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Thursday, December 07, 2006

CASINO ROYALE is one heck of a James Bond film

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale

All right, I said in my previous entry I'm going to write something heavy, but I'm still not ready for that, so I'll just churn out another film review for a film I saw last night (first movie I saw in Malaysia since my return two nights ago!).

I've been looking forward to seeing Casino Royale when I managed to read some of the first reviews of the film a week before its premiere in US and UK, all of them were pretty positive, which was surprising, since I was just as unsure as anyone else when they picked Daniel Craig as the new Bond last year (my personal pick was Clive Owen after watching those BMW short films he was in). Of course, seeing Daniel Craig's sheer badassness in Munich lessened my fears a little, but I was still unexcited with a new Bond film. Granted, I DID enjoy Die Another Day for its sheer camp and silliness, I would always be the one defending it when most people I know were dissing the film, but come on, Die Another Day was a pretty damned funny film, and in my opinion, was better than Tomorrow Never Dies (sorry, Dato Michelle Yeoh) and The World Is Not Enough (despite the hotness of Sophie Marceau).

Then, more reviews trickled out, and Casino Royale would become one of the highest-rated films of the year in Rotten Tomatoes (it's currently rated at 94%). One by one, people I know who saw the film couldn't stop praising it. My aspiring filmmaker friend Sebastian thought this may be the best Bond ever made. While my dad said that Daniel Craig a great Bond (who blew Pierce Brosnan away)! And this came from someone who had been watching Bond films since the Connery days. But then, my mom didn't like it because the smooth, suave, superheroic image of James Bond in her mind had been shattered (she was traumatized by the torture scene).

So, most critics in America loved it. My friend and my dad loved it. My mom hated it. Howsy was bored. The latter two seemed like the minority. Originally indifferent towards it (neither trailers impressed me), I was suddenly interested.

Timothy Dalton was the Bond during the time I was born (License To Kill was the very first Bond film I saw in the cinemas), but Pierce Brosnan was the Bond I grew up watching, so in some ways, he did define what Bond would be like in my mind, despite the fact that I really didn't like Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. (no different from any forgettable mindless Hollywood blockbusters filled with explosions, special effects and crap), and that the redeeming quality of Die Another Day was its silly campiness. ("invisible cars! heehee!" "madonna cameo! hahaha!" "james bond tortured during the opening sequence, whooo!" "two cars speeding on ice, shooting stuff at each other!" "snowboarding james bond! oooh!"). Technically, to me, the best Brosnan Bond film was GoldenEye (Famke Janssen's recent foray as the Dark Phoenix in X-Men 3 was nothing compared to her Xenia Onatopp!). So getting Goldeneye director Martin Campbell back for Casino Royale seemed like a good sign. (while some hardcore Quentin Tarantino fans were screaming that Tarantino should've been the one doing this... right.)

So, how do I feel after seeing the film last night? Yeap, I think it was great, and I definitely think that there's no way Pierce Brosnan would've done what Daniel Craig did in it. The latter's clearly a more versatile actor, and the fact that he looked more like a Bond baddie than a traditional Bond made the character even more complex and ambiguous than before. Not anymore is this an indestructible superspy who could waltz through enemy headquarters blowing everyone away and then using all kinds of outlandish gadgets to save his own life, this is a normal 21st century guy who had to take a lot of punishing, er, before blowing everyone away.

"Eek! He's sooooo not handsome!" My little sister remarked during the opening black and white sequence, which showed 007 earning his license to kill after making his first two kills (the first one, which took place in the toilet, was particularly messy, thus I was unsurprised by my sister's remark, hah).

But goddamn, this film does have some thrilling action setpieces. Less explosions, special effects and gadgetry, but many times more exciting because of their realism. The early chase scene at an African construction site, with its crazy acrobatic stunts, felt like something from an early Jackie Chan movie. The rest of the action sequences, a fight on a runaway fuel truck at an airport tarmac, a shootout in a collapsing building at Venice were hell intense and edgy. Being 144 hours (oops) minutes long, this film had just as much drama and character stuff than action scenes.

I personally subscribe to the theory that all the Bonds throughout the years were different people, and that 'James Bond' was just a codename inherited by the 007 agent after the retirement of his predecessors, yet ultimately, numerous incidents would make them the ultra-cold, womanizing, emotionless superspies we know, unintentionally becoming somewhat similar to one another. So in this film, we get to see James Bond making his first mistake, falling in love for the very first time, enduring some unexpected betrayals by those close to him, dressing down by M (Dame Judi Dench!) etc.

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in Casino RoyaleWhile the first half of the film was quick and action-packed, things slowed down once Vesper Lynd (Eva Green!!!!!!!) appeared and James Bond had to involve himself in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro's Casino Royale with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier/banker to international terrorists. And the love story between Vesper Lynd and James Bond became, to me, surprisingly affecting. Especially when Eva Green turned out to be such a great Bond girl (with the exception of Izabella Scorupco's Natalya in GoldenEye, I've never been impressed by the Bond girls in Brosnan films, sorry again, Dato Michelle Yeoh)!! YES! Eva Green!!!! omfg! OMFG!

Although there were some really cringe-worthy lines, like...
Vesper Lynd: You're not going to let me in there. You've got your armour back on.
James Bond: I have no armour left. You've stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me - whatever I am - I'm yours.
But then, Vesper and Bond were engaged in some pretty witty banter that were definitely better than those double-entendre we saw in Die Another Day. I liked...

Vesper Lynd: Am I going to have a problem with you, Mr. Bond?
James Bond: No, don't worry, you're not my type.
Vesper Lynd: Smart?
James Bond: Single.
Strangely, the film did feel pretty emotional towards the end, when things took a darker twist. The tragedy that befell upon James Bond reminded me of, er, well, myself.

Eva Greeeeeeen!Ultimately, this is the very first Bond film which, when I heard the classic 'the name's Bond... James Bond' line, I almost wanted to stand up and applaud. I'm not going to say where and when he was going to say that line if you still haven't known, it was an awesome moment.

Bond fan or not, I recommend this. I liked Mission Impossible 3, but I think this is a superior film. And if rumours about the next Bond films being direct sequels (as in, they really continue the story of this film) are true, then I'll be happy.

And now, for the ultimate line in the film (and yes, I didn't make that up).
James Bond: Now the whole world will know that you died scratching my balls!
BTW: This is random, but I giggled when I caught a glimpse of M's husband. I had never imagined M marrying anyone.

Music video of Chris Cornell's You Know My Name, theme song for Casino Royale

Other Reviews:

The Sensintrovert: Howsy's Bond Movie Review: "My Name Is Bond, Sony Bond"
"So, in 4 words, I would describe the film as: Blue-eyed, Bullet-proof, Bond. Boring." Says Howsy.

Eternal Crap of the Corrupted Mind: Casino Royale
"Casino Royale is, in my most humblest opinion, a much better Bond movie than it's predecessors in a sense that it's much grittier and more realistic. Here, you see Bond slip, bruise, cut, bleed and die (almost anyway). There's no such thing as saving the day without breaking a sweat or ruining a suit anymore." Says Ian.

Shaolintiger.net: Movie Review - Casino Royale Rawks!

"Casino Royale is a fantastic movie and it's right up there with the classics of the Bond franchise. Daniel Craig really nails it as the raw recruit promoted to '00' status." Says Shaolintiger.

Chapree De Grande: Casino Royale: The Origin of Bond... James Bond

More depth, less crap made Chapree all happy." Says Chapree.