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Casino Royale

Once again I review something much too late to be useful. I wasn’t keen to see Casino Royale. Once upon a time, and against my better judgement, I felt a slight twinge of excitement or interest whenever a new Bond movie came out. Having reached the point where even a new Bond didn’t provoke a flicker of curiosity, I was in no hurry to get sucked back in. But it’s had great reviews, so when my sister said she was going I went with her.

I can see why it’s been getting so much praise; it’s a good film and and a positive change of direction for the Bond franchise. Basically they’ve cut down on the kitschy excess that had accumulated around the Bond films – the endless one-liners, the ludicrous gadgets, the jokey names, the bizarrely contrived stunts and supervillain lairs – and made it into a tight, modern action movie. It has a bit more edge to it, in that the violence is more brutal and that Bond is played as a bit of a thug, and it’s a bit more ‘realist’ (or at least less absurd). The locations are glamorous, the cars are fast and the women are beautiful, though, so its slightly harder-edged realism never goes so far as to actually feel realistic; let alone, to use another bit of movie-review shorthand, ‘gritty’.

So I basically give it a thumbs-up, although it could probably have been a bit shorter. Some of the credit has to go to Daniel Craig, who is surely the most physically intimidating Bond since Connery, and does a good job of the hard-boiled killer act. But too much of the comment about the Bond films is in terms of who is ‘the best Bond’; they can only act the script that’s put in front of them. If Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton had been put in this film, I’m sure they’d have done a decent job. It’s the script and direction that make most of the difference. It’s impressive what a change in style they’ve managed; it must have taken self-control by all concerned to resist falling back on the familiar Bond schtick. It’s the kind of change you might expect if there had been a break of twenty years since the last one that allowed people to look at the material afresh. I suppose it comes down to making a film which takes itself seriously.

Having said all that, I’m not going to rush to see the next one. It’s a well-made spy yarn, but it’s still just a spy yarn. It may be more serious but it’s not actually any weightier. And it’s not a lot of fun. There’s not a single likeable character; Craig’s Bond is intense, charismatic and even a bit scary, but not very nice. And they’ve cut down on the jokes so much that it’s become rather humorless.

It’s undoubtedly a much-needed refreshing of the brand, and probably the best Bond film for a very long time. I still wonder how much of an impact it would have made without the Bond name attached. It’s not a patch on The Bourne Identity, for example.

Having made a statement by making this one such a radical break with recent tradition, I suspect they’ll loosen up a bit for the next one and reintroduce some of the sillier elements of the Bond films – like a few gadgets and a villain with a plot for world domination – as well as a bit more humour. Which might be just what the film needs or it might just lead to them making the same old mistakes.