For Bond 21 (in the official series), the producers decided it was time for another fresh start, ditching super smooth Pierce Brosnan for Daniel Craig. Blond, muscular and pugnacious, he is closer to Sean Connery’s working class insolence than his smarmier successors. This is a utilitarian, back-to-basics Bond, a “blunt instrument”, as M puts it (echoing Fleming), stripped of the knowing smirk and salacious wink.
Which is not to say Craig’s Bond isn’t cocky – that’s his designated character flaw – but the rough edges haven’t been shaved off yet. “Shaken or stirred?” inquires a barman. “Do I look like I give a damn?” Bond shoots back.
Appropriately the vehicle for this relaunch is Ian Fleming’s first novel. “Casino Royale”, which was filmed as a spoof in 1967 though it’s no more inherently ridiculous than any of the others. The (quite faithful) modern version leans over backwards to play down series’ more decadent accoutrements: the girls, the gadgets and the gizmos. Although bad guy Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) has acquired the baroque habit of crying blood, he’s a banker looking for profit, not a megalomaniac thirsting for world domination.
Too bad for him Bond foils a plan to blow up a prototype super-sized airliner at Miami airport (the second of the film’s big three action set-pieces). After taking a bath at the stock market, Le Chiffre organizes a multi-million dollar private poker tournament to win back his dodgy clients’ money. The British Treasury stakes Bond to the tune of 10 million dollars, but sends Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) along to keep tabs on the taxpayers’ investment.
Most memorable moment? Probably the foot chase that kicks off the action. Craig huffs and puffs after a freelance terrorist/dedicated free runner all over a Madagascar building site, including up the jib of a crane. The sequence lasts a good ten minutes and climaxes with a glorious shoot-em-up in some anonymous foreign embassy. By then it’s crystal clear that this Bond means business – even if his antics do raise embarrassing questions in the House.