Shaken, Not Stirred: Casino Royale Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary
In 1962, secret agent 007 first appeared in cinemas worldwide in Dr. No, jettisoning a new franchise the like of which has never been replicated. At a time when the Cold War was blossoming and the Western world was in search of a new idol, James Bond leapt onto the scene in the form of actor Sean Connery, becoming a figure that would be adored by global audiences both young and old. Portraying a lifestyle of danger and deceit over fifty years of social, political, economical, and technological change, James Bond has become the namesake for all things espionage when it comes to cinema, and amassing a substantial effect on popular culture itself.
When the time came to reboot the series and re-introduce Bond to a new generation in MGM/Columbia Pictures’ Casino Royale, where the agent would receive his license to kill for the first time, a wave of controversy erupted. Not because of anything controversial in terms of story convent, but over the decision to cast actor Daniel Craig, and for the first time, have Bond be…blond.
But this would ultimately be a fuss over nothing, as ten years on, Craig has gone on to become arguably the best 007 to date, and his inaugural appearance in the role rivals earlier films like Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to be a fan favorite.
Almost a direct adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel of the same name, Casino Royale finds Bond hot on the trail of an international terrorist ring, that plans to raise the finances for its operations in a Texas hold ‘em tournament in Montenegro. Bond is entered into the game under an alias with the objective to win at all costs, risking his life for Queen and Country.
From the opening scene shot in black-and-white in which Bond earns his first two kills; one in debonair fashion and the other in an intense and overtly physical fight, Casino Royale completely sets itself apart from previous outings in the series by setting up a gritty, modern world – far from the ludicrous nature of the last entry, 2002’s Die Another Day.
With the story taking much liberty with Bond’s origin, he undergoes numerous trials of character construction, that are removed from the codes and conventions which defined him in the past. The opening action sequence set in Madagascar, in which he chases after a bomb-maker with impressive parkour skills, ends with him storming into a political embassy and causing substantial damage, before executing his target in a brutal display. Later on, he causes personal/private property damage and seduces a married woman while on the trail of a corrupt government contractor. And in the most damning case of all, relinquishes his government-provided identity to send a message to his opponent, an act which results in multiple attempts on his life.
Despite all these beginner-level mistakes, Craig is able to provide much appeal and attraction as 007. He still wears the customary tuxedo and consumes vodka martinis (although, he doesn’t care whether it's shaken or stirred), but he is one that relies more on his wits and strength than a range of ultramodern gadgets. This new direction for Bond would ultimately see the series go in a new direction, by connecting the following three films (Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre) narratively to Casino Royale, that have in turn made his beginning all the more intriguing.
This time, the antagonist is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a criminal banker who is unlike other Bond adversaries in that his plans are not for global domination – rather he is trying to recoup his losses after losing a large sum of his clients’ money. Mikkelsen is cold and steely in the role, and the added touch of his eyes crying blood every few scenes gives off that classic Bond villain charm with instant memorability.
Bond’s foil in these proceedings is the gorgeous Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a British Treasury agent assigned to court him to Montenegro, to ensure that the government placed funds are in good hands. The rare Bond girl with as much intelligence as sex appeal, Vesper Lynd’s portrayal is equally as important to re-establishing the treatment of women in the series, after countless examples of misogyny in past femme fatales. What really makes the character interesting is the romance that occurs between her and Bond – it comes at a dire part in the story and is paramount to the development which Bond undergoes, especially towards the end when he finally comes into being the spy we all know and love.
Director Martin Campbell, who previously rebooted the series in 1995 with Pierce Brosnan’s first outing GoldenEye, held the distinction of reinventing the character in a genre that has seen a steady change in the depiction of undercover activities, in the wake of a post-9/11 world. While some series like the Bourne movies have nailed that tone down completely, Campbell held the added difficulty of making a pre-existing character seem pertinent to the evolving dangers of the world, and having him squarely fit in with inter-global threats and issues. But his success lies in striking an equilibrium between old and new, preserving some of the facets that audiences know and love about Bond, while making them fresh for others seeing him on screen for the first time.
As a result, Casino Royale is now seen as a staple of the modern action genre, thanks to its exhilarating storyline that portrays Bond in a manner that exalts current global affairs with a fair amount of suspense and intrigue. More than what its producers could have hoped for, Casino Royale is the rare example of a reboot that not only nails the objective of bringing back a character from the dead, it improves on them and reinvigorates interest in the character’s escapades. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed if Daniel Craig will sign on for a fifth Bond adventure, reluctant from the amount of physical and mental exertion, one can only hope that he does return to give his incarnation the proper sendoff that it so rightfully deserves.