots of my gripes are unfairly based but I have to delve into them here. If you're looking for a straight up action film with heart, grit, intrigue, some minimalist violence and a quiet intensity, you're going to find yourself really enjoying Bond. If you look for the little things that normally plague an action film, you're going to find them as well.

      As mentioned, there is no "Q" or any gadgets in the movie. Because of this, and the fact that Craig is a James Bond quite unlike any other, it is barely recognizable as a Bond film. If it weren't for the lead character's name and the occassional presence of Judi Dench as M, you'd have no idea you were watching a Bond film. It would be just another action thriller with a tough guy central lead. Realizing again, that this is a return to the roots and Bond is not yet truly Bond, I understand that and do appreciate this nuance of the screenplay. But still, when I see a Bond movie, I want to see some of the stuff that makes James an international assassin/spy. This will include a cell phone that emits poison gas.

      Speaking of cell phones, I must discuss product placement; a necessary and usually unobtrusive and tolerable aspect to all Hollywood movies. But once in a great while, it becomes so obvious and apparent that it nearly makes me gag. After watching Casino Royale, I had this sudden urge to buy a Ford and drive down to Radio Shack and pick up a Sony Ericcson phone to hook up to my Sony Vaio so I can search Google for an Omega wristwatch. Please. Stop with the internal commercials. It was hard to stomach. Especially the wristwatch reference.

      The movie is also too long. 20-30 minutes could've easily been removed and everything would've flowed much better. I liked the intense suspense of the poker game, but eventually, I started to feel like I was watching ESPN 2 in a couple of places. It was a great sequence, but it just went on for too long. There are also multiple endings; necessary, but not imperative - some of these things could've been cut to make a 2 hour film instead of a 2:45 hour film.

      Part of the reason it's too long is also because there are too many villains. This is hard to discuss without giving things away, but it seems there are too many bad guys. When one bad guy, who looks to be the "main guy," is dispensed with, another pops up in his place. When he is done away with another springs up. Though one villain in particular stands out, it become intolerable to not have a clear vision as to who the real bad guy was by the end of the movie. On top of this, when a character in a movie tells the lead "not to trust anyone," well, he shouldn't.

      Then of course there are all the little things. For one, the trailer and marketing campaign ruined a lot of surprises for me. It's probably too late, but DO NOT watch the trailer at the bottom of this article. Maybe watch about half of it to get a feel for the style of the movie. But a couple of very intense sequences were ruined because I already knew what was going to happen from the trailer. Next, there are some small bits of cheesy lines that you'll have to overcome; to be expected I guess and easily over-looked. But lastly, it is a personal pet-peeve of mine when a character does not properly know how to give CPR (I mean not even close), and apparently, MI6 does not train it's "00" agents how to do this!

      What it all comes down to is this: is CR a good movie? Yes. Is it fun? Yes. Is it action packed? Yes. Is it well acted with a great new 007? Hell yes. Is it worthy to call iself a revitalization of an entire franchise? Yes. But is it worthy of a 95% fresh rating on, essentially making it the most critically acclaimed film of the year? Absolutely not. And I think that is my biggest complaint. My expectations were through the roof as many have called this the best Bond ever and it let me down slightly. It's still a great time and I was harder on it than I should be. So go slap down the money and see this movie giant on the big screen and enjoy all the excitement Bond can give you, trying to ignore the small inadeqacies. Bond. James Bond, see him again, quite literally, for the first time.

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Casino Royale