We were very big Remington Steele fans, my family and I. So much so that we still tell this story to this very day. Our television was on the fritz; its picture was fuzzy and it kept doing that that thing where the screen would rotate around and around like TVs did back then. My father, in his infinite wisdom, decided that he was going to fix it by doing what he called "degmagnitzing it" which meant in actuality that he was going to rub a big speaker magnet all over the screen. This, of course, did not at all fix it but instead made the entire picture look like a psychedelic lava lamp full of wild colors, which might be fun at parties, but was completely useless for watching actual television shows.
This occurred about an hour before Remington Steele came on that night, and so frantically we began trying to find someone with a VCR to record the show. Unfortunately, no one was home, and so we jumped in the car and made the mad rush to grandmother's house about half an hour's journey away. This was when I was still quite young, which makes my sister very young indeed, and so we were all in our pajamas and would not be getting home until well past our bedtime. These things don't matter though when Remington Steele is on the line.
I tell that story to say that we were very delighted to hear that Pierce Brosnon would be taking over the role as James Bond. Then we were crushed to learn the news that the deal was cancelled because NBC was bringing back Brosnon as Steele even though they had just cancelled the series (an outpouring of fan support made them cancel the cancellation bringing the series back for a few television movies.) Then once again we were excited to see Brosnon was back on as Bond after Timothy Dalton had left the role. All of that goodwill quickly dissapated as the series under Brosnon's tutelage went from promising to some of the worst films in the series. It got so bad that I have yet to actually watch Die Another Day, and my faith in the character had completely died.
When I heard news about Daniel Craig playing a new sort of Bond in a reboot that featured an origin story I was at first completely uninterested. I was over Bond, or so I thought. But the critical and fan support of this new series was so great that eventually I gave in and in the end I was glad I did for the new Bond was one of the very best.
The pre-credit sequence in Casino Royale finds Bond matching wits with a corrupt MI6 station chief who underestimates Bond because he has not been given his 00 status. To receive that status apparently an agent must kill at least two people, and Bond has not yet done that. Little does the station chief know that Bond has already killed the chief's contact (which we see in a series of flashbacks) and he then quickly kills the chief thus earning his 00 status.
With that explosive begining we are treated to one of the only opening credit sequences without dancing naked women nor a theme song with the same title as the film (though it is characteristically awful.)
And we're off to the races.
We're now in Madagascar with Bond on the heels of a bomb-maker who discovers the agent's presence and sends the spy on one of the great action sequences of the entire series. It is a foot chase implementing a great deal of stunning parkour moves up a construction site and into an embassy which Bond promptly blows nearly completely up and kills the bomb maker.
In these opening scenes the film has set the tone that this new Bond is not only less suave and sophisticated than his previous incarnations, but also more physical, daring, and apt to go off task than ever before.
Next, we head to the Bahamas and then Miami chasing down the bomb-maker's contact who plans to blow up a prototype airliner making millions off the ensuing stock drop. There's seduction, quick-witted quips, and more big action scenes before we move to our next location (Montenegro) and villain (Le Chefre, played by Mads Mikkelsen), who was the brains behind the plane destruction. He has lost millions since the plane remained intact and has now set up a high-stakes poker game to recoup his losses.
Enter Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the treasury agent who sees to the money needed to get Bond into that poker game and who becomes our new Bond girl. There are attempts at seduction, but she is too smart to fall for just good looks and quick wits. Once the poker begins, the film drags just a bit. There have been lots of films made about poker, and I've never found any of them to be particularly interesting. No matter how high the stakes, it's still just a bunch of people staring at cards. Our director Martin Campbell seems to know this so he intercuts the cards with several bits of action including Bond trying to use a defibrillator on himself. Its not bad but its not nearly as interesting as the earliers scenes.
Eventually a winner is determined, but Bond is captured and put through some of the grittiest, nastiest torture scenes we've ever seen him put through and then promptly rescued. Recovered, he declares his love for Vesper, quits the service, and sails away to Venice. There's romance, double-crossing (but for good reason), more big action, and a "Bond...James Bond" ending.
All in all, Casino Royale is some of the best Bond-ing I've seen in a long long while. The reboot does a great job of updating the character into a more visceral, more studly, less-tuxedo-wearing/martini-drinking ladies man than previous versions while still keeping him Bond and giving us a great origin story to boot. Daniel Craig proved himself the perfect fit for this new Bond (even if he is blonde.). Eva Green fits in quite well as the new Bond girl, and while Judi Dench isn't given much to do she makes a very nice M. It isn't perfect, it's overlong, it drags in the middle, and as we'll see even more clearly with Quantum of Solace, Bond eventually needs a little sophistication to stay true to himself. Yet, it is a great improvement over the last several films and proved that the franchise still has stories to tell and life yet in him.
Operation: BOND will return with Quantum of Solace