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 Casino Royale
He was once the epitome of cool; suave, dangerous and guaranteed to show Johnny Terrorist what the British bulldog was made of. The name was Bond, James Bond and the game was giving violence, casual chauvinism and action-packed globetrotting a loveable sheen. But if Bond’s glamour was undoubtedly cutting edge in the sixties, as time has passed it’s been an increasingly uphill struggle to keep 007 down with the kids. Magnetic watches soon led to invisible cars, and with the likes of Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne keeping espionage fans glued to the screen in the 21st century, the question arises: do we still need James Bond?

The answer is an immediate, and let’s face it, obvious, yes we do. Director Martin Campbell (who previously steered the helm for Goldeneye) has opted for a more violent, back-to-basics approach to spying shenanigans whilst debutant Daniel Craig packs so much vitality into the role of Bond that our secret agent is virtually unrecognisable from the tired caricature of 2002’s ropey Die Another Day. Described by the producers as a ‘reboot’, Casino Royale dispenses with many of the sacred cows of the series; most refreshingly, the preposterous gadgets and gimmicks that made Pierce Brosnan’s films increasingly ridiculous have been all but sacrificed, along with their godfather Q. Implausible, megalomaniac villains have also gone by the wayside with chief baddy Le Chiffre retaining just enough silliness (tears of blood, anyone?) to keep the James Bond feel.

Instead, the film’s producers have taken an altogether more organic approach. More so than ever before, this is a film about Bond, the man. The promise of a more human, believable Bond has indeed come to fruition but perhaps not in the way many people might have imagined. Craig’s younger, more virile double-0 is just as cultivated as ever without being nearly as collected; in other words he’s cool but most definitely not chilled. While a less accomplished actor might have opted for a sappy Bond-with-feelings, Craig’s interpretation is far more interesting. He is an angry young man, as reckless as he is cruel; crucially, his vulnerability stems from inexperience. While James Bond has historically been MI6’s finest agent, Casino Royale kicks off with his promotion to double-0 status. We see him breaking into an adversary’s office whilst flashbacks reveal his first ever professional kill as he brutally beats a man to death in a bathroom. The opening introduces a theme that gives the film a unique feel next to its predecessors. This time, Bond is a rookie. He is frequently impatient, rash and inexperienced and it is this backdrop that makes Daniel Craig’s performance such a revelation.

The film’s refreshing ethos is also visible in its action scenes. Most of the stunts take place on foot and with the fist and are none the worse for it. Witness Craig tearing through an embassy in Madagascar with reckless abandon, pursuing what turns out to be, in the grand scheme of things, an aimless goon. This early adrenaline rush gives us a good indication of Bond’s approach to his job: consequences simply don’t come into it. We are also treated to a truly engaging narrative, packed to the brim with exquisite suspense and the plot twists that a post-24 audience demands. The central sequence in the eponymous casino bristles with a tautness that Craig’s unpredictability lends itself to perfectly. In the final confrontation with Le Chiffre, Bond is out through an ordeal that will have every man in the audience squealing like a pig, and yet his brilliant response to Le Chiffre’s taunts shows us that he is as hard as he is witty.

Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement, though, is in how it presents Bond visually. Sex has always been a big part of the Bond formula but in the past, the focus has always been on his numerous female acquaintances. This time, the camera prefers to hone in on the man himself, best seen in a splendid recreation of Dr No’s iconic scene of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea; Bond is now the figure strolling forwards in a wet bathing suit. The sequence works tremendously, helped in no small way by Daniel Craig’s rather impressive physique. James Bond has become a sex symbol in every sense, and perhaps this is part of what is great about the film. Craig’s character is someone we can get involved in on many different levels. He is clever, altruistic and incredibly sexy, but suffers from some of the most understandable human characteristics. We are still prepared to idolise him despite his flaws, and in this way Daniel Craig has hit on exactly what we expect from a hero in the twenty-first century. Because of him, we do need Bond. Now more than ever.

8.5 out of 10

Buy Casino Royale now at Play.com
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