Bond: Daniel Craig
Classic, Cheese, or Crap?: CLASSIC
In the mid 00s, 007 was in the need of a change of direction.
2002’s “Die Another Day”, although a huge box office hit, had not been received well critically and wasn’t sitting well with fans. Bad CGI? Obnoxious product placement? A Madonna cameo? The franchise had returned to cartoonishness reminiscent of the worst of the Moore era.
Pierce Brosnan expressed willingness to return as Bond, but his four picture deal had been satisfied. EON Productions was also considering recasting the role with a younger actor (Brosnan was about to turn 50). After a period of deliberation, when an agreement on a one picture deal could not be reached, Brosnan announced he was retiring from the role, and EON announced they were giving the Bond franchise a “reboot”.
The new Bond? Daniel Craig.
Craig was a relatively unknown to the (American) movie going public when he was cast as James Bond. He had had parts in “Tomb Raider” and “Road to Perdition”, but his largest role was the lead in Matthew Vaughn’s “Layer Cake”. Having had seen “Layer Cake”, I was psyched he was cast… I could envision him as Bond right away. But there was a lot of angst out there about the casting. I can recall a great deal of backlash simply because Craig was blond. LOL
In spite of the protestations over the new Bond, EON was saying all the right things. They wanted to get back to the spirit of the early Bonds. They were basing the movie on an Ian Fleming novel for the first time in decades. Less CGI. More stunts. More spying. They wanted to make a Bond movie worthy of consideration alongside the Franchise’s best.
Anticipation was high. Bond fans were getting psyched.
And when it premiered, it completely delivered. Opening with the new Bond brutally earning his 00 status, then treating audiences to Chris Cornell’s scorching theme song set to a delightfully old school credit sequence, followed by the exhilarating parkour chase with an explosive culmination… You knew within the first ten minutes, BOND WAS BACK.
Many Bond films start strong and fizzle, though. Not Casino Royale. Casino Royale takes the frenetic energy of its opening and channels it perfectly into the rest of the movie. It expertly juggles set up scenes and character beats with adrenaline filled action sequences. There’s a perfect sense of pacing and balance… Even though it’s knocked at times for having “multiple endings”, this is one of those movies that runs two+ hours, yet feels like it ends too quickly.
Much of that is due to the incredible cast. Although there was no Q, and no Moneypenny, Judi Dench reprised her role as M, continuing her fantastic contribution to the series that she began during the Brosnan era. Giancarlo Giannini makes his first appearance as Bond ally Mathis, and Jeffrey Wright is solid as the series’ 859th Felix Leiter.
But Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green make the biggest non-Bond contributions.
As Bond villain Le Chiffre, Mikkelsen is menacing, memorable and his plans/schemes are far more credible than 99.5% of other Bond villains. His bloody, weeping eye is one of the great Bond villain physical defects, too. How sick is that?
Vesper Lynd is one of the best Bond girls of all time, to me. Perhaps my favorite. Gorgeous. Intelligent. Vulnerable. Treacherous. Eva Green steps into the franchise as if she were born to.
“I’m the money”.
You’re goddamn right you are.
But the star of the show, of course, was the new Bond, Daniel Craig. Intense, focused, Craig played the role as “the strong, silent type”. More akin to the serious Dalton than the glib Brosnan, Craig’s Bond was a stone cold killer with just a dash of the traditional Bond charm. He was physically suited for the action sequences and finally able to give the female Bond fans their Ursula Andress/Halle Berry moment. Craig was a perfect choice to reinvigorate the role. Cool, handsome, and tough. In retrospect it’s laughable that anyone cared what color hair he had…
Casino Royale returned the franchise to glory. It was an enormous success in every regard… Financially, critically, and with the hardcore fans. It put together a magical mix of style, stunts, sex appeal and suspense. But most of all, it returned a sense of credibility to a franchise that had been… borrowing on its good name for awhile. Memorable action sequences and characters. A love interest and subplot with depth and feeling. And a brand new, kick-ass Bond.
Bond was back. And he was once again a force to be reckoned with.
A formidable force.
Now if they only ended the big poker game on a more realistic hand…