Thoroughly overhauling a 40-year-old movie franchise built around a dyed-in-the-wool cold warrior is no small task — it's a much bigger job than swapping out one actor for another. This 21st entry in the "official" Bond series (which includes neither 1983's creditable NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN nor the lame 1967 spoof CASINO ROYALE) is a reboot designed to strip away layers of mythology and mannerism left by five stars and dozens of writers and directors. The source is Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, 1953's Casino Royale, and new star Daniel Craig returns Bond to his roots. Rather than a sophisticated rake in a dinner jacket, he's a lone wolf barely reined in by his MI-6 handlers, a blunt and cruelly effective tool for termination with extreme prejudice. All of which is great and would be greater were the movie not two and a half hours long and front-loaded with fundamentally irrelevant action sequences. Apparently, no rethinking of the franchise extends to not cramming it full of show-offy stunts and flashy chase sequences, including the acrobatic pursuit of a suicide bomber through a Madagascar construction site that showcases the athletic martial-art parkour and a chase that ends on the tarmac at Miami International Airport. These delay the real start of the story, built around a high-stakes card game (chemin de fer in the novel, Texas Hold 'em in the movie). Slippery underworld banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), preferred financier of international terrorists, has lost disastrously playing the stock market and intends to recoup his losses at the poker table, arranging a game with a $10 million buy-in at Montenegro's Casino Royale. Bond's mission — his first after achieving coveted "00" status — is to bankrupt Le Chiffre. Craig's Bond-in-progress is a brutally vivid creation, from the opening black-and-white sequence in which he earns his license to kill to his position on the iconic question "shaken or stirred?" — "Do I look like I give a damn?" — to the moment he slips on his first tuxedo and sees the potential in putting a sophisticated face on his animal instincts. The women — not "Bond Girls" in any pop-culture sense of the term — are forgettable. Only Vesper Lynd matters at all, and Eva Green's smudgy presence makes it hard to buy her as the woman with whom this hard-bitten Bond falls deeply and ruinously in love. Only the new theme song is less memorable. But the strong supporting cast includes Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffery Wright and Judi Dench, the sole holdover from the Brosnan era. As M, Dench knows she has a tiger by the tail and isn't fazed in the slightest. Reservations aside, the film marks the beginning of a new phase in James Bond's history, and it promises to be a gripping one.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Thoroughly overhauling a 40-year-old movie franchise built around a dyed-in-the-wool cold warrior is no small task — it's a much bigger job than swapping out one actor for another. This 21st entry in the "official" Bond series (which includes neither 1983'… (more)
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