Bland. James Bland.
I hate to buck the trend of those critics who are hailing the new James Bond film, Casino Royale, as a return to form and reinvention of the superhero spy franchise, but I found the film, while technically proficient, overlong and underwhelming. I’m personally disappointed too, being old enough to remember when a new James Bond film was one of the few reliable pleasures of escapist movie going.
My criticism is not about this Bond’s not being “faithful” to either its literary or cinematic predecessors. It’s true that Daniel Craig’s Bond is, despite his blond hair, closer in many respects to Ian Fleming’s description of the suave-yet-lethal secret agent. Both Fleming’s Bond and Craig are, at least on the surface, cold and unemotional. They can be brutal and ruthless. They both have amazing survival skills and stamina, but Fleming’s Bond is also possessed of a sense of humor, not least about himself, that makes him good company through the casual sexism, racism, and brand name-dropping of the original Bond novels.
Being true to Fleming’s conception of Bond doesn’t necessarily make for a good movie in 2006 and beyond. Several choices made by the filmmakers and by Craig contribute to Casino Royale’s shortcomings. Some may be built-in tensions that no one can resolve to everyone’s satisfaction. Ironically, some may be due to Craig’s skills. It’s quite possible he’s too good an actor for this role.
The filmmakers wisely re-set the Bond clock so that, for this film, Craig’s Bond is on one of his first big assignments. This Bond is still rough - not the suave sophisticate with an encyclopedic knowledge of wine and the finer things in life, but a blunt instrument, a man who kills because it’s part of his job, and who has cut off most of his emotions so he can continue to do that job.
Craig’s Bond limits his sexual dalliances to married women because there’s far less chance of emotional involvement on both sides. He does flirt, but Craig makes it seem like something of an effort - a difficult concert piece instead of a jazz improvisation. Craig plays all this and creates a credible human being. Unfortunately, he’s not a human being that’s fun or interesting to spend two and a half hours with.