How to revitalise a movie franchise: appoint a director who's going to give the proceedings a bit of energy. After a number of increasingly stodgy Bond films helmed by John Glen, Martin Campbell called the shots on ‘Goldeneye’ and the result was a bloody good action thriller. Sadly, the Brosnan Bonds alternated between slick entertainment (‘Goldeneye’, ‘The World is Not Enough’) and self-indulgent tedium (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘Die Another Day’ - which started well enough but lost the plot in the spectacular fashion).
Then Campbell got back in the director's chair for Daniel Craig's first outing as 007 and instead of just revitalising the franchise for a second time, he pretty much re-invented it. It helped, of course, that he had Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s script (with contributions from Paul Haggis): the concept’s a stroke of genius.
‘Casino Royale’ simply disregards the twenty Bond films that came before it and sets itself up as the first instalment. It also goes back to an original Ian Fleming novel, for the first time in a couple of decades. Obviously, it throws in a few big crowd-pleasing set pieces but on the whole it's a pretty faithful adaptation, right down to a cringe-inducing torture scene where Bond gets it (to be blunt) in the balls. His antagonist, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), opines that he doesn't see the point of contrived torture scenes - a bit of basic brutality is so much more effective.
It's a neat moment, meant to strip away the clichés of previous outings. Other elements of the film echo the sentiment. Q is absent; there are no ludicrous gadgets. Cheesy one-liners are also off the menu (making this, if you’ll pardon the pun, a royale without cheese), replaced by genuinely snappy dialogue. “Shaken or stirred?” a bartender asks an ashen Bond, his cover blown, the operation seemingly in tatters. “Does it look like I give a damn?” 007 snaps.
Craig’s portrayal of Bond gets right back to the character of the novels: he’s rash, he makes mistakes. He's a more human incarnation than the unkillable smart arse of the later films. Craig makes the best Bond since Connery. In fact, I’m going to put all my chips on the table: Craig is as good as Connery.
Any criticisms? At two and a half hours, it’s slightly overlong. Certainly the poker scenes could have been trimmed. At times, the midsection feels like half an hour’s worth of Channel 4’s ‘Later Night Poker’ found its way into the editing room and got spliced in. Minor quibbles. ‘Casino Royale’ put the series right back on track in fine style, the ending pointing towards the next film … which has been saddled not only with an unwieldy title (‘Quantum of Solace’) but Marc Forster as director.