Rewatching the James Bond films chronologically. We’ve reached 2006 now, and the series gets a whole new direction with Casino Royale. The million-billion dollar question is whether this is in continuity or a total reboot, because the movie tries to both.
Blond blurb: After gaining his double-O status, Bond is assigned to investigate a bombmaker, which leads him to the sinister Le Chiffre, an international terrorist financier. The trail leads to the Casino Royale in Montenegro, where Bond faces off against Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game. The real stakes, though, are Bond’s relationship with fellow agent Vesper Lynn and his questioning his place in the world.
Bond background: OK, so is this a reboot or not? You’d think that, with Bond receiving his double-0 status and being described as a “blunt instrument,” but these blog posts are all about viewing the Bond films as a series, so that’s what I’ll do here. In the previous film, Die Another Day, Bond spent 14 months being tortured. Along comes Casino Royale, with a rougher, scrappier, and harder-edged Bond — one who is starting over. His promotion to a double-0 could easily be a reinstatement. The Die Another Day torture incident could also partially explain how Bond endures being tortured horribly in Casino Royale, as well as his willingness to leave MI6 to start a new life. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that M is not only still played by Judy Dench, but it’s clear that she and Bond have a history. This recalls her antagonistic relationship with him introduced in Goldeneye.
Bond baddies: Mads Mikkelson is all sleek and intense as Le Chiffre, with his super-creepy tic of randomly crying blood on occasion. A big twist late in the film (SPOILER, I suppose) comes when Le Chiffre’s henchman Mr. White kills him, as it’s revealed White was really running the show.
Bond babes: Bond first romances Solange, but it’s secretly to get info from her, so some things haven’t changed. It’s Vesper Lynd, however, who has a profound effect on Bond. He admits that he loves her, and he’s willing to leave the spy life to run away with her.
Bond best brains: For everyone who says there are no gadgets in this movie, I say Bond has a hidden compartment in his car filled with anti-toxins — and funky blue neon lighting! MI6 also implants a tracking device inside Bond’s arm, to keep track of his vitals and his whereabouts.
Bond bash-ups: We begin with a foot chase in which both Bond and a parkour guy use the environments they’re running through to their advantage. Then there’s an excellent chase on an airport runway with a lot of great stunts. During a break in the poker game, there’s an amazing fight in a stairway, with Bond and a villain beating on each other while they fall down the stairs. I know that sounds goofy, but it’s really an eye-popping sequence. The finale takes place in Venice, with Bond fighting everyone inside a crumbling building as it sinks into one of the canals.
Bond baggage: Poker tournaments inexplicably exploded in popularity on cable TV a few years earlier, so the movie makes it a point to specify that Bond and Le Chiffre are playing Texas Hold ‘Em, just like the TV shows.
Bond bewilderment: If you want to make an argument that this is a start-from-scratch reboot, CIA agent Felix Leiter returns, and he and Bond act as if they’re meeting for the first time. However, he has several lines of dialogue referring to Bond as his “brother,” so maybe there’s a history there? Maybe?
Bond bygones: The movie delights in taking Bond tropes and subverting them. When asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, a preoccupied and stressed-out Bond replies, “Do I look like I give a damn?”
Bond babble: You know what? Continuity, shmontinuity. This is a great movie, filled with awesome action, excellent performances, and genuine, emotional stakes for Bond. It’s a must-see.
Next week: A night at the opera.
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