Casino Royale Martin Campbell

Casino Royale Martin Campbell
There’s a huge gulf between Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig and it’s not about the blond hair. From the candy-coated Technicolor of the last handful of Bond epics to the gritty, black and white brutality of its latest, Casino Royale is an incredible, powerful restart to what could be the oldest franchise in movie-dom.

Inspired on two sides by the cartoonish vibe of Austin Powers ⎯ which Brosnan’s most over-the-top efforts closely resembled -- and the grit and speedy thrills of another spy franchise, Matt Damon’s Bourne films, Casino Royale gets Bond back to where he belongs: tough and mean, without a smirk or a laser pen. When asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, Daniel Craig’s Bond growls, "do I look like I care?”

From that black and white intro -- a restart/prequel of sorts that sees Bond first earning his double-O status -- Royale immediately launches into its most kinetic and awesome chase sequence, a parkour-inspired street race through a fictional African nation. There, terrorists are meeting with international financiers who will launder their money; that’s the connection Bond is after. It eventually leads him to Casino Royale in Montenegro, where Bond must win millions from the terror financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), in a game of Texas hold ’em. (The novel’s original baccarat is too obscure these days.)

Traditionalists need not fear this "blunt instrument” Bond (as section head M, again played by Dame Judi Dench, describes him); the series maintains its world travelling, fancy car driving and stylish evening wear-ing, but it does so minus the smirk and wink that became prominent after Roger Moore’s fey ’70s efforts. Craig’s Bond is a tough guy, built like a linebacker and brutal in close quarters, not someone who’ll disarm an enemy with a witty retort and a flourish of his handkerchief. The action makes sense and the plot is kept relatively simple (no North Korean madman trying to harness the power of the sun here).

For a franchise that could have given up the ghost (or simply continued on the money-making path of ridiculousness), and one that took a fair amount of heat for going with talented actor Craig instead of action figure mannequin Brosnan (or someone similar), the gamble has definitely paid off at this Casino.

(MGM / Sony)