After much Internet clamor and greatly divided opinions on the reboot of the beloved James Bond franchise, Casino Royale arrived to critical acclaim in 2006. Following Die Another Day (see my review in Part 1 here) there certainly was nowhere else to go but up. There is nary a surfboard to be found in the intro to this one. Instead, we open to find our new look Bond filmed in black and white, amidst stark, jarring flashbacks to his first kill. For better or worse, we now have what we wanted- Bond on the edge.
Casino Royale wisely provides immediate contrast to the entire history of the character prior to that point. Throughout the film, the idea of this dashing, nearly perfect hero we had always known is continually challenged. After an excellent, brutal chase and fight in which Bond foils an attempted bombing, the effects remain with him. Whereas before, Bond might come out of a fight with his hair still perfectly coifed, here he appears in the next scene with scars and bruises all over his face.
Bond’s ego is heightened and in the spotlight. This is a younger Bond, more animalistic and instinctual. It’s infectious to watch I must say. The punches don’t come easy and the bad guys are almost too fast to catch, and when he does catch up to them, his harsh actions carry weight. Innocent people get caught in the crossfire. He is made to feel the considerable weight that comes with carrying a license to kill.
M: “Bond, this may be too much for a blunt instrument to understand, but arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand in hand.”
I don’t feign to know the zeitgeist of the 1950s and 60s, but I’m pretty sure that the combination of a sense of arrogance and self-awareness was at least partly what turned James Bond into a hero of the times. The swagger and the skill of this polished spy in a tuxedo were what defined the character for 20 movies spanning over 40 years. So it’s quite a switch to see a Bond being lectured over the things that used to define him. We now see more clearly the truth of what he is- a blunt instrument, more a chiseled hammer than a shiny gun.
This is the Bond of the 21st century, because I mentioned in Part 1, we want our heroes to show off their imperfections. Truthfully, there are a lot of reasons for why we want it that way that can’t be summed up in this short article. But with our insta-high definition video world, we are frequently exposed to tragedy in a more vivid way than ever before. So it’s hard to root for a hero that experiences no consequence from a mounting body count.
James Bond is still a pretty slick character. The movies are still action packed blockbusters where there’s little doubt that good will win. But hey, this isn’t a franchise of bleak dramatic films, after all. The series remains popular because we still love our heroes and we want them to kick butt. The shift in character for Bond with this, my favorite James Bond film, set up the series for much more intense action and fun that I feel can be appreciated more when it has a bit of reality and thrown in. The current recipe is a pretty good concoction. Shaken, not stirred, of course.