Unlike some people, I’m going to talk freely about Casino Royale. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of this movie since it was announced that there was a new Bond, any Bond. I was sick and tired of Pierce Brosnan, ever since he first stepped into Bond’s tuxedo shoes. The phony slickness of his character was only matched by the phony slickness of his movies. When I found out that David Craig was going to be the new Bond, my initial reaction was, “Who?!” It seemed inconceivable that a virtual no-name could be called-upon to fill those enormous tuxedo shoes of this cultural icon. Then I saw a few of his movies, particularly Layer Cake, and got excited about him taking over. The guy has a certain brutality but also an underlying charm, and i couldn’t wait to see how he would translate that into the character of 007.
If there is such thing as an “important” Bond movie, I think Casino Royale qualifies. It represents the remaking of the Bond character and legend, since it goes back to the character’s beginning. In this way, the choice of Craig makes perfect sense. It’s the story of the rise of a nobody to a somebody. It shows how he earned his license to kill, and how he developed into who he is now. Craig plays the Bond character as vicious, ruthless, and brutal. His lethality is cold, but without malice. He’s “a blunt instrument,” as M describes him. At the same time, he is human. He makes mistakes, and often arrives at conclusions too late. On more than one occasion his failures nearly cause his death, and he is rescued by others. I think the fallibility of his character are what makes this movie important to me. Bond was not perfect to begin with. Bond became perfect by making mistakes. It even helps me accept the slick perfection of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, who exists at the end of the Bond universe’s timeline. While Craig’s Bond is the raw material, Brosnan’s Bond is the refined final product. The Bond franchise is being reinvented by tweaking its foundations, and in a way that injects reality of the character as a vital component.
I also like that Craig’s Bond is not attractive in the traditional sense. He’s no pretty boy. Most women I’ve talked to wonder why Craig was chosen, since they only know him from pictures. Craig may be many things, but suave and sexy are not among them. This makes perfect sense for a secret agent though, whose survival often depends on his ability to blend into the crowd. Craig’s Bond does have a rogueish appeal, and inner charisma that comes from supreme self-confidence and decisiveness. It radiates from somewhere inside of him, instead of being painted on in a thin veneer.
At the same time that I admire the newfound reality of Casino Royale, I admire the unapologetic malleability of the Bond universe. As easily and inexplicably as Bond himself changes character and appearance from film to film, many other things change too. No one wonders why if this is the beginning of the Bond story, it takes place in the present time, decades before any of the other Bond movies. Bond’s handler, M, who was played by Bernard Lee in the early movies, is played by Judi Dench, as in the newer movies, even though this movie is placed at the beginning of the timeline. You won’t find comic relief in this film. There is no quirky Q dispensing spy toys, especially of the bumbling and goofy variety played by John Cleese. The relief in Casino Royale comes from stretches of slow reality that lull you into a sense of false security. This too is new to Bond films. So while I appreciate the new gritty reality of Casino Royale, I also appreciate that we can love the franchise enough to suspend our disbelief about its massive inconsistencies and just enjoy it for the great entertainment that it is.