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Casino Royale

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Casino Royale is the 21st big-screen James Bond film, but it might as well be the first. Following the model of recent film-franchise revamps Batman Begins and Superman Returns, Casino Royale asks the audience to view its character's film history through the lens of a fresh re-imagining. The previous Bond film, Die Another Day, was a celebration of 40 years of international intrigue, a kind of greatest hits of a series that was sometimes great, sometimes painful, sometimes funny, sometimes ridiculous, almost always watchable. Die Another Day's Bond, Pierce Brosnan, was born to play what the part had become: a larger-than-life charmer who could get out of a scrape with a one-liner and a beautiful gal on his lips.

In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig kicks that Bond to the curb. Craig's Bond is life-size and no bigger, a man who kills for a living and is susceptible to falling in love and capable of making mistakes in both endeavors.

Just as many '60s and '70s Bond flicks reflected the Cold War, Casino Royale is steeped in the post-9/11 world. The plot -- as ill defined as the "war on terror" -- struggles to gain focus. Which seems to be point: More than any previous Bond film, Casino Royale is mostly about Bond himself, and eccentric villains bent on world-domination are tangential.

Though the idea of James Bond playing Texas Hold-'Em is still difficult to swallow, and the sight of him driving a Ford nigh impossible to believe, I can't imagine a more exciting harbinger for the future health of the franchise than Casino Royale.

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