Casino Royale (a long time after everyone else has seen it)

Whilst reading about Gemma Arterton (I promise you, I am in no way obsessed by her delightful pointy nose and Uma Thurman bob), I came across an article about her in the new Bond film which had a spoiler warning.

It then said “Although, if you’re reading an article about Bond 22 without having seen ‘Casino Royale’, you’re an enormous internet geek who learns about the plots and characters of films from Wikipedia or Empire Online and not by actually seeing the films in question. Saddo. Get out more.” I’m paraphrasing.

It was pretty shocking to realise, then, that I hadn’t seen “Casino Royale”. Despite being a Bond fan, despite my exciting fortnight working in the EON props archive, despite what everyone said about it, I still hadn’t seen it.

Well, now I have.

If you haven’t seen it, this review isn’t going to be much help to you, but here’s a cursory run-through of the plot. (Don’t worry, there’s not much plot in this film.) James Bond is, like, just some dude who kills two people and then instantly becomes an impassionate, cold-blooded killer. He does some running around, is in the Evening Standard, gets told off, goes to the Bahamas, annoys some guy, wins this guy’s car at cards and sleeps with his wife. The guy is working for another, more mean guy, who has a scarred face. Now, this new guy is evil. The only tears he cries are tears of BLOOD, ffs! He likes playing cards and being evil, and so invites people to play cards and maybe a little evil on the side and Bond turns up to play some cards and see just how evil this guy is. By this point, there’s an accountant with Bond, who is a hot chick (who’d have thought…). He plays some cards, beats up some guys, plays some cards, gets beaten up, plays some cards, gets poisoned, dies, comes back to life, plays some cards and then wins. The lady accountant is upset by all the beatings for about thirty seconds, then gets over it. Bond and lady then get captured, and the evil, blood-weeping guy plays Flicksies with Bond’s testicles. Bond is hurt pretty bad, but when he wakes up, he decides that he is TOTAWWY IN WUV with the accountant. Then some stuff happens with some other dudes who aren’t related to the weepy-blood guy, there’s a big finish, and a smarmily self-referential coda.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but for the first ten minutes I sat there thinking “this is just like a Bond film!” It didn’t feel as dramatically different as I was led to believe. They had that goofy incorporation of the gun barrel logo, and another pretentious title sequence. The parkour stunt sequence, running up the crane, fighting on the crane, falling off the crane, is bloody great. After that point, it kind of waffled on for about an hour, batting off embarrassing cameos from Richard Branson and, uh, Gunther von Hagens and doesn’t really pick up until Eva Green turns up, with her smokey eyes and smirky face. I liked her in this a lot, despite the fact that – as my housemate pointed out – her relationship with Bond is pretty stupid.

My main criticism of Daniel Craig as James Bond is that sometimes director Martin Campbell shoots him in darkened rooms and in the half-light, he looks exactly like Ray Stubbs.

Because Craig looks enormous. When he first tries on his dinner jacket, prancing around a hotel room, he looks like Bongo, the bouncer from the Ink & Paint Club in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. He is clearly exceptionally muscled, as the scene in the dinky pants shows (ladies), and after forty years of a lithe Bond (apart from in “A View To A Kill”, ho ho), it’s quite weird to see not a gentleman killer, but a killer – like someone cast Ricky Hatton as James Bond. Bond has always been the physical underdog – think of the look on Connery’s face as he sized up Oddjob. Or Moore being pounded on the head by the massive hands of Jaws. In the exhilarating parkour sequence, the villain is the leapy, sproingy lightweight, and Bond is the hulking oaf literally running through walls. And what’s painful is that Craig is clearly an intelligent actor, but the script requires him to be “a blunt object”. He’s a thug. Maybe the theory behind the progression of this “reboot” of Bond is that, over time, Craig slims down, becoming more like the Bond we know.

(Incidentally, rather than the Bourne films, I realised whilst watching it that my enjoyment of the Bond films has probably spilled into my love of “Spooks”, and I then realised that Bond should probably be played by Rupert Penry-Jones.)

Tonally, the film’s a bit like watching “The World Is Not Enough” whilst someone occasionally kicks you in the head (or plays Flicksies with your testicles). The imported grittiness feels jarring, and the humour (obviously from the flamboyant purple quills of Neil Purvis and Robert Wade) doesn’t sit well with the lunk they’ve asked Craig to be. Then there’s the much-vaunted contribution of Paul Haggis, a man whose origins creating kindly-mountie cop-fluff “Due South” I will bring up every time I speak of him. I loathed “Crash”, and all the cloying dialogue late in the game about how Bond has “no armour… you’ve stripped it from me” is textbook Haggis. Craig even speaks Haggis’s dialogue with the same enormous significance as they did in “Crash” – like there’s a lump of coal in his mouth, and if he gently spits it out, Tiny Tim will be warm this Christmas.

It should also be mentioned that this film is really damned long. It’s two hours and twenty-four minutes. Like I said, other than the parkour chase, the opening hour is all faff, and it’s only once Eva Green plonks herself unceremoniously into the seat opposite Bond on the train to Montenegro that the film hunkers down and focuses. The love story doesn’t work because it is fluffy and vague – Bond has been established as a cold-hearted rogue who clearly just wants to jump Green’s bones, and we’re supposed to believe that, after the Flicksies, Bond genuinely is in love. It’s nonsense, and again jars with the smart-arse toughnut they’ve spent the previous two hours setting up. And then they go all Tracy in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with the end of the film, which hopefully sets up Bond 22’s excoriating examination of Bond’s misogyny… it was all Eva Green’s fault! Damned women! Can’t trust them as far as you can throw them down a lift-shaft!

I absolutely agree that the franchise needed a re-think after “Die Another Day”, which was the frothiest piece of nonsense the Bond films have ever thrown up. The good news is that “Casino Royale” doesn’t have an invisible car or Toby Stephens playing the son of a North Korean general, or Halle bloody Berry. The bad news is that the weaker writing aspects of the Purvis/Wade era are exacerbated by Paul Haggis schmaltzification, and together they have contrived to make Bond a step away from being played by The Rock. Where “Batman Begins” provided an origin movie which showed the raw potential of a man being shaped into a hero, here Bond is a lump of clay, and remains a lump of clay. The hope is that Daniel Craig’s Bond continues to develop over the next couple of films into something a little… well… Bondier.