They got a lot right with this new rebooted Bond, but — let me get this straight — when Bond and the Bad Guy have their big confrontation, it’s…a poker game?
First things first. Daniel Craig is a great Bond, with Steve McQueen-style cool and jungle cat grace. He runs like an Olympic athlete and looks great in — and out of — a dinner jacket that is, in the words of Dorothy L. Sayers, “tailored to the swooning point.” It’s a great idea to re-introduce us to the Bond character at the beginning of his career. When he rises from the water in a wry homage to both Bond’s first film, Dr. No, and to images of the Birth of Venus, he is almost impossibly golden.
He is also impetuous and a little messy. He makes mistakes. His first kill (we learn it takes two for that 00 designation) is far from elegant. It’s downright grubby. It is fascinating to get to see Bond learn from his mistakes. As we get to know him, he is getting to know himself. That run of his is not just athletics; it is acting. It is full-on, the only time he lets himself be wholeheartedly committed to anything. We see how he analyzes people and situations, still a little show-offy because he is still a little insecure. He is even, for a brief moment, vulnerable, and we get to see why he won’t be any more. Origin stories often get heavy-handed with portentous foreshadowing as Our Hero meets up for the first time with characters and objects that we know will be important to him. But this film has a light touch when we see Bond meet his Aston-Martin and find that he hasn’t learned the difference yet between shaken and stirred.
Bond feels younger, fresher, brasher, and much of the film does, too, not weighed down with the intrusive product placement that at times made the recent films feel like infomercials (though the director noted in an interview that “Every terrorist and every person in the world [of the movie] has a Sony Erikson phone. If you look in the car park, there are a lot of Fords.” They’ve dispensed with one of the highlights of the Bond franchise, though, the gadget overview with Q, always a delicious way to set the stage for the rest of the movie as each of them gets used. In a world of text messaging and Google, the real-life toys pretty much do everything you need. Okay, that in-car defibrillator comes in handy, but Q could probably pick up one of those at The Sharper Image. And then there are the guns, of course. Lots and lots and lots of guns.
Plot? Who cares? There are only three things we want to know about a Bond film. Who’s the bad guy? And who’s the girl? And how’s the action — especially, how much stuff gets blown up?
Two out of three. The girl is Eva Green. She, too, looks beautiful in evening wear, and she is just about believable as a brainy banker who doesn’t think much of Bond until…she does. She has a lot of warmth and sizzle. The action, aside from the dull patch during the poker game, is very fine, especially an early-on chase and fight scene around and in and on top of a skyscraper construction site. Lots of shooting and lots of explosions. The bad guy is not creepy or menacing enough to be interesting and the object of all the attention — some terrorist money — is not as interesting as a secret weapon or formula or combination to a master safe. And that poker game, with helpful commentary by Giancarlo Giannini as though he’s reporting for ESPN slows things down until they are almost inert.
Parents should know that this film includes extensive action-style violence. Many characters are shot and injured or killed. There is an intense torture scene, other references to torture, and a suggested suicide. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language. There are sexual references and some non-explicit sexual situations with some brief nudity.
Families who see this movie should talk about the different takes on Bond and the bad guys over the years.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Bond films, especially those starring Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. They might like to take a look at the very silly but fun previous version of Casino Royale, with a variety of James Bonds, including David Niven and, believe it or not, Woody Allen. And they will enjoy Daniel Craig’s stylish gangster film, Layer Cake (mature material).