Casino Royale Reviews
Bond film or not, this is some excellent cinema. I have three criticisms, which aren't enough to deter my rating. First, the noir opening was vague and unnecessarily black and white. I thought it should've been longer, given us more context, and something a little smarter than a man reaching for a gun whose bullets have been taken. It's only there to establish that Bond get his two kills to become a 00 agent, then does nothing for the rest of the film. It serves character development, not story, which is somewhat forgivable. My second complaint is the epic free-run chase. It's grand, it's one of the best action chase scenes ever put to film, and yet the story of it is extremely confusing and outright dumb. If Bond ends up shooting him, why go through all that? The results of it were pointless. Lastly, the confusion of Mathis in the latter half of the film. I understand that Le Chifre is being tricky, spurring an already paranoid Bond into confusion, but it kind of loses me along the way. How Mathis is ultimately taken care of, getting zapped at Bond's retreat, is awkward and unsatisfying. We won't understand much until the sequel.
On the point of humor in Bond. Something sprung to mind when I remembered that Sam Mendes called for a rewrite of SPECTRE because it needed more 'humor.' That's a dangerous thing to ask for, and I think SPECTRE kind of failed at it. What is humor? Bond movies have a lot of throwaway, one-time laugh bits, I won't call them jokes. In the Craig series, these are painfully dry bits of 'hmph' reactions that aren't really funny. Moore films were laugh out loud campy, perhaps a bit too much at times. Connery's charm and wit laid over the pace at which his stories moved made for perfect humor. I think Casino is the only film that works with humor because of the established overhead, something the followups all fail to have. There's inherent humor in a dangerous person becoming a 00, battling the system and his own demons. Situation, setup makes lasting humor. In SPECTRE, it's things like falling on a couch, Bond calling himself Mickey Mouse, or pretending he's in control when captive at Blofeld's lair. The latter might be the most effective. I guess the problem is that I see it too clearly, I see the throwaways coming as a result of a humor-drive rewrite, and it seems like lazy writing. Where can we be funny and add something in? Rather than changing the context from a higher level. The laugh bits in Skyfall are the most brutal, just useless one-liners that are reaching for nothing. I don't see that Casino has to work as hard for it. Even when he says something like, "that's because you know what I can do with my little finger," it's all coming from the context of immaturity; the film is about failing as a 00 because of this cocky, boyhood hero-complex. It's an unsuccessful mission with a few battles won, which is really different for any movie like this. And he's falling into a trap, the style of the filmmaking at this point drastically changes - we almost forget it's a Bond adventure, it feels like an indy romance. It does a good job at getting us lost here for awhile. The result is something lasting.
This film is a solid setup for a new franchise, one that will ultimately deal with consequences in each chapter, unlike any Bond series before it. It has that 'end-is-beginning' element, setting up Mr. White as the person who will unfold more details behind a grand conspiracy over the next several chapters, and leaving us with a line that usually comes much earlier: "the name is Bond, James Bond." Sequel setups usually suck, but because the focus is so deep on Le Chifre and his operation, and because that story is entirely dealt with, nothing is left unsatisfying.
With Casino Royale, it turns the James Bond films from a few funny moments to a serious film. The action, intense scenes, and a great story make this the best Bond film.