007-The Daniel Craig Era: Casino Royale (2006)

I think every James Bond fan rejoiced when Goldeneye was released in 1995. It had been a long six years since License to Kill and Pierce Brosnan was finally given his chance to show the world what he could do as agent 007. Flash forward to 2002. After four movies and for as much as I liked Brosnan in the role, the franchise clearly needed a shot in the arm after Die Another Day. It had become too reliant on gadgets and Halle Berry stole too much of the spotlight. After another four year wait, we finally got the news that Daniel Craig had been cast as the new Bond…and the fan community erupted. He was blonde, he didn’t look the part, he wasn’t suave enough. They missed Brosnan in the role and wanted more after just four films. However, he was turning 50 and they were moving Bond into a new direction. Just about everyone changed their opinion once Casino Royale was released in 2006. It became the highest grossing Bond movie earning nearly $600 million…at least until Skyfall.

For starters, we were finally getting to see a proper version of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. There was the 1954 television special starring Barry Nelson, which really isn’t true Bond. Then there was the 1967 spoof, of which I am not a fan. Now, we could finally see the story as it was meant to be. However, with the story taking place early in Bond’s career, it was said that a younger and less refined actor needed to assume the lead role. I hated to see Brosnan go but I think we were all ready for something fresh and Daniel Craig definitely provided that. His Bond makes mistakes and seems to be in the doghouse with MI6 virtually all of the time. They don’t trust him yet and even inject him with a tracker. With this movie essentially rebooting the franchise, Craig could take Bond in some new directions. He is less confident and inexperienced, and that’s what makes the movie a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch the suave and debonair Sean Connery or Roger Moore, but Daniel Craig has an edge seldom seen by Connery or Moore. A different Bond for a different generation.

The story isn’t the most complex of Bond adventures. Our main villain is Le Chiffre, as played by Mads Mikkelsen (Clash of the Titans). He short-sells stocks in major companies and then orchestrates terrorist activities to cause their stock price to drop. After Bond foils his plot (which involved a stunning chase at an airport), Le Chiffre sets up a high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is entered into the tournament and paired up with a Treasury agent named Vesper Lynd, played by Eve Green (Dark Shadows). After a near-fatal poisoning, Bond wins the tournament only to be captured and brutally tortured by Le Chiffre for the access codes to the Swiss bank account where the money is being held. Le Chiffre is suddenly killed by the mysterious Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who is a liason for a mysterious organization. Bond awakens in a hospital and ultimately resigns from MI6 to be with Vesper. However, Vesper is using him to get to the money to save her kidnapped boyfriend, who is being held by the organization. She sacrifices herself to save Bond, an act that, combined with the initial betrayal, leaves Bond hardened and unable to trust anyone. This seems to be the final step to Bond becoming a true 00 agent. In the final scene, Bond catches up to Mr. White in what was only the second time in the franchise history that a Bond movie ended on a less than pleasant note and the first time we were left with what was really a cliffhanger and a promise for more to come.

The action in Casino Royale is ramped up to new levels never seen in a Bond movie before. There are some changes that are hard to take. The iconic gun barrel opening is gone for the most part, although is present in a somewhat modified version. Judi Dench was back for her fifth appearance as M but for the first time in franchise history, Miss Moneypenny is gone. Q is also missing but we do get CIA agent Felix Leiter, played by Jeffrey Wright. Our opening theme is “You Know My Name”, performed by Chris Connell and heard sporadically throughout the film. The classic Bond theme appears at the end of the film as Bond confronts Mr. White. And, as always, we see the immortal words “James Bond Will Return”. Casino Royale is a different take on Bond and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended. If you’re still skeptical on Daniel Craig’s performance, give him a chance. Check out the HD trailer that will surely make you a 007 fan!

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