Casino Royale – 4.75 stars

Clive Owen seemed such a natural choice to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.  His breakout performance in the small budget Croupier even had him sporting a tuxedo in a casino.  But Owen passed, the role went to Daniel Craig, and “Bond was back!”

Except, Bond wasn’t back.  Daniel Craig and the creators of his movies turned their collective backs on a bunch of Bond movie staples.  Gone were the ridiculous gadgets, women named “Pussy” and “Goodhead”, painful puns and villains with designs to dominate and/or destroy the world.  Admittedly, Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil killed the last trope, which is a shame, because I’m less interested in villains with mere monetary designs.  But the advent of Craig signaled the death of a Bond audiences had come to know and tire of.

Instead, Craig brought us a hard, lean and rough Bond, a killer, but a smart, quick killer.  It was noteworthy that the first chase scene in Casino Royale is not by car, plane or boat, but on-foot, a dizzying, physical sequence where Bond chases down one man.  The suave and debonair is gone, as is evidenced by a drink order:

Like George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, however, Craig is introduced as a Bond who falls in love.  We see another side, briefly, and then thankfully (I prefer Bond unencumbered), we see what he will be going forward (we didn’t get that option with Lazenby, who apparently thought he had a brighter future than Bond had to offer).

Paul Haggis wrote Million Dollar Baby and Letters from Iwo Jima, and he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Crash.  He also wrote Casino Royale, which is interesting, well-paced and modern as opposed to cute and campy.

Also gone are the bevy of beauties, with the Bond girl being, generally, the least dumb.  Instead, we get a quick-witted Eva Green, who is a match for Bond intellectually and thankful that she lacks his innate brutality.

Best, Casino Royale brought back the gorgeous locales.  Prague, Nassau, Montenegro and Venice are featured.

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