I talked a lot about Die Another Day’s failures in my previous post, but there’s one major thing I didn’t mention at the time. While that movie chased early 2000’s action movie trends of being stylish, over the top and full of slow motion effects, a sleeper hit released earlier that year that completely changed the overall direction of action movies. It’s a direction that is still affecting action movies today. Enter The Bourne Identity, released more than 5 months before Die Another Day.
The Bourne Identity chose raw, brutal fight scenes over big set pieces and clearly choreographed brawls. It chose to force title character Jason Bourne to think his way through every situation, instead of Bond just shooting his way out or acting like a child in a fencing club. That said, it also popularized a style of cinematography that plagued action movies for more than 10 years – a cinematography style that tends to make people dizzy more than it excites. I’m talking about the shaky cam. I’ll be talking more about the shaky cam in the next 007 blog post, but for now, let’s talk about the hard James Bond reboot.
But first, let’s talk about the somewhat confusing backstory behind the rights to the Casino Royale story. As much as this is the last Eon productions Bond movie to be directly based on one of Ian Fleming’s novels, Casino Royale is actually the first book in the James Bond series. Way back in 1960, producer Charles K. Feldman acquired the film rights for the movie, and tried to get Casino Royale made as an Eon Productions Bond film. However, Feldman and Eon producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman couldn’t come to a deal. Eventually, Feldman decided to make the movie on his own. Believing that he couldn’t compete with the main Bond series, he instead produced the film as a satire.
1967’s Casino Royale released two months before You Only Live Twice, through Columbia Pictures. In that movie, Bond was a retired British Spy instead of the rookie in the books. The enemy, SMERSH, is eliminating agents for some sort of KGB operation. The movie stars such legends as David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress (also appeared in Dr. No), Woody Allen (playing Bond’s nephew), Orson Welles as La Chiffre (yes, Citizen Kane director Orson Welles), and even uncredited roles from Peter O’Toole and British Formula 1 racer Stirling Moss. The movie received mixed reception, but it’s got its fans. I hope to do an unofficial Bond movie month some time, and this would definitely be included in that.
Even though they never produced another Bond movie, Columbia Pictures held onto the Casino Royale rights for years. In 1989, Sony bought Columbia Pictures. Meanwhile, MGM held the film rights to Spider-Man, and at one point considered a Spider-Man movie directed by James Cameron. What happened to that film seems to be a complete mess, so let’s not dwell into that. In 1999, the two companies traded rights. Columbia gave the rights to Casino Royale back to MGM (who owned Eon Productions) in exchange for MGM giving up whatever claims they had on Spider-Man.
Considering Sony bought MGM in 2004, all of that might not have been necessary to begin with.
Anyway, Pierce Brosnan originally signed on for 4 Bond movies, and he fulfilled that contract with Die Another Day. As he was approaching his 50th birthday, and he knew how fans reacted to Roger Moore playing Bond up to the age of 57, he stepped down from the role in 2004. That, and the fact that Eon could produce Casino Royale at last, greatly encouraged them to start fresh.
At one point, co-producer Michael G. Wilson claimed that 200 names were being considered for Bond’s newest star. Several big stars were strongly considered at one point or another. Hugh Jackman was approached at one point, but turned it down due to other commitments. Karl Urban was also considered, but he couldn’t even make the screen test due to commitments. Henry Cavill was in serious contention at one point, but they decided he was too young at 22. I think he could make a decent Bond if they were to hire him today, much like how Roger Moore was too young when they first considered him as the original Bond actor, but he turned out alright when he did take the role.
Daniel Craig stated in one interview he rejected the idea of portraying Bond at first, citing the movies descended into a formula too much. After reading the script, he changed his mind. He read all the Ian Fleming novels to prepare for the part, and even consulted with actual British Secret Service agents for further advice. Craig commented, “Bond has just come out of the service and he’s a killer … There’s a look. These guys walk into a room and very subtly they check the perimeters for an exit. That’s the sort of thing I wanted.”
At the time they announced Daniel Craig as the newest Bond actor, there was a lot of controversy. I remember people calling him “James Blonde”. Websites like “danielcraigisnotbond.com” called for boycotts in protest. Most of his critics went quiet after Casino Royale’s release however. In fact the only criticism I’ve heard of Craig’s performance as Bond since the movie’s release came from a fellow college student in my Journalism program. To me, most of his complaints seemed like personal preference more than Craig’s actual performance.
Casino Royale released in November of 2006 to overwhelmingly positive response, from critics and audiences alike. Multiple British media groups called Craig as the first actor to truly embody Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Roger Moore wrote, “Daniel Craig impressed me so greatly in his debut outing, Casino Royale, by introducing more gritty, unrefined edge to the character than I thought Sean Connery might just have to move over.” Raymond Benson, the author of nine Bond novels, called Casino Royal “a perfect Bond film”. It ended up earning $600 million, smashing the franchise record previously held by Die Another Day. Any way you look at it, Casino Royale reinvigorated the franchise and the excitement surrounding it.
As for myself, I really enjoy this movie. First off, Casino Royale shares an odd trait with Batman Begins. They both feel like two or three movies pasted together. Yet in both cases, it not only works, but it makes them feel shorter than they really are. At the time of its release, Casino Royale was the longest Bond movie yet (144 minutes, 2 minutes longer than previous record holder On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The first third of Casino Royale is a very intense thriller, with Bond chasing a thread of connections from a bomb maker to a terrorist. The chase shows a reckless Bond who almost doesn’t care how many bodies he leaves in his wake, or how many countries he angers.
Two of the greatest James Bond action scenes in history take place in this first act. There’s the chase scene through a construction yard that’s fast paced, creative and very entertaining. The use of the bomb maker’s parkour vs Bond’s smarter, more aggressive nature is brilliantly handled. Then there’s the airport battle, where Bond is racing against the clock to stop the terrorist from destroying a brand new plane in hopes to affect the stock market. Instead of trying to describe them, here’s the chase scene. It’s very early in the movie, so it won’t spoil the plot in case you haven’t seen the movie.
The second act greatly slows the pace, but in a way that’s equally fascinating. The fast pace is exchanged for a lot of story building, character development and a high stakes poker tournament that still feels just as tense. It’s here when Bond learns some much needed lessons in humility. It’s here where Bond starts to grow into the spy we all know and love. And it’s here where he develops romantic feelings for who might be the greatest Bond girl in the franchise. Enter Vesper Lynn, played by Eva Green. She’s sharp enough to keep up with Bond’s wit – perhaps even smarter. She’s resistant to Bond’s charm, but not so much that you don’t believe it when they grow closer by the end. Best of all, she’s clearly got hidden motivations, but until the end of the movie, you don’t know what’s driving her.
The third act really delves into the love story more, only to provide us with a gut punching plot twist, followed by yet another brilliant action scene worthy of the Bond hall of fame. It’s a brutal fight inside a sinking house in Venice. Bond is on a rampage, but the people he’s fighting aren’t exactly pushovers either. Oh, and there’s also that torture scene, which I won’t say anything else about in case you haven’t seen this movie.
The movie made some bold choices with its filmmaking direction. Director Martin Campbell (who also directed Goldeneye) chose not to use the Bond theme until the very end. Instead, it used tunes and notes from the title song, “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell. It’s a great theme song by the way. Bond’s resistance to drinking vodka martinis, shaken not stirred, also happens throughout the movie. The minimal use of CGI isn’t as bold though – it just feels like a return to form.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 11
Other’s kills – 11
Total kill count – 22
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 90
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
Pierce Brosnan’s total kill count – 135
Daniel Craig’s running kill count – 11
That makes this the least deadly bond movie since Man With The Golden Gun. That doesn’t make it feel any less violent, it just feels more brutal and down to earth. That’s a good thing.
Casino Royale is the exact movie James Bond needed at the time. In terms of tone, it’s the closest the Bond movies have ever been to the original books. From a pure action movie standpoint, Casino Royale is the best in the franchise, and it’s got good character work and a compelling story on top of that. It takes a deep look at how Bond grew into the secret agent he would eventually become. It wisely keeps Judi Dench as M, who brings her sharp criticisms of Bond to a new level after he shoots up an embassy. It takes the intense style of fight scenes in the Bourne movies and both improves them and gives them a touch of the Bond flair. In fact the only real complaint I can offer this movie is that it ends on a cliffhanger … one that continues with the lackluster Quantum of Solace.
Speaking of which, Quantum of Solace is next. That’s followed by Skyfall, and then the newest Bond movie in the franchise, Spectre. I’m planning a couple extra Bond posts after that, including ranking all the theme songs in order of my personal preference, a post where I’ll try to figure out who the best Bond actor is, as objectively as possible, and of course ordering the movies in order of personal preference. But that won’t be until after November, because as soon as I’m done with Spectre, I’m going to start planning for NaNoWriMo.