Daniel Craig's new James Bond of Casino Royale kicks so much ass that the previous 45 years of Bond are now a pale shadow—yes, Sean Connery included.
Four years ago, when Pierce Brosnan's James Bond crossed a bridge from North Korea, a disheveled and bearded prisoner of war, in Die Another Day, I thought perhaps the Bond series had matured and recharged itself as it came into its fifth decade. Until last night when I went to see Royale, I was disappointed that the series producers opted to replace Brosnan. But they were right and I was so, so wrong.
Everyone in this new James Bond movie, from Craig himself to the producers to Goldeneye director Martin Campbell to Judi Dench's M (the only returning cast member) has something to prove. They hit the big Reset button on Bond, setting him in the modern day but returning him to a rookie double-O, pretending (except for a few homages) that none of the previous 20 "official" films, unofficial side projects, or spoofs even happened. They dispense with Q and Moneypenny while keeping the fast cars and terrifying stunts. They let Bond keep his scars. And they don't make Craig darken his blond hair either. All great decisions.
The movie is like four or five Bond films in one—it's damn long, with twists and betrayals and chases and fights galore, beautiful women, and refreshingly few gadgets. The enemies no longer want to rule the world, just suck out its soul. You know which characters are doomed, yet even when you think you know why or how, you don't. Several times I thought Casino Royale itself was over, and it wasn't. Yet when it does finally end, it's abrupt and satisfying, and you realize why it's all there. Really, it's like a summation of the best Bond films of the '60s, with none of the cheese and smarm of the '70s and '80s, nor the overblown retreading of the '90s. By the end, you've seen James Bond turn into who he is: a misanthrope, a killer, a stylish, sexy brute, one who, fortunately, is working for the good guys.
Before I was even a teenager, I'd read all of Ian Fleming's Bond novels, and Craig's bond is closer to that original character than any of the other film versions. Fleming always described James Bond not as a suave male model, but as a man defined by his "cruel mouth." Craig perfectly echoes that description. Forget the increasingly strained Bondian wit: for much of the movie, he hardly talks, and doesn't need to.
I hope the Bond team can keep up what they've started with this film. When Craig retires, that may be the time, finally, to shut the franchise down. After Casino Royale, I don't think there's a point in imagining anyone else in the role anymore.