Casino Royale proved Daniel Craig looked good in a tuxedo, tough in a fight, and even vulnerable when need be. Best Bond since Connery? Or even better?
I’ve just seen the new James Bond movie and I must admit: Quantum of Solace left me shaken not stirred.
Don’t get me wrong: much of 007’s latest big-screen adventure is hugely enjoyable. Daniel Craig, the first actor in the role since Sean Connery to look as though he truly could dish out – or take – violence, continues to give Bond the edge of cold-blooded ruthlessness he needs.
And the action sequences are stunning. The scorching car chase that opens the movie, in which Bond’s hotly pursued Aston Martin DB5 cannons off cars and the rocky side of an Italian corniche road, is so furious that by the end I felt as though I’d spent the last few minutes ricocheting between the arms of my cinema seat in sympathy.
Then, before the viewer has a chance to catch breath, Bond is engaging in some brutal hand-to-hand combat against the backdrop of Siena’s Palio, climaxing in a heart-pounding duel that sees Bond and his adversary suspended upside down, tangled in ropes, and frantically groping for their respective guns as they swing back and forth.
But as impressive as such scenes are they leave the viewer wanting something more. The action is so frenetic that the narrative doesn’t get a chance to breathe. There’s no room, it appears, for the teasing byplay between Craig’s Bond and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd that made Casino Royale a delight, nor for their characters’ deepening emotional engagement that ultimately made the film so stirring.
We’ll return to Quantum of Solace in a future post, but in the meantime I’d like to celebrate the arrival on DVD of the Casino Royale Deluxe Edition, a three-disc set packed with more extras (including audio commentaries, scene deconstructions, storyboards, profiles, featurettes and deleted scenes) than you might find in one of Q’s most cunning devices.
Actually, one of the notable things about Casino Royale is how gadget–free the movie is (and Q, of course, doesn’t get a look in). Die Another Die’s risible invisible car obviously made everyone in the Bond team think twice about the desirability of such absurdly flashy gimmicks. Indeed, Casino Royale’s producers made much at the time of the fact that the movie was a “reboot” of the series, taking Bond back to the beginning of his career as a secret agent, and back to the darker mood of Ian Fleming’s original novels.
But the movie’s creators also cannily had their eyes open on the present – on the success of the Bourne movies, with their bruising combat sequences and rapid-fire editing, and on the trick-free physical stunts inspired by the phenomenon known as parkour or free running that featured in the French action movie hit District 13 (and in The Bourne Ultimatum as well).
Casino Royale’s opening chase scene, in which Daniel Craig’s agent hurtles in pursuit of a fleeing bomb-maker (played by free-running co-founder Sébastien Foucan) across a Madagascar market, through a building site and up to the vertiginous heights of a construction crane, showed that Bond could compete with these movies when it came to fast-moving, bone-jolting action.
It wasn’t just the show-off stunts, though, that made viewers gasp when Casino Royale came out. The action scenes are thrilling, yes, but they have surprising depth. When Bond kills an adversary in a hotel stairwell, the violence is nasty and brutal – and you feel bystander Vesper’s shock and revulsion too. She doesn’t merely wince and get over it, as so many of her predecessors did; she’s clearly traumatised. But the movie has its playful side too. Bond’s emergence from the sea in the Bahamas comes over as a clever inversion of Ursula Andress’s iconic appearance in a bikini in Dr. No, even if Craig himself claims the shot came about by accident.
Then there is the witty, erotically charged repartee between Craig’s Bond and Green’s Vesper, particularly in the train dining car scene in which they size one another up. With her cool intelligence as well as stunning beauty, Green stepped immediately into the pantheon of great Bond girls.
Above all, the movie has Craig. He may have been savagely attacked in the blogosphere for months before the film opened, but he turned out to be brilliant. He looked good in a tuxedo, he looked tough in a fight, and he even displayed a vulnerable side. Was he the best Bond since Connery? Some dared to suggest he could be even better.