Rebooting James Bond
Reboots are all the rage these days. DC rebooted their universe recently and in any given year, DC or Marvel will reboot at least half a dozen characters. The current Battlestar Galactica is a successful reboot on television. Batman Begins is seen as a very successful reboot of a moribund franchise while Superman Returns is seen as a less successful attempt.
Then there’s James Bond. Since his debut in theaters, there have been numerous actors portraying 007 but the reality in which they work has remained a constant. Age and death have forced the film series to replace M and Moneypenny as well as introduce a successor to Q. But, until now, there really hasn’t been a total reboot.
Casino Royale is just that, despite the appearance of Judi Dench, once more, as M. The producers, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, decided that once they obtained the rights to the first Ian Fleming Bond novel, it was time to tell his origin for movie fans. The timing couldn’t have been better since they were iffy about Pierce Brosnan coming back for a fifth film.
So, it was time to turn back the clock and imagine a world of spies, espionage, arms trading and the like, without over-the-top gizmos. It was to be a grimmer Bond film and showing how he became the successful spy we have all come to know and love. Director Martin Campbell has handled Bond before and one could argue a different director was required for the reboot, but given the strength of the script he inherited and the desires of the producers, he knew what was expected. He delivered. Mostly.
Casino Royale has been hailed as the best Bond since (fill in the blank). While very good, it is certainly not the best Bond film of all time.
We have to look at the film two ways. First, as a Bond film, it’s terrific. Exotic locales around the world, spectacular chases and stunts, an involved plot – all hallmarks of a good Bond movie. Unlike too many previous offerings, the story actually is linear and makes sense. The characters are well introduced and we watch Bond evolve, the most character development he’s had since, arguably, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. His growing relationship with M is nicely done as is the slow development of the repertoire of Bondisms. Much has been made of the martini origin but I liked how the film ended with the familiar introduction of “Bond. James Bond.” Only then do we get the traditional theme music as the end credits roll. By this time, he’s earned it and it’s a nice touch.
I’ve said all along Daniel Craig at 38 is too old to be Bond as he earns his 00 status. Now that I’ve seen the film, it works just fine largely due to Craig’s marvelous performance. He’s surrounded with many good actors including Mads Mikkelson as La Chiffre and Eva Green as Vesper Lynde, the least annoying Bond girl in memory.
It’s a very good, probably terrific Bond film.
It’s not a very good movie.
The problem stems largely from the movie changing pace and tone without warning about two-thirds of the way through. But first, having Felix Leiter on hand is from the novel as well as a nod to their friendship but Jeffrey Wright is wasted as Leiter. He has nothing to do and just sits there. Also, Ivana Millcevic (Valenka) shows up well into the poker game, is never introduced, and then has a key plot twist handed to her and we don’t know what’s going on.
As soon as the La Chiffre story ends and Bond is on the road to recovery (from one of the most effectively brutal torture scenes on film), the movie morphs into something else. The pace slows to something excruciatingly slow, too much is told expositorily between characters rather than letting the audience in on the fun. By the time it finally ends, we’re still not entirely sure who this man is that Bond has tracked or who the man with the eye patch was. It’s poorly paced and leaves much left unexplained.
Still, this reboot sets us up for the Daniel Craig era with the second installment already promised for May 2008. In fact, I stayed through the end credits for the traditional promise that “James Bond will be Back” because despite its flaws, I was sold on the reimagining of the franchise.