A Difference in Dinner Jackets

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig’s premiere as the latest James Bond (he’s appeared in The Golden Compass and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and he had the support of all the previous Bonds when he took over the role.  Eva Green (the recent Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which looks peculiar; Morgan in the brief Camelot TV series, and she was Sibylla in Kingdom of Heaven opposite Orlando Bloom) appears alongside him as Vesper Lynd.  Mads Mikkelsen (a magnificent actor who has been Galen Erso in Rogue One, Kaecilius in Doctor Strange, Rochefort in the most recent Three Musketeers film with Orlando Bloom, Tristan in the King Arthur film with Ioan Gruffudd and Keira Knightley)  is the villainous Le Chiffre.  Dame Judi Dench returns as M; and if her assistant appears familiar, it’s Tobias Menzies (most famous now as Frank and Black Jack Randall in Outlander; he’s also been Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh in The Crown and Edmure Tully in Game of Thrones).

This was a reboot of the Bond franchise, which I was not aware of when I first watched the movie, causing me some confusion (particularly when they retain Judi Dench as M, though she is awesome), and a bit of a prequel.  The film starts in black and white, in Prague.  Bond has not yet gained his double-0 status, as the mysterious man points out; it requires two kills.  Well, Bond has already taken care of one of the man’s henchmen, then puts a bullet in his head, cutting off his response.  The opening credits confirm his upgrade in status and is one of the few openings that does not feature naked women.  Next, we’re in Uganda where a warlord gives a European man his money to finance his terroristic operations.  Bond’s on his next mission in Madagascar and a rookie agent causes the mission to go sideways so Bond has to chase his prey though the city, a la parkour at times.  He follows him onto an embassy then causes an explosion at the end, but he gets the guy’s cell phone.  And is caught on camera, causing M to sit through meetings with bureaucrats.  She misses the Cold War right about now.

She discovers Bond in her home, where he’s been using her computer and access to research where the dead guy’s message originated.  M and Bond have a discussion about his recent actions; he violated the one absolute rule of international relations by going into the embassy.  Perhaps she promoted him too early.  Well, 00’s are known to have a short life expectancy.  What M needs is a man who can put aside his ego and get the job done; any thug with a gun can kill.  Arrogance and self awareness rarely go hand in hand.  (She refers to Bond as a blunt instrument, which Miranda Frost brought up n Die Another Day).  For now, Bond is to stick his head in the sand and ponder his future.

Which he does, by going to Nassau in the Bahamas, to the Ocean Club, where the phone call originated.  Bond discovers his target and seduces his wife in order to follow him.  He takes him out, but the clue has left already and Bond has a new target.  Who tries to blow up a prototype large airplane, but Bond prevents it (causing destruction along the way).  M flies down to the Bahamas to officially give Bond the case to go after Le Chiffre.  The villain gambles with his client’s money, investing in stocks that he’ll make sure go under; he lost a lot of money betting on the prototype plane blowing up – something similar had apparently happened in conjunction with 9/11.  To make up his money, he is hosting a large poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro with a $10 million buy in.  Bond’s mission is to capture Le Chiffre, alive.  They need his information.  Bond is apparently the best poker player in MI6, and the outfit him with a tracking chip.

On the way to Montenegro [which is gorgeous], Bond meets Vesper Lynd, who remarks to Bond “I’m the money.”  “Every penny of it,” he quips back (a play on the character-not-appearing-in-this-film, Moneypenny).  They read each other’s backgrounds and snark at each other, which is rather humorous.  Vesper will keep a close eye on the money, but she has also observed Bond’s remarkable backside.  Bond receives his new car, stocked with gadgets (sadly, no Q in sight), his back story with Vesper, and a contact: Mathis.  There is a rather humorous scene where Bond gives Vesper a show-stopping dress and she in turns gives him a tailored tux instead of a dinner jacket.

The poker game begins (which I will not explain the intricacies of, because I do not understand them).  Bond creates his signature cocktail.  When a break comes four hours in, the angry Ugandans from the beginning come after Le Chiffre; they stumble on to Bond and Vesper and Bond dispatches them.  Vesper is shaken, but they must continue.  Bond cleans up and later comforts Vesper in the shower (a sensual scene, not a sexual one).  In the game, Bond follows Le Chiffre with putting all in, then loses the hand.  Vesper believes his ego got in the way, so won’t authorize the buy in.  Bond is upset and goes after Le Chiffre with a table knife, until another player stops him; a CIA agent.  The U.S. wants Le Chiffre too and the agent is not nearly as good at poker as Bond; he will give Bond the money if Bond will win so the U.S. can go after Le Chiffre.

Le Chiffre’s girlfriend sends Bond a poisoned drink [why she’s loyal to the guy who almost got her killed, I don’t know, she’s an idiot].  Bond stumbles out of the game to his car to call MI6 for help; they talk him through an injection and a defibrillator to keep his heart going, but the lead comes unattached.  He passes out, but Vesper comes in the nick of time to help.  And he goes back in to finish the game.  He goes all in again, but it pays off this time, literally.  Bond wins over $100 million.  He treats himself and Vesper to a nice dinner.  He gets concerned when Vesper leaves and races after her to discover she’s being kidnapped.  There is a brief car chase before Bond’s beautiful Aston Martin flips like it’s in Nascar.  He and Vesper are captured by Le Chiffre, who wants the account number and password between the couple so he can claim the money.  He tortures Bond, who is tied naked to a chair (this guy cannot catch a break!  He’s been beaten up like half a dozen times so far).  By now, Bond suspects Mathis and Le Chiffre even hints that Mathis is working for him.  Bond hears gunshots and a man comes in to shoot Le Chiffre.  Vesper and Bond are left alive, but Bond must recover from his injuries. 

Two men drag Mathis away and Vesper and Bond fall in love (it’s rather sweet and the scenery is utterly breathtaking).  Bond is so in love with Vesper, he is willing to quit MI6 and sail around the world with her.  He sends M a resignation e-mail and their first stop is Italy.  Come morning, Vesper must leave their bed to withdraw money from the bank.  M calls Bond and he realizes that Vesper is stealing the money; it’s never been deposited into the British Treasury.  He races after her and discovers her handing over a briefcase to a man.  There is a final shootout in an old Italian building that Bond causes to sink.  The bad guys are all killed, but Vesper is locked in the old elevator.  Even after she’s betrayed him, Bond still tries to rescue her.  She lets herself drown, hoping that Bond will let himself rise to the surface.  He manages to bring her body up, but she’s already dead.  The same man in the suit who shot Le Chiffre takes the suitcase with the money.

M calls Bond again; Vesper was being blackmailed for the money, her boyfriend was being held hostage.  She remarks “sometimes we’re so focused on our enemies, that we forget to watch our friends” [I would say they should have learned that from Die Another Day, but in this continuity, that hasn’t happened yet.  Which could mean they should have learned by Die Another Day.  However, it is touching to see how compassionate M is being, without being overt about it].  And Bond has learned his lesson, don’t trust anyone.  Even though Vesper has been proven guilty, it doesn’t prove Mathis innocent.  Vesper has left one final thing for Bond: her cell phone with the final message: Mr. White, and a phone number.  Bond tracks down Mr. White and shoots his leg.  The final line: “the name is Bond.  James Bond.”  And cue the Bond theme.  Bond is back!

This Bond is a bit rougher, maybe demonstrating as a prequel that Bond hasn’t refined his polish yet to the spy we all love.  It’s full of action, but I think we see great depths in Daniel Craig.  He plays cards coolly, flirts with Vesper, and is not at all afraid to get his hands dirty.  A good first outing.

Up Next: Quantum of Solace

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