Friday, December 08, 2006

Maggie noodle Review: Casino Royale

Shaken and stirred

Casino Royale has been widely publicized as a Bond movie that harks back to the way Ian Fleming envisoned the super-spy to be. Actually, what the producers want to say is that this story retains the basic premise of the original novel. The rest of the flesh is cut from a more modern beast, a beast that Fleming would have been astounded by.

First up, the story is set in present time, allowing Bond to jet-set around the globe and go through one muscular chase sequence after another till they all blur together. (I am not a big fan of chase sequences, except in Jackie Chan movies where the stunts make up for it). Bond free-running in Madagascar could have been filmed in Tatooine and it would not have mattered one bit to the movie. By the end of the movie I lost count of the number of times he chases after someone. We know that Bond will not die, therefore, scenes where he is imperiled do not matter any more.

Secondly, this Bond is not the polished uber-spy of the Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan era. Instead he is endearingly rough and is slowly settling into the cool exterior that characterized the latter-day Bond versions.

Thirdly, this Bond hurts, sweats, bleeds, grunts, groans, and loses. Yes, Bond loses at cards to the bad guy, until a deux et machina is invoked to let him get back into the game. And if is to be believed, this is the first Bond movie in which it rains, which is an odd factoid in itself.

Fourth, in between the action sequences the characters actually converse with each other. Bond and Vesper play verbal volleyball that is heartening because the woman has the more polished lines.

Fifth, this is the longest Bond movie ever. Many of my friends who have seen the movie complained about the length, adding that there wasn't enough action. To them I suggest that they go and see every Bond movie since the mid-70's to get their action fix.

Sixth, the bad guy is not interested in dominating the world, does not have a super-secret lair that could not ever be built in this day and age, or have a henchman who can kick the living bejeesus out of Bond. This is a good thing, and ironic, since if ever there was an actor playing Bond who could duke it out with the baddies, it is the buff Daniel Craig.

What the filmakers have attempted is to reinvent the Bond franchise by starting at the beginning, before Bond even became a full-time OO agent in MI-6. Consequently, Brosnan could not have played this role. It needed a newcomer and it is a clever launch vehicle for Craig. In the third act the movie meanders a little bit as Bond recovers from the trauma of his last encounter with the bad guys. Then there is a twist, and from the wreckage emerges a more definitive Bond. At the very end he walks past a fallen bad guy, the iconic Bond music playing for the first time in the movie, and then he looks into the screen and identifies himself. I do not get goosebumps often enough in a movie theatre these days, but after this scene I was tingling.

James Bond is back, and how!

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