Thursday, November 16, 2006

Casino Royale

I'm Back and So Is Bond! But Some Things Never Change...

So I'm back from Beijing, and the city too has no lack of beauties. Too bad I don't have Bond's debonair flair, otherwise...

Anyway it's been a good trip, and Star Movies was showing a whole slew of Bond movies of old. Managed to catch a few to jog my memory, and gee, I realised that some of the Connery ones are severely dated, nevermind them being classic Bond films in their own right. So the question on everyone's mind is, does Daniel Craig measure up in taking over the Bond mantle?

In short, the answer is a resounding yes, and more. Daniel Craig brings to the table a sense of that everyday man, rather than the polished slickness of a seasoned spy with that double-oh license to kill. And understandably so, as Casino Royale is the first Ian Fleming book written about Bond, James Bond.

So it's back to the basics, back to the very first time of almost everything. There is no fancy futuristic gadget to assist Bond out of tight situations - he has to rely on his fists and bulging muscles and the ever reliable Walter PPK handgun. Although we have the beautiful Aston Martin as his wheels of choice, there is an incredible amount of running around on foot. M without Moneypenny, no gadgets and no Q (nor R), the dry vodka martini created on the fly, that's how basic Craig's Bond is. The trademarked opening, with the cliffhanger styled big stunts, the tracking gun barrel panning across the screen (now replaced with one quick shot set in a toilet!) are inconceivably missing. Even the theme song cum stylized opening credits is done without a gyrating female silhouette, something quite unthinkable for a formulaic Bond film!

But it's one heck of a refreshing change and feel to the franchise given the break from convention, after the successful stint by Pierce Brosnan built too much implausibility in the gadget department, and virtual indestructibility together with Q's lab hinging on a product placement overload. What you've read so far about Craig's Bond being a more physical and violent one, yes, you've read them right. He gets tortured, he gets injured, he even makes a lot of mistakes. But don't forget, like Batman Begins, this story tells of the time of how Bond became the renowned spy we all know, set just after he got promoted to double-oh status and earned his license to kill. He's wet behind the ears, a rookie in the business, and has a huge lesson to learn on trust and letting his guard down.

Which is where the Bond girls come in. While decorative, Casino Royale boasts Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), as THE femme fatale from the British Treasury sent to be Bond's bankroll as he tries to bring down chief villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) on the high stakes poker table of Casino Royale. You'll probably chuckle at the first time seeing Bond flirt with a trademarked decorative Bond chick, and it has this really awkward feel to it all. But with Vesper, you'll see how he bares his heart and soul for her, without trading too many sexual innuendos or impatiently trying to get inside her. It's probably something like first love, and after this episode, you'll probably begin to understand how his love-them-leave-them attitude towards beautiful woman developed. It's a cruel twist of fate in the love department that leaves you with some questions to ponder.

What about the story? It's nothing to shout about. Basically it's Bond up against Le Chiffre on the poker table, one which proves to be quite interesting to watch, but got dragged by too many meandering interruptions. The relationship and love scenes between Bond and Vesper feels extended in the longest Bond film to date (clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes), and does get mushy at times. But this I feel is the focus of Casino Royale, the microscope put onto Bond to see how he learns and develops his skills and persona. Though the main villain Le Chiffre looks sinister enough, there is a severe lack of world-dominating ambition, and doesn't reach the highs of Bond villains of the past. The lack of memorable villainous sidekicks too relegates the baddies to cardboard characters.

In short, Casino Royale builds its strength in providing a good way to bring about a change of actors into the Bond role by adapting Fleming's beginning, but really, while I think Craig will have a field day with this stint as Bond, I'll pity the next actor who has to take over him, without the safety net of going back to basics.

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