Casino Royale (2006)
007 Rebooted – It's All In The Cards
Warning: this review does contain a few vague spoilers.
Casino Royale is the first movie in the rebooted 007 franchise, also knows as Bond 21. This film stars Daniel Craig as James Bond, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.
I guess after 20 movies, rebooting a franchise might be a good idea, especially after the falling quality that the 007 movies experienced lately. Although, since most reboots fail to live up to their originals, this movie had lots to prove for it to save the franchise... and it did so with unbelievable results.
Right from the beginning, it's obvious that Casino Royale isn't the type of 007 movie we are used to. I mentioned in earlier reviews that many of these movies were set to a successful formula, but that formula is certainly nowhere to be seen here. Gone is the overly sexist Bond, the two-dimensional Bond Girls have been kicked to the curb, the hilarious gadgets are replaced with realistic tech, and the larger-than life villains are history.
Okay, maybe I do miss the fantastic villains of the earlier years, but after the massive misses in the past few movies, I'll take a realistic, down-to-earth, villain. Don't get me wrong, Mad Mikkelsen's character is no average bad guy, he's dark, twisted, and resourceful. He's everything you would expect from a great 007 villain, without the flaws that made the earlier ones so unbelievable.
The rest of the characters are also far more realistic. If you've seen the Timothy Dalton era movies, you have seen how fantastic the characters can get with the right amount of care, and Casino Royale's characters received even more attention.
Bond himself has been rebuilt from the ground up. Now he's more casual, yet reckless. He still treats women like objects to continue his mission, but no more than he does anyone else. Plus, he treats MI6 less like a place of employ and more like an awkward family. This is especially true with his relationship with M, who almost has an adopted mother-son friendship.
Since M was nothing more than a figurehead barking orders, or telling James that he was a bad dog, in the earlier movies, her advancement to an actual character was well overdue. It does feel odd that her character uses the only actor left from the earlier Bond movies, but with how little we knew about her before, she almost feels new.
And then there's Vesper, who might be the best companion for Bond yet. It's not because she's strong enough to follow him on his journey, nor is she there to pull him up when he's down. She's the best because she feels real as she slowly melts away his emotionless armour and releases the first true romantic James Bond we've been waiting for. It wasn't even the cheesy romance that most movies are famous for, but a realistic and heartfelt romance that never once felt overly mushy to push away the (emotionally uncomfortable) male viewers.
Although, surprisingly, even without the characters, the story in Casino Royale is interesting enough to hold its own, too. The main plot is centred around a high-stakes poker tournament, but the game is actually not the focus of attention; it's only the bases from which the real story of a hidden terrorist group hatches. Oh, and of course, the action. We can't forget about the action.
Unlike a few of the latest 007 entries, the action scenes were nearly flawless. So many movies suffer from the sudden addiction to CGI that reintroducing proper stunt-work which feels seamless and real is a huge breath of fresh air. Yeah, it's obvious that the most hair-raising stunts are done with the use of cleverly disguised doubles, but due to the fantastic transitions and cinematography, it feels like these characters are actually in extreme danger. Now that's impressive.
What I like most about this reintroduction of the 007 series, is that it's a first step into what is obviously a much larger serialized story. Many characters and organizations, which are still hidden in the shadows, are only briefly seen or mentioned, showing us that this new universe is just getting started. This means, unlike the stand-alone movies we got toward the end of the first generation of films, James Bond actually has a journey ahead of him, which will probably include some extremely dark and powerful villains. Although, they could easily mess up and give us a comical villain dancing at the end of a rainbow while riding a unicorn which breathes fire. As entertaining as that may sound, I doubt they will return to that style again.
All this makes Casino Royale one of the best movie reboots I've ever seen to date, and a better movie than any of the first twenty 007 movies. It even provides the perfect conditions for new viewers to get their first taste of James Bond, or reintroduce fans, who may have abandoned the franchise in the later years, to the movies they always hoped for.
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