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Directed by Martin Campbell, who also introduced us to Pierce Brosnan in his run as Bond with the critically acclaimed Goldeneye, Casino Royale is loosely based on the original Ian Fleming book of the same name and in such, strips away much of the usual flare that the films have become so well remembered for. As this is the story of how Bond gets his start, he is without the numerous gadgets and toys that are typically at his disposal, instead relying on his physical skills to earn his way into the fold. The biggest change though was casting the hero, this time far removed from the dashing, dark and debonaire figure that has come to define 007. Daniel Craig, already getting established as a strong leading man and action star, was a shocking choice, and one that had a lot to prove as fans were understandably concerned. Those fears were quickly dispelled though as Craig took the role of Bond and reshaped into into the very thing the modern era required, an action star who was more human, more vulnerable, and more authentic. It was the Bond many had been hoping for, a character that embraced the ideals of Fleming’s famous novels but morphed them into a new hero people could better identify with. His genuine love for Vesper (Eva Green) was a surprise, doing away with casual and over-sexed Bonds of the past. Campbell grounded the film is practicality, making Bond a down and dirty fighter, the action far more full of consequence, the dangers much more real. This was a startling good Bond and it re-ignited the once floundering series.
After a vicious opening sequence (shot in black & white) where Bond gets his first kill, Bond is in Madagascar on the hunt for a bomb maker named Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan). When the sting Bond is part of goes sour, a foot chase ensues with Mollaka cutting through a construction zone as Bond follows quickly after, hijacking a bulldozer to smash through the fences and into the site. Mollaka scales up the steel beam framing of a building with Bond right after and they two eventually jump their way to a massive set of cranes, leaving a trial of bodies behind as Mollaka empties his pistol. The tow continue to go up until they are forced to come back down, making great leaps onto the dusty half finished buildings. The long chase weaves through the halls and walls leading to the embassy where Bond traps him in the back courtyard, chased by a few dozen armed soldiers, all shooting to kill. Cornered outside at a locked gate, Bond has his man, but then shoots him dead and fires at a gas tank, its explosion leveling everyone to the ground while blowing out the metal gates and a way out.
This is not the James Bond your father grew up with. Or even your grandfather. This Bond is not dashing or suave or even sophisticated. Instead, he’s brash, undisciplined, and feircely determined. In khaki pants and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, this blonde-haired blue-eyed Bond stomps all over the tropes of the Bond of the past and blazes a new, electrifying path toward the future.While it’s nothing like the 007 we are used to, it also so compelling, we are instantly on board. The reckless nature, the kill or be killed mentality, the commitment to the cause, and the brazen, rogue attitude somehow make him undeniably more interesting, and while we question his tactics, we realize too he is still learning what it takes to be the best spy in the world. This Bond is about taking risks, and we see how that takes place throughout this astonishing sequence, from the improvised use of the bulldozer to the gauged leaps off the construction cranes, he is making split-second decisions where every movement could mean his death. These are new skills being freshly honed in the battlefield, and what’s important in all of it are the mistakes he makes as he goes, the mistimed jumps, the scrambles for a better hold, and the tumbles. All of these are essential, and while we are not used to our Bond making mistakes, the fact that he does, makes him that more endearing and effective. There is also the remarkable ending to this extended frenetic, action scene that actually ends in silence as Bond holds Mollaka by the scruff of his neck, pistol barrel jammed into his skull, eyeing the throngs of angry guards lining up around him with AK-47 rifles pointed at him. Bond isn’t even breathing heavy. He just stares back and we see the calculation happening behind his eyes. He is making his next movie in his mind. It’s a strikingly powerful moment, a thrilling finish to a spectacular run where we see that this new Bond isn’t going to send the bad guys off with a witty one-liner. He isn’t even going to smile. This Bond is for real, and it’s this very look that will define the Craig Bond and the start of the most successful 007 series yet.
Neal Purvis (screenplay), Robert Wade (screenplay)
Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench