director: Martin Campbell
starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green
running time: 144 mins
rating: 12A

Casino RoyaleThe selection of Daniel Craig as the new Bond sparked an outcry at the idea of this blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bond. I was a vocal supporter having seen him carry Layer Cake and later his memorable supporting role in Munich. Now I expect even his most ardent critics to be floored by the transformation Bond has undergone in arguably his best incarnation yet.

Going back to his roots, we see in black and white the two kills that promoted Bond [Daniel Craig] to 00 status. M [Judi Dench] is clearly worried about his early promotion and arrogant recklessness, storming an embassy. On the heels of terrorist financier Le Chiffre, the banker is backed into a corner once Bond foils his attempt to blow up a plane. Gambling with his clients’ money, Le Chiffre is left with no choice but to win it back in a poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond joins in, with the Treasury’s investment being watched by the alluring Vesper Lynd [Eva Green].

Bond scarredComparison can be drawn with the return to the Dark Knight’s roots in Batman Begins. Similarly the tone shifts to a darker, more gritty world. The action sequences are far more gripping for the simple reason that in contrast to the old clean, almost clinical, violence, now when Bond fights he gets hurt. After killing two men in a stairwell his white shirt is drenched crimson with blood, in later scenes we see his face scarred from earlier fights. The film pushes its 12A rating with two uncomfortably protracted strangulation scenes.

This is not to say the kinetic, unbelievable action set pieces, the staple of the Bond experience, have gone. Indeed it opens with a highly memorable le parkour free running chase through a building site. There are no car chases, although they do destroy a beautiful Aston Martin DBS. In its new-found realism gone too are the gadgets and Cleese’s Q, as well as Moneypenny. Much of the overt comedy is stripped away as a result although the subtler humour remains. The only link to the past is in Dench’s M and she is superb. She never tries to outshine Bond but her calm, staid composure is the perfect complement. As for Campbell’s direction, it has become quite clear that he certainly knows how to introduce a new Bond — he was, after all, the man behind Brosnan’s arrival in Goldeneye.

Bond and VesperThe villains are all competent yet standard. However Green provides one of the most fascinating bond girls to date. She is required to combine verve and depth in her character as well as luscious good looks, and she pulls it off fantastically. Verbally sparring with Bond, she is a refreshing change from vacuous tedium of the average “love” interest. She is also the pivotal point for Bond’s shifting character as we see Bond emerge from a shell and mature in this film. As he stares into the camera with those incredibly bold blue eyes at the end, telling us his name, we know he will be back and could not be happier.

rating: 3.5/4