Like most guys I know, I’m a fan of the 007 franchise and so I had to pick up the most recent incarnation of the MI6 Everyman before the next movie debuts. The latest installment features Daniel Craig, a brilliant choice to inherit the Bond mantle. He kind of looks like a cross between a young Steve McQueen and Sean Connery and has the acting chops to take Bond to a whole new level. There are enough scenes of gratuitous man flesh which should entice the female population to end their boycott of 007.
The main villain is fantastic. Le Chiffre, the evil banker for terrorists, has a strange disorder that causes his eye to bleed. Creepy. He loses millions of dollars in terrorist funds in a failed attempt to manipulate a company’s stock. Hunted by his clients, he must win back what he’s lost at a private high stakes poker game or lose his life. Vesper Lynd is an MI6 accountant and Bond’s love interest in the movie. At their first meeting, she is whip smart in sizing up the misogynistic Bond, but fails to repeat her performance throughout the rest of the movie leaving me baffled as to why she plays such a large role.
The action scenes look like they were choreographed by Jackie Chan, and somewhat detract from the plot. After a fifteen minute chase through a construction site with death defying leaps from tall buildings, Bond is cornered at an embassy where repeated rounds of semi-automatic weapons fail to even scratch him (ah, Hollywood). However, when the embassy guards have him in their sights, they refuse to pull the trigger. Are they all out of ammo? That scores a big WTF in falsetto voice with me.
Alas, I must admit that I am confused by the plot. Before viewing, please read Ian Fleming’s, Casino Royale in its entirety. You know, the book version, which was the first story written in the popular Bond series. This will give you GPS clarity for the movie as you navigate the labyrinthine streets of this plot.
After reading a brief synopsis of the book (thanks again, Wiki), I now better understand the movie. After crashing his car sans gadgets Bond gets tortured by being banged in the balls with a rope one too many times. After a timely but confusing rescue (?????), he fades in and out of unconsciousness and wakes up at some kind of richie-rich hospital talking to his betrayer/former ally Mathis, who is shortly after tazed and taken away, much to my consternation. I mean, if he’s there and not supposed to be, who are the tazing goons? Do they work for MI6, or are they part of this terrorist network? WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON?!?!?!?!?!?
Bond just woke up and doesn’t know where he is, so what the hell is going on? Next time he wakes up he shares a moment with femme fatale Vesper Lynd, whose double entendre I can’t figure out (Pussy Galore, Xenia Onatop, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole). Then he wakes up again to transfer money on a computer. I don’t know about you, but if my balls had nearly fallen off and I was supposedly convalescing, I’d want more assurance before transferring 250 big boys. We don’t get a sense of how much time has passed, and the visit from the transferring bank representative seems quite random. Has it been days, weeks, months?
I think what happened is the director was too ambitious and too tied to the book. There’s too much going on, even for two and half hours. I think we spent over fifteen minutes listening to boring dialog as the Bond/Vesper relationship develops, a cardinal sin where storytelling is concerned. Show me, don’t tell me. Then when she betrays him, he tries to save her. And the crazy thing is that she basically kills herself (rather than live with the guilt I assume).
The other thing that was missing was the gadgets, the laser watches, the underwater car, the plastic explosive keychain. John Cleese might have been considered too humorous as a Q replacement, but was definitely a part of the 007 franchise that I looked forward to, and what set it apart from other political/action thrillers. Bond had a defibrilator and a tracking device. That’s about it. He had a nice car that gets trashed in its debut, which is apparently a scene in the book. It’s as if the director, Martin Campbell, who I must give props for his GoldenEye, wanted to say, “Look here, I know it’s a fifty year old plot, but we’ve updated it while keeping it true to the original. This is the car crash scene and even though it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, we’ve kept it as it was in the book. But we’ve glammed it up so that it translates to our action and special effects-starved audience.” Yes, what we need are fifty year old ideas and a place to spend our special effects budget.
I’m less likely to watch the next installment which is a continuation of Casino Royale. It is entitled Quantum of Solace. I have a few alternate title suggestions:
Casino Royale 2: Filet of Flesh
The Bond Identity (this of course is a play on Bourne, but would account for what happened to Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan and allow a continual reinvention of the Bond character without trying to put him in the James Bond box.)
Smert Shpionam, which will mean as much to most people as Quantum of Solace, but translated from Russian means Death to Spies. This was a Russian counter-espionage wing of the KGB, which we encountered in The Living Daylights.
Another departure from the franchise is the intro music which is a bunch of cards and animated dudes with guns. No chicks! One of the best thing about 007 films is the intro music video where semi-naked chicks are artistically mixed in. Nothing doing here. It almost looks like a retro animation of a solitaire computer game. Neo-classicism is fine when you are paying tribute to the past, but the neo part of that usually means there’s something new there.
You can safely skip the last hour of the film and walk away with a better impression. Once Bond wins the card game, turn off the DVD. Not just to avoid the strange torture scene–not as bad as advertised–but to avoid the confusion of watching 200 pages of plot get crammed into a half hour while glossing over many important character names and plot details.
The guy in the first scene of the movie who connects Le Chiffre to the financing of terrorists is in the last scene apparently having received all of Bond’s winnings. But instead of being a more fearsome villain, he is easily winged by Bond who appears out of nowhere with an AK-47. The upcoming sequel continues to work over this villain, Mr. White, and if the writer’s have their way will be as convoluted as this needless revamp of the original book.
As with most things, practice makes perfect. There may be a reason that this book was the only Bond novel not made into a movie. Perhaps Ian Fleming’s books got better the more he wrote. While many parts of this “new Bond” are better, I am eager to see the next movie break away from the trappings of the book.