- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s common knowledge that James Bond is dashingly proficient in dodging the bullets of his outlandish nemeses, but the question that everyone is dying to know is whether or not he’ll be just as good at dodging those from the looming rogue’s gallery of film critics. A shimmering media target ever since being cast as the new man behind Ian Fleming’s iconic MI6 super agent, Daniel Craig has been charged with the task of breathing new life into the longest-running franchise in the history of film. Unfortunately, while Craig’s past performances have proven him more than capable of taking on such a physically demanding role, he’s simply no James Bond. Down and dirty government agent, perhaps, but a legitimate 007 he is not.
Taking place in a pre-Q world – where the fanciest gadget that Bond possesses isn’t an invisible car, but a cellular phone – “Casino Royale” follows the newly-appointed 007 on his very first License to Kill mission. After blowing up an African embassy while chasing down an alleged gun-for-hire (Sébastien Foucan, co-founder of parkour), Bond is sent to Montenegro where a high-stakes poker game is being hosted by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an Albanian banker with ties to the terrorist network. In order to stop him from further terrorist attacks, Bond is entered into the tournament where he must defeat the notorious card shark at his own game.
Much like this summer’s “Superman Returns” and last year’s “Batman Begins,” “Casino Royale” can be viewed as a sort of reboot for the careworn franchise. Instead of clogging the film with complex storylines and villains who are too eccentric for their own good, it instead thrives as a character-driven piece where the audience can learn more about what kind of person James Bond really is. The key to this behind-the-scenes exposé is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) – the first (and seemingly last) woman to ever win Bond's love – whose relationship with 007 offers a deeper understanding as to why Bond is the way he is around women.
Regrettably, this romantic set-up takes the film in a direction that most fans won’t be too pleased to see develop. One in which action sequences are sparse, and the threat of world domination dissipates. I'd be the first to blame the slow demise of the franchise on the mounting ridiculousness of the past few installments, but it seems that when the character is grounded in reality, the world around him only looks that much more fantastical. Granted, it’s nice to see Bond fighting dirty and being subjected to torture, but when are the studios going to stop trying to emulate shows like “24” and just make a movie like it was originally meant to be made? Bond shouldn’t be fighting terrorists just because it’s the 21st century; he should be battling eccentric villains while riding around in jetpacks and fancy automobiles.
It’s a shame that director Martin Campbell (who also helmed the fantastic debut of Pierce Brosnan in “GoldenEye”) let this film wriggle away from his control, because it could have been one of the best in the series. Instead, the film opens with a bang, only to flatline 30 minutes later. Bond may have managed to bring himself back to life midway through “Casino Royale," but the movie isn’t quite as lucky. This may not be the end for Bond, but it sure as hell ain’t the start of a new beginning, either.
Collector's Edition Blu-Ray Review:
As anyone who owns the original release of “Casino Royale” already knows, the film didn’t exactly receive the treatment it deserved. You’ll be happy to hear, then, that the new two-disc release features everything that should have been included the first time around and more. Headlining the long list of bonus material are two audio commentaries – a Blu-ray exclusive picture-in-picture track with director Martin Campbell and producer Michael G. Wilson, and another track with producers Wilson and Barbara Broccoli serving as moderators to a cast of various crew members that worked on the film. Both commentaries are definitely worth a listen, but it’s the one with Campbell that proves to be the more interesting of the two.
The second disc houses a majority of the bonus material, however, with over 4 hours of extras ranging from production featurettes to historical documentaries. Some of the best include “The Road to Casino Royale,” a featurette on the book’s history in Hollywood; “Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation,” a profile of the author that also discusses his semi-autobiographical relationship to Bond; and “Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise,” a behind-the-scenes look at the history of Bond in the Bahamas. Some of the other extras are more production-based, like the location featurette “James Bond in the Bahamas,” an in-depth featurette on filming the sinking palazzo sequence (“Death in Venice”), and storyboards for two of the film’s big set pieces. Rounding out the two-disc set are the extras from the original release (the making-of featurette “Becoming Bond,” the stunt featurette “James Bond: For Real,” and the 2006 documentary “Bond Girls Are Forever”), a handful of deleted scenes, a short profile on free running co-founder Sébastien Foucan, an interactive trivia quiz, filmmaker profiles, and a Chris Cornell music video.