10 Years: “Casino Royale”

Time sure flies when you’re having fun. In this case, it’s watching a franchise grow older and older, and a new group of film’s come closer to the desired endgame. It’s only fitting then, that the year following the latest entry in a long running series, should see the one that started it all again celebrate a milestone. It’s now 10 years old, and if you haven’t revisited it or its sequels in some time, this may be an opportune time to do so. You’ll at least get a chance to see what you really think of the film and it’s sequels, if you so choose, and see if this aging film saga is still headed in the right direction.

The Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Columbia Pictures film “Casino Royale”, is a brutal action film that restarts the James Bond series and invigorates it in an exciting way that all viewers can get behind.

Every time a film or film series is rebooted, which is quite often these days, there’s one key component that needs to be addressed properly. It needs to outdo the previous film(s) and stand out on its own. Most fail this immensely and are just tossed aside. Not so here, which in this series’ case, probably brought some kind of renewed interest by a wide ranging audience.

Helping bring old and new audiences alike is the story. This film takes its plot from the first ever Bond novel that Ian Fleming wrote, and with that it’s easier to begin again. Reintroducing a familiar character can now showcase a lot of creativity as well as the fact that there’s still plenty of life left in the series. All of which was on full display and delivered a new kind of Bond film. This film and its general story get the added benefit of making the audience do some actual work. None of it’s really that hard to follow, but at the same time, this film doesn’t lead you around like some child who at any moment could get utterly and completely lost. The film’s writer’s just assume you can keep up and connect all the necessary dots. Or, as I discovered, notice when information is deliberately left out, building mystery, which would ultimately pave the way for all the other films to come and not give away the endgame. As far as I can recall, not many other Bond films have been this deliberate, so it’s a true credit to those in charge.

Because of the story, a much darker, grittier film and experience can now be had in just about every aspect. Principally, which really made this film stand out, the action. It’s an action film series, and while many people love the original films, even if not to the same degree, and if one were to be honest, they don’t hold up too well after so many decades later. They only bring about a certain kind of over the top quality that’s best suited for a spoof film. Not so here and for that the world is better off. The intensity of all action sequences, be they hand to hand fights or chase sequences, brought an energy lacking in many of the previous films. Realism was clearly the watchword. It’s because of this that each sequence drew you in more and more. You weren’t some spectator. It was go, go, go and the constant barrage of action, some a bit more brutal and seemingly realistic, provided ample amounts of fun. It’s certainly one way to raise your heart rate. While being thrust into the action, not only were you able to witness and enjoy well crafted and choreographed sequences, but you got a taste of true originality. That’s the hardest trick for any action film. Not repeating that which may have been done in another film, even a tiny bit. With little focus on gadgets, which itself was a relief, you got to feel like there were actual stakes involved. That even though you knew Bond wasn’t going to die (How could he?) the writers and director could easily do the unthinkable, or the next closest thing.

The idea of actual danger wasn’t limited to whatever stakes there were during exhilarating action sequences. With a large majority of the film taking place at the Casino Royale in Montenegro, the writers and director, Martin Campbell, needed to do something truly unique. Create suspense and drama during a card game. There was drama to begin with, what with the buy in being $10 million, but because Bond had a stated goal and Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre knowing this, it was amplified quite a bit. The execution worked flawlessly, which I pretty much forgot. Watching that fictional game must be what it’s like watching real life tournaments. Who knew a card game could be so suspenseful? As this was an unavoidable aspect of the film’s plot, it’s even more incredible how well it was pulled off. Going from high octane action, which is what we got midway through the poker game, and back could’ve easily misfired, but made each minute worth it and never (even more surprising) slowed the film down.

While all of the above is wonderful and definitely makes this entry stand out, if it weren’t for one key element, this film’s reception may have been drastically different. The character of Bond is not who we thought we knew. This being a reboot of sorts, and following Fleming’s first book, allowed for Bond himself to be reset and be someone we’ve never previously encountered. It’s the emotional depth that allows for a more human connection to be made. You see him for who he is throughout the film and until just before the credits roll. It’s a huge arc that then brings us to the Bond we’ve all come to know, and maybe love. For a Bond film itself, it’s just refreshing. I’ve never viewed any of the previous films as ever having been that deep, certainly not that emotionally rich, where you can genuinely care. He’s no longer this bad ass spy, who just responds like some kind of killer cyborg, but someone with compassion and empathy. One such moment, which I love and didn’t realize was so strong, is after Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd survives the brutal stairwell fight, and is basically traumatized, Bond doesn’t just try and move them along. He sits with her and comforts her the best way he can. There’s no ulterior motive involved in this. Getting this depth and seeing what a complex character he actually is provides an avenue that’s also rarely seen in action films. No matter how hard some writers try to make action characters interesting or human, it’s usually all just on the surface. For a long running franchise able to show a new side of a familiar character, means there may in fact be even more life left than we thought.

However, as with all incredibly well done film’s, there’s still enough room for some things to stick out and be negative. While not a complete blight overall, it’s enough to pull you out for a moment and have you ask, What were the writer’s thinking? In this case, it’s the need to prolong the film. The main events of the film have now since concluded. Mikkelsen’s character has been taken care of, as have many other villains out to commit deadly criminal acts. So, what could possibly be left that requires almost 35 minutes more of film? Showing, in almost excruciating detail, Bond falling in love with Lynd. Now, the problem isn’t that he thought he could find love with this woman, it’s that it took too damn long. This could’ve been done in a shorter amount of time and been just as effective. Throughout the film we watched as the two of them went toe to toe verbally and for the purpose of the mission, showcasing some pretty strong chemistry along the way, but this extra time, going beyond just wrapping up the film and showing that Bond would recover, was a bit much. It inevitably set up the obvious, which then didn’t even need to be set up. At some point, you’re even given a warning sign, that a betrayal is about to happen, but you don’t know why. Sure it lends itself well for one incredible finale, but there could’ve (should’ve) been a bit more mystery in its execution, which would’ve further cemented the film’s new darker tone and made it an even better experience overall.

But we can’t all get what we want, can we? Which is also why we’re still getting a man who’s supposed to be some incredible super spy, yet every single person knows who he is? How Bond manages to get around and be useful to anyone is a mystery in desperate need of being solved.

A different type of mystery, that should itself be solved, is the objectification of Bond. It’s an interesting aspect in this film, and while it may not be seen as an issue for many (more a relief ), and seems to flip this past trend on its head, it brings with it something that couldn’t be overlooked. Typically in one of these films, the character’s being objectified in some way are usually the female characters. It must’ve been a product of the times and remained for the majority of the series. Does that make it okay? No, or so goes the current thinking with regards to objectifying female characters. However, this film, seemingly more so than any film before, basks in the objectifying of Daniel Craig’s character. The first thought I had when Craig walks out of the ocean was, “Coz that’s not objectifying him at all.” While it makes for one incredible shot, and something to reward anyone who watches, it doesn’t change the fact that in that moment, Craig as Bond, has now become just another piece of meat; something all eyes should be feasting on. This lends itself not simply to the notion that there’s almost some equality in that, and other instances on display, but that a vast majority of people are probably okay with this. As a response to this approval, a question not typically associated with this type of objectification arises. Why is it okay to objectify a person in one way, but not acceptable to do so another way? Shouldn’t there be some kind of outrage had for both? The idea that it’s some kind of corrected wrong isn’t enough. If the point is to end or lessen objectification, why is the response to weaken the overall argument and thus the cause? Do those who cry foul for one not truly care about the reason they cried in the first place? If so, keep on crying while binoculars are at the ready, and perhaps no one will notice the hypocrisy.

10 years is a long time for any film, but for a franchise well into middle age, it’s yet another sign of surprising longevity. For whatever reasons, of which there are many, this series is like the Energizer Bunny. However, with this reboot, which at this current moment seems to have come to a full and complete stop, it’s unknown what the direction of this series will be. Will a new thread be started or some kind of final film to wrap up where Craig’s Bond went? Will the tone created in this film, that lasted well into the subsequent three sequels, return when a new Bond is cast? I fear that you can only reboot this series, like with this film, only so many more times before a return to something relatively normal is in store. If not, the series could come to a screeching halt, which could prove to be the biggest surprise yet.

This action film stars Craig (“Spectre”, “Superheroes Unite for BBC Children in Need”), Green (“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, “Penny Dreadful”), Mikkelsen (upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, “Doctor Strange”), Giancarlo Giannini (“Il Ragazzo Della Giudecca”, “On Air: Storia di un Successo”), Caterina Murino (“We Are Family”, “Ustica: The Missing Paper”), Simon Abkarian (“Chouf”, “Malaterra”), Isaach De Bankole (“The Good Wife”, “The Last Witch Hunter”), Jesper Christensen (“The King’s Choice”, “Spectre”), Ivana Milicevic (“Power”, “Banshee”), Tobias Menzies (upcoming “Underworld: Blood Wars”, “Outlander”), Claudio Santamaria (“They Call Me Jeeg Robot”, “Three Touches”), Jeffrey Wright (upcoming episodes “Westworld (2016 TV series”, “BoJack Horseman”), and Judi Dench (upcoming projects “The Hollow Crown”, “Tulip Fever” ).

The film was directed by Campbell (“Last Resort”, “The Green Lantern”) and written by Neal Purvis (“Spectre”, “Skyfall”), Robert Wade (“Spectre”, “Skyfall”), and Paul Haggis (“Third Person”, “The Next Three Days”). It is based on the novel of the same name by Fleming.

The film originally debuted on Nov. 17, 2006.

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