Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench
New perspectives add freshness to franchises, especially those with no intention of ever stopping. The goofiness of the 90s Bond films slipped the franchise into becoming a laughing stock, but it all changed with the introduction of the pulse-pounding and grim Casino Royale. A film willing to get to the heart of this famous agent and then tear it apart.
Newly promoted into a 00, James Bond (Daniel Craig) gets the job done but involves plenty of collateral damage as well. Set on this new mission because of his poker skills, Bond must try to beat Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) into losing all of his money, which would make him desperate to seek refuge with Britain. On the ride with Bond to secure the government money for this game is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who sees past the suave persona the agent puts out to the world.
From navigating the moon and extreme sports, the Bond franchise has gone in every direction one could imagine but the best thing that happened to it came from shrinking the stakes and making it feel more real. Who would have thought centering the Bond franchise on a game of poker could be so exhilarating? Well, when the character gets his origin in such a gritty way and an integration of delightful characters, everything sets up Casino Royale to be one of the most refreshing entries of this franchise.
The introduction of Daniel Craig’s Bond begins with him performing his first two kills, which fully solidifies his place in this world. The film shows the pain of the first kill and then demonstrates every other subsequent kill gets easier for this agent. The opening scene begins the realization of how different this iteration of Bond will be. Nothing with grand effects or cheesy plot lines, this film promises to be grounded and make every single punch count. With this mindset, the film succeeds tremendously.
Getting such a different look at this Bond shows someone not seasoned in his position. With it, we get a bit of an origin story and how his naivete in this field can cause issues when taking on men like Le Chiffre. Bordering on overconfidence at times, this iteration of Bond must learn to become a better agent, which defines what he becomes in the later films with Daniel Craig. A major part of his development comes from the relationship with Vesper. Eva Green brings forth this alluring character, whose work appears to be straightforward but contains some layers to her. She becomes the romantic interest for Bond but as the film progresses, she represents his soul. Vesper stands in for whatever sense of pure humanity he has left when he arrives in Montenegro. It makes complete sense why her presence and impact lingers for the rest of the Craig Bond films.
Surprisingly, I came to this film after watching both Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. I have no real explanation for it but the character we see in the two sequels looks incredibly different from the one we see here in Casino Royale. This speaks on the importance of the feature and how much the events taking place in Montenegro impact this man as a whole. With this origin, this film provides many of the action set pieces one would come to expect with this franchise. Many long chases and explosions for one to enjoy but its greatness comes from the poker scenes. Director Martin Campbell directs those moments incredibly well and solidifies these scenes being much more vital than the larger set pieces.
I think I would be safe in saying this film may feature the greatest poker sequences in film history because of the elevated stakes on and off the table. Both Bond and Le Chiffre need to answer to someone if they lose the money they’re betting and neither of them wants to be the loser. Mads Mikkelsen poses a tremendous threat as Le Chiffre and wears the typical Bond villain physical flaw with ferocity. He manages to balance the suave persona needed to stand as gallant as Bond while also being just as threatening. His involvement in the film only adds to the incredibly strong cast, which also includes Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench.
A tremendous restart and one willing to get into the heart of the elusive James Bond, Casino Royale does everything right establishing this new 007 in a gritty way. It does so with plenty of flash, action, and an incredibly strong romantic plotline. Truly one of the greatest entries of this entire franchise and one I am grateful pulled it into a brand new and exhilarating direction.