Becoming Bond

I saw CASINO ROYALE when it first opened. The first half-hour kicked the ass of anything from the BOURNE or MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series. Bond was back. All hail the king.
I like Daniel Craig as the new face of the Bond franchise. I liked watching this sharp but thuggish spy become Mr. Cool. (The tuxedo scene was a particular high point.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first hour and was okay with most of the second. With about 45 minutes to go, however, I found the film making some big mistakes.

(I will keep the spoilers light, but this is really meant for those who have already seen the movie.)

The problem begins when Bond is tortured by Le Chiffre. (Mads Mikkelsen makes a worthy Bond villain.) The type of torture is more symbolic than realistic, and plays more than a little silly. But that’s okay because Bond is about to break free, like Riggs in LETHAL WEAPON, and unleash all kinds of vengeance on Le Chiffre and his men.

Only, that’s not what happens. In fact, not only does Bond fail to escape, he ultimately isn’t the one who defeats the bad guy. The action is diffused by an outside group, and instead we get Bond on the mend from his first adventure.

About 20 minutes of Bond on the mend.
During that time, he falls deeply in love with Vesper Lynd. Granted, Vesper is a fine catch and Eva Green makes for great eye candy, but this is an origin story. We know the couple will not reach a happy ending. So we sit through about a half dozen scenes, all of which open super wide like credits are about to roll, waiting for the inevitable moment when Bond’s heart is broken.
Knowing it’s not to be, I had no investment in the romance and anxiously waited for the movie to get going again. By the time an action climax did pop up, I was bored, bored, deeply bored.

Despite the strong beginning, I am now hesitant to recommend CASINO ROYALE to anybody. You want to see the best spy movie of 2006, rent MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3.
However, audiences are flocking to CASINO ROYALE, and everyone’s heaping tremendous praise on the film. How does the film overcome its final third? A friend of mine gave his theory.

I was expecting a Bond film with the added bonus of watching him pick up his trademarks (kind of like the train opening to INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE). In truth, this focus is on rebuilding the myth from the ground up, like Eastwood did with UNFORGIVEN. Bond does the wrong thing in practically every situation. He must learn to become Bond. Only in the final shot, do we see the James Bond we all know. (With the film’s last line, that makes a lot of sense.)
Keeping with this, the climax of the film isn’t Bond defeating the bad guy. He’s not there yet. The climax is Bond learning the hardest lesson of all…that relationships and the job will never mix. It’s an emotional beat, not an action beat. In the final scene with M, she even tells Bond that he’s finally learned this lesson.
I get it, and the filmmaker’s game plan makes more sense to me now, but it’s stretched to a aggravating length. Tell me what you think. Did the ending of CASINO ROYALE maintain your interest, or were you hoping for something more exciting?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your friend sounds very smart. And handsome.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Rambler said...

Casino Royale perfectly exceeded my expectations. But I entered it with the background of having read the book.
With that background the sense that I had was exactly the one you arrived at. The Bond of Casino Royale is a blunt instrument on his way to becoming a razor.
I love the little musical acknowledgment of this process. I think it's only once during the movie (or at least the first time) that we hear a hint of the traditional Bond theme music, when he firsts puts on the black tux.

3:35 PM  

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