Bond, James Bond

When I first heard about the the new Bond movie, Casino Royale, I just did not understand why they were remaking a terrible James Bond Parody. I eventually learned that this was actually the first Bond book written by Ian Flemming, and the parody was just a terrible movie based ever so loosely on that novel.

The following may contain spoilers.

After the Pierce Brosnan era ended in Moonraker-like outlandishness with Die Another Day–ice castles! satellite-based heat rays! invisible cars!–the decision was made to take Bond back to the basics.

With dark prequels such as Batman Begins being all the rage these days, MGM Studios made the decision to not just redo Bond, but have him reborn in the first tale.

Thus, throughout Casino Royale what we expect from James Bond and what we are given are just a tad off. At the very start, James Bond is not even Double-Oh, Seven. It takes two kills to reach Double-Oh status, and Bond is in the process of his second.

Perhaps the most daunting aspect for the Bond fan is that in this movie Bond not only drives a domestic car, but a Ford compact! He soon trades up for some sweet European wheels, but that Ford just does not sit right.

A new aspect for Bond, and an attempt to bring in some realism, is that he now has to deal with the various bodies that he creates. We see body bags.

Even though the movie is set in modern times, Bond gets few hi-tech gadgets. There is no Q. No invisible cars, exploding pens, headlights that shoot missiles or Swiss army-watches. The high of his gadgetry is a homing beacon, and a secret glove compartment in his car containing his pistol and silencer, various antidotes and a defibrillator.

There is a running gag throughout the movie as to Bond’s alcoholic beverage of choice. Let’s just say that the standard, “Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred.” is neither his first choice nor his favorite.

Daniel Craig gives a solid performance, and when is all said and done, he could really give Pierce Brosnan a run for second-best Bond, after Sean Connery of course. Though Craig is given far more to work with between script, plot and directing. Of course, the Brosnan era started off solid enough with Goldeneye, before falling off into more and more implausible plots, stunts and toys.

Craig is also given two Bond girls to work with, the throwaway Caterina Murino as Solange, and the stunning Eva Green as the first woman to capture Bond’s heart, Vesper Lynd.

Eva Green immediately replaces Izabella Scorupco, who played Natalya Simonova in Goldeneye, as my favorite Bond Girl. First, any woman who can win Bond’s heart is clearly gold. Second, she is an accountant. Math is a complete turn on, even more so than Russian computer scientists.

As much as I enjoyed this movie and the new Bond, there is one glaring weakness. This movie was made in 2006, not 1986. Everyone knows poker, particularly Texas Hold ’em, though they never call it that. Everyone has passed through poker on ESPN, or maybe say a Celebrity Poker Showdown on Bravo. Casino Royale completely fails at every poker scene.

Any professional poker player has all the odds memorized, thus negating Le Chiffre supposed advantage in his genius mathematical skills. Poker is not black jack. Bond’s strategy of playing the players not the cards is poker. There really is no other way if you are playing seriously.

There is no drama within these scenes. Every time Bond is faced with a serious bet he decides to call or raise. What good is knowing your opponents tell if you always go in?

The producers need to grab whoever was responsible for Rounders and get them to spruce up the gambling scenes.

Hell, who wouldn’t have been a little freaked out if Matt Damon made a brief cameo as one of the poker players. Especially if they were ambiguous with his identity. Is he another spy a la Jason Bourne, or is Mike McDermott, finally making it big after Rounders?

We can dream… Why don’t we see actors from similar movies make random cameos “in character” from their other movies? You could have Gary Oldman just pop-up in Spiderman III as Commissioner/detective Gordon, but never actually named. Or imagine Lane Smith as an unidentified Coach Jack Reilly from The Mighty Ducks, just pop up in Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson’s new movie, Bobby. Hollywood, get on this now!

Back to Bond.

This is easily one of the better Bond movies, despite (maybe because of) Bond being rough around the edges. James Bond has always lived outside of time. Now he has a beginning.