Casino Royale opens with a noir-themed peek into how Mr. Bond received his “00” status. After several jaw-dropping moments of hand to hand combat – no explosions, tired jokes or gratuitous CGI – you realize you are in for the real deal. An unctuous villain reminiscent of Arnold Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a footrace of feverish, balletic proportions and glimpses into Bond’s relationship with the chilly and impeccable “M” all contribute to the far-reaching appeal of the story.
The women and locations in this film are still hauntingly gorgeous although they are mere afterthoughts and distractions on the way to the real beauty: the action. Gritty and immediate, this vision of James Bond offers less gadgetry to get the job done (apart from a series of increasingly drool-worthy cars as the movie progresses), relying instead on moments of quick thinking and simple brute force to power the character through various obstacles.
The royal flush in this game, however, is Daniel Craig himself. The so-called “blonde Bond,” Craig powers this newest offering from the 007 franchise with a unique approach. Though no less charming than Bonds past, Craig offers a modern take on the secret agent man. If Sean Connery was a sly wink and Pierce Brosnan an enigmatic smile, Daniel Craig is an unwavering, steely gaze, perhaps the most powerful technique thus far from the Bond bag of tricks.
While some unnecessary exposition during the titular poker game and some groan-worthy dialogue end of the film briefly interrupts the flow of the narrative, the overall effect of Casino Royale is breathtaking and solid. Highly recommended.