The caption on the November issue of Empire magazine reads Bond Begins, acknowledging how the producers behind ‘Casino Royale’ sought to reinitiate the Bond series in the same vein as ‘Batman Begins’. I took issue with this before I ever laid eyes on the finished film as aside from the fact that ‘Batman Begins’ does not even stand up to a second viewing, I felt the last Bond film ‘Die Another Day’, despite being far from a pitch perfect film was no where near as terrible as ‘Batman and Robin’ and certainly did not justify prematurely ending Pierce Brosnan’s term as Bond.
As to the consequences of such a reimagining I need not have worried, Martin Campell (director also of ‘Goldeneye’ and ‘Zorro’) and his team have not embraced a new vision for Bond in any respect. This is over two hours of product placements for mobile phones, cars and brands of Vodka (Bond even walks through Duty-Free at the airport to cram in as many brand names as possible). The audacity and knowing intendres of previous Bonds allow them to escape labels of cynical marketing to a certain degree (they were event movies after all), however Casino Royale in no way earns itself an ounce of integrity or quality and in being so market driven showed this movie up to be an abandonment of decades old tradition to make a quick buck.
The film is episodic- ‘Bond becomes a ‘00’, ‘Bond chases a terrorist’, ‘Bond stops an airplane plot’, ‘Bond plays cards’, ‘Bond falls in love’ and ‘The Twist’. The story lumbers along, there is an overuse of establishing shots, zooming in unnecessarily on exotic locations umpteen times so that the film looses pace and any effort at tension, the screen fades to black so many times as if to end (and you secretly wish it was over) only to launch again into tired hackneyed dialogue and as much charm as a stapler.
There is no clear wind change, the film is merely the Bond we know minus what makes Bond distinctive. It is merely an extra plot point, a few lines of dialogue, that mark this as Bonds first mission. Inexplicably, Bonds relationship with ‘M’ remains that of the Brosnan series. ‘M’ (Judi Dench) comments in ‘The World is Not Enough’ that Bond is the best they have though she would never tell him, here after only his first two kills she seems to have the same faith in him without any basis, even accepting clear instances where he crosses boundaries. The character of M is overused, no longer appearing to cut him down to size or act with excellent authority, she has now become part of a seemingly dithery spy agency that gather haphazardly around computer screens. There was no need to end the era of gadgets completely and even more frustratingly, what technology does present itself is an insult to the audiences intelligence, in particular Bonds sourcing of a text message using CCTV cameras early in the film.
There is a complete vacuum of any charisma or engagement with the film, this is not a slur on Craig who does a commendable job- however he is playing the part of an action star not a super-spy. If the story was constructed so that we could appreciate he was a novice spy or only developing his skills maybe we could be accepting of his character, instead all we have is a well-dressed thug. Bond appeals to audiences despite the lack of a back-story because of how suave he is, how magnetic he is to the ladies and how proficient he is in a crisis. All he does here is throw punches, it seems his one civilised skill is playing cards and really he doesn’t seem very good at that. Why not truly shake things up and bring us back to his training, his first meeting with ‘M’ or even a flashback to his youth, anything that lead us to believe we were truly being treated to a new vision.
Most disastrously, Bond joins us in the real world, of course the series has always tried to be relevant, Bond went into space as the height of Star Wars euphoria in the 70s and Timothy Dalton had a lot less one-night stands during the height of AIDS awareness. However, with the appearance of a suicide bomber and the utterance of the words 9/11 I feel the series has changed immeasurably, Bond is now trying to save the world we live in, he is no longer part of a world with ludicrously named and even more ludicrously clad girls, meglomaniacs with plans of world domination and besotted secretaries. The villains are merely money hungry and the mission is to stop terrorism. I realise that fear of change and progression could be thrown at me in being accused of being too harsh, but in its consistency the Bond series is a prisoner of its own fortune and to be inventive, humorous and appealing to modern audiences within this genre of their own would be far more impressive than abandoning the world they created.
The film models itself most on ‘Batman Begins’ when it turns out there is no real bad guy, though again there is no full commitment to this- there is a primary villain, Le Chiffe who is presented as the main evildoer and then a succession of hench men and string pullers as the ‘story’ comes to an end who don’t render so much as a line of dialogue. There is an attempt at intrigue and then an all too obvious twist as the story has no where else to go.
The film never thrills, the opening chase on foot through a construction site goes on too long and a chase between Jeremy Clarkson (in a car obviously enough!) and two young ‘climbers’ across London in an episode of ‘Top Gear’ was shot better and was more dramatically. I was left completely flummoxed as to how Bond traced a henchman to an exact location in Miami and the entire lead up to an airport set sequence that I knew there and then the film could not be saved. The card sequences are as tense as an episode of Bear in the Big Blue House. A stairwell fight is surely a tribute to the Bourne Identity, the true film this coat is dragging the coat tails of and by the time we get to the ‘climax’ in Venice and how badly out of sync the interior and the exterior of the building is edited together you truly wish that even Roger Moore would turn up and tell us this has all been a bad dream.
These stunts are intercut with a development of the love story, which is never convincing and during their first interaction on a train and later in the hotel suite attempts are made at ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ style chemistry, the outcome of which is a form of roadside sludge. Eva Green does as a fine job as Vesper Lynd but give any thought to her characters motives on leaving the cinema and her refusal to offer extra funds for Bonds card playing will seem non-sensical and the entire plot of the movie comes apart. This film is a half measure, it can neither lay claim to relaunching the series nor can it lay claim to being a flawed but memorable entry in a well-established series. Very disappointed.