Casino Royale Review
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Craig. Daniel Craig.

In case you missed all the hoohah—all the speculation, followed by The Big Announcement, followed by the outrage among fans, followed by threats of boycotts—Craig is the New Bond. The New Blonde Bond.

I know, I know. I thought it was a crazy move, too. But I decided to keep an open mind as I took my seat and got ready to watch the new 007.

Casino Royale is set at the beginning of Bond’s career. In fact, he earns his 007 status during the opening credits. But after the new 007 gets caught on camera shooting an unarmed man, M (Judi Dench) tells him to lay low for a while. Never really being one to follow orders, Bond heads to the Bahamas, where he thwarts a plan involving a new prototype airplane—and he ends up costing a banker named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) over $100 million that isn’t really his to lose. The money belongs to international terrorists who don’t really trust Le Chiffre to begin with—so, to get the money back, he sets up a $10 million buy-in poker game at the Casino Royale, confident that his mathematical genius will help him win.

To stop Le Chiffre, M sends Bond to join in the game with $10 million of the government’s money—along with Treasury employee Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who’s supposed to keep an eye on him.

Right from the start of Casino Royale, you know this is a Bond unlike any Bond you’ve seen before—and not just because of the hair color. This Bond is a grittier Bond—one who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, or to get cuts on his pretty face. And the film is much more violent—and bloodier—than you’d expect.

But I’ll cut right to the question at hand: What about Craig? Is he a dynamic actor? Definitely. Does he give a good performance? Sure. Is he Bond? Not really. I tried to see it. I tried really hard. But I couldn’t. In fact, I sometimes forgot that I was watching a Bond film—because Craig just didn’t feel like Bond. I realize that the Broccolis chose Craig to shake things up a bit—to show a younger, more impulsive, more rough-around-the-edges, even more naïve Bond. But when I see Craig, I see him as more suited to play a tough, muscle-bound Dublin street thug—not a suave, sophisticated, well-groomed secret agent who was born to wear a tuxedo.

That aside, however, Casino Royale is actually a pretty decent Bond film—definitely better than some of the more recent ones, with a much more believable plot. Fortunately, it’s not nearly as ridiculous as Die Another Day. Despite the fact that it’s an unnecessarily long two and a half hours long—and there are some scenes that could have been much shorter—it has plenty of gadgets and explosions and action-packed scenes to keep you entertained. And it still fits much of the typical Bond formula: evil villain, smooth one-liners, and plenty of beautiful girls. Relative unknown Eva Green is even a refreshingly believable Bond girl (as opposed to, say, Denise Richards).

But there are a few subtle differences, too. I was a bit surprised, for instance, that there weren’t any writhing female silhouettes in the opening credits—and this young Bond doesn’t even care if his martinis are shaken or stirred (!). But it’s only fitting, since this new Bond is still working on becoming the Bond we all know and (usually) love.

So as this new Bond matures into the Bond he’s supposed to be, maybe Craig will, too. But he’s got a long way to go.

If you can get beyond the whole Craig-as-Bond thing, though, Casino Royale is worth checking out—even if you’re not a big Bond fan. In fact, it’s probably best if you aren’t.

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