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Casino Royale

If you've ever enjoyed any incarnation of James Bond – particularly Connery - you owe it to yourself to see Casino Royale as soon as possible.

It's almost as if the Bond series went to rehab and purged its system of all ridiculous toxins, but Casino Royale is more than just that; it's lean and hungry once again, as if it were totally reborn.

This one is not for children. It is a very hard PG-13. Really, it should have been an "R." But that's good news for anyone who is a fan of James Bond as he was originally written - escapism but with a serious, hard edge.


What do you mean? More serious and hard-edged even than Moonraker?


From Moonraker:

Hugo Drax: James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Unfortunately the same thing could be said of most of the 8 or 9 Bond movies made since Moonraker.

Like Batman Begins, Casino Royale serves as an effective antidote to the silliness that came before.

Though it was a half hour longer than it needed to be, and a couple of Peterbuilt sized plot holes cought my eye - but that means it had 99% less plot holes than any Bond film since "For your eyes only."

It's actually hard to think of this as a James Bond film. It's more like a very good film that happens to be about James Bond.

If you have any love of the genre, see it.

Connery is the eternal gold standard for Bond. Full stop.

That said, Daniel Craig gets a lot closer to filling the shoes of the Great Scot than anyone previously offered their use.

First, Craig is as convincingly physical as Connery in his prime. It says something that the key action sequence of the new Casino Royale is a foot chase. Craig is utterly believable as an Olympics-class very broken field runner pursuing, and beating, a bad guy possessed of near-Batman-like abilities himself. Splendid stuff.

Craig also exudes the same air of dangerousness Connery managed so seemingly without effort in the early classics. There is nothing whatsoever of the fop about his portrayal; something which cannot, unfortunately, be said about the preceding three tenants of the Bond franchise.

Finally, Craig manages to portray the simultaneously attractive/replusive streak of cruelty that was always there in Connery's work. Bond isn't quite Bond without it.

Mr. Craig may even, dare I say it, rate a tad ahead of the Connery portrayal in one respect - the complexity of the amalgam of idealism and experience behind Bond's world-weariness and utter realism about his job. This is, I think, mainly a matter of fortunate timing. The relationship, as written, between Bond and the Eva Green character Vesper in Casino Royale is deeper and more nuanced than any seen in previous bond scripts save only the tragic Bond-Diana Rigg pairing in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Had Connery, rather than Lazenby, played the role in Service we would have a fair basis for a no-handicapping-necessary comparison.

Daniel Craig is a worthy successor to sean Connery in the role. I hope he sees fit to stick with it for at least four or five more.

As for previous non-Connery Bonds:

Lazenby was vilified at the time he took over the role (1969) for not being Connery. He suffered, rather unfairly, I think, from being the first non-Connery Bond. Compared to later wearers of the tuxedo, he looks fairly good in retrospect. He's not Connery, but he's not at all bad.

Moore, very wisely, played an entirely different character than Connery and acquitted himself well within his self-chosen parameters.

Dalton and Brosnan were muddles. Each, in his turn, failed to find a viable "third way" that was also not-Moore in addition to being not-Connery. Dalton tended to veer in the direction of being Connery-esque inferior. Brosnan appeared to opt more for second-rate Moore-ishness.

Long dry spell.

Glad it's over.

Paths not taken:

At the time Timothy Dalton was tapped to take over from Moore, there was a splendid English actor named Lewis Collins whom I think would have been able to bring back the Connery-esque qualities to Bond in a fashion much like Mr. Craig has done. Alas, Eon Productions chose otherwise and we will never, to our cost, know for sure. Collins was the only thing watchable in an otherwise quite awful film (released in the U.S. as The Final Option) allegedly based on the SAS storming of the Iranian embassy in London in the early 80's.

Favorite non-Connery films:

Ken Adam's production designs reached their zenith during the Moore administration with The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. As I said to a friend at the time Moonraker came out, "This is how God would make movies if he had money."

The latter two films are Moore's best and, along with Connery's You Only Live Twice constitute what I like to call the "You and what army, Mr. Bond?" pictures. Bond is catalytically crucial in giving the villains of these films their comuppances, but most of the grunt work involved is done by a literal army of others - Japanese intelligence agency ninjas; nuclear submariners of the U.S., British and Soviet fleets and Space Shuttle-riding American special ops troopies, respectively, in chronologocal order of appearance. Very populist. Very cool.

These three films had other notable strengths:

Twice was the first Western-produced film to portray Japan as the modern, hi-tech country it had become in the post-WW2 era. There was not an iota of condescension toward Japan in this film - something not at all lost on the Japanese public at the time.

Spy had the splendid Barbara Bach as friendly enemy Agent Amasova. She ranks easily with Andress, Daniela Bianchi and Halle Berry in the pantheon of Bond goddess-women.

Playing for the dark side in Spy was a woman of whom it can truly be said she was built to military specifications, Caroline Munro. Munro is, hands-down, the most jaw-droppingly voluptuous and beautiful woman ever to appear in a Bond film - and that includes the awesome Andress.

Damed shame Bond had to blow her up.

Moonraker had the best-written villain dialogue in Bond history. In addition to the Hugo Draxism quoted above by Mr. Gordon, there were also these gems:

(to a soon-to-be-defunct henchman)

"Follow Mr. Bond."

"See that some harm comes to him."

(to James Bond himself, after Bond has thwarted his evil designs, but just before Bond finishes him off)

"Well, Mr. Bond, it's time to put you out of my misery."

Even Goldfinger wasn't that witty.

All of these films had their flaws, to be sure.

Curt Jurgens's portrayal of the villain in Spy was oddly bland. The "Jaws" character was also a bit over the top, even by the wink-wink, nudge-nudge standards of the Moore era, though it was certainly a role Richard Kiel was, literally, born to play.

Moonraker suffered from having Lois Chiles in the lead female role. Though she has since done good work in other films, she was too near the beginning of her acting career at the time she got Moonraker to be worthy of her hire. Nor, frankly, was she anything special in the looks department despite an earlier career as a model. Someone at Eon dropped the ball badly on this one. Fortunately, the Bond films - especially the Moore entries - are written to be virtually lead-actress-proof so the damage was not fatal.

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