Imagine, if you can, you've never heard of someone named James Bond. That martinis shaken or stirred meant nothing to you. That the number 007 made no particular sense and M was just a letter in the alphabet.
Imagine you've never experienced the Wow Factor. The stunts, the exotic locales, the gorgeous women, the despicable bad guys.
And then, at a multiplex near you, there appears a galvanizing new action hero — though you're not quite sure he should be counted as entirely heroic. And he's played by sexy Daniel Craig, an English actor whose name you may not know but whose charisma and extraordinary acting chops have drifted stateside in movies including Layer Cake, Road to Perdition, Munich and Infamous (as killer Perry Smith).
Welcome to Casino Royale.
Based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel — an earlier version in 1967 was made as a spoof starring David Niven and Woody Allen — the new 007 movie could be considered a re-imagining of the most famous spy in movie history. Or perhaps simply a kind of "Bond Begins."
Gone are the puerile double-entendres — funny when Sean Connery first uttered them more than 40 years ago, but a little tired now. Also MIA are the gyrating girls over the opening credits and, for that matter, the traditionally spectacular special-effects-in-the-extreme pre-credit prologue.
This Bond means business, and to make sure you know it, the picture opens with a black-and-white sequence in which Bond earns his double-0 status — that's two kills, if you please. First is a bloody bashing in a white-tiled public lavatory that's as unglamorous as a Martin Scorsese gang hit. The next one is, as our blond (get used to it) Bond notes, easier. Considerably.
Directed by Martin CampbellStarring Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre), Judi Dench (M) Running time: 144 minutesTaiwan release: Today
Let the iconography begin. The familiar iris shot encircles him, the classic chords ring out, the movie bursts into color — and we're off and running with a Bond film worthy of, well, Sean Connery.
As always, the plot doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. A no-good named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) makes a living financing terrorists. Certain bad bets on the stock market bring him to a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro. The inimitable M (inimitable Judi Dench) — who so far has dismissed her newest double-0 as nothing more than "a blunt instrument" — dispatches Bond to beat Le Chiffre at his own game, on and off the gaming table.
Director Martin Campbell, who gave us the very respectable GoldenEye in 1995, and writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, whose script has been sweetened by Crash's Oscar-winning Paul Haggis, approach the essential Bond tropes much as Peter Jackson did the special effects in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That is, in service of plot and character. We learn how Bond acquired that spiffy Aston Martin (in a card game). How he came by his first tailored tux, thanks to M-dispatched chaperone/love interest Vesper Lynd (gorgeous and talented Eva Green). And, in the crowd-pleasing moment of a crowd-pleasing movie, what he said the first time he was asked if he liked his martini shaken or stirred. To wit: "Do I look like I give a damn?"
Casino Royale does just about everything right. A breathtaking chase over, under, around and through a construction site includes some fancy stuff on a gigantic crane worthy of Jackie Chan at his most agile and death-defying. (Another plus: The movie relies more on stunt men than special effects.) The extravagantly beautiful Green makes for an expert sparring partner. Told she's not his type, she flippantly asks, "Smart?"