New Bond Blunted

New Bond Blunted
by Scott Holleran  

Wiping the slate clean, the heavily marketed restart of
writer Ian Fleming's secret agent James Bond, Casino
Royale, retains most of Bond's essence and practically
none of his charms.

Plot matters less than character in this wildly successful
action franchise, which had been slouching toward
schlock for decades in mindlessly vulgar spectacles.
Agent 007 needed a refresh and Sony and company
deserve credit for trying.

Newly minted superspy Bond (Daniel Craig) is assigned
by top agent M (Judi Dench) to thwart terrorist sponsor
Le Chiffre's (Mads Mikkelsen) schemes. Along the trail,
he falls for a buxom brunette named Vesper (Eva
Green). She's there to keep him on budget, no small
matter considering he has enlisted in a high stakes card
game opposite the villain.

Aces are played following chases, which alternate
between romance and card games. After a tangential
connection is established between a vague network of
terrorists and Le Chiffre, and malevolent forces
dominate the action, it's back to the cards and the love

This means there isn't much to gain, since the outcomes
are predictable. That leaves Bond and his quest, the
success of which depends upon one's predilection for
the iconic hero and his values.

As to values, he has none, except Vesper, and it's easy
to see what the writers (including Crash's Paul Haggis)
have in store for her. Other than Vesper, with whom he
generates few sparks, Bond is more muscle than brains.
He may be perfectly toned and able to withstand a
ballbusting (literally), but he lies to M, breaks into her
home, destroys private property for kicks, and, as he
smugly says, sneering at his previous persona, doesn't
give a damn whether the martini's shaken or stirred.

That's as sharp as he gets and, while he looks fit in a
pair of snug swim trunks and decent in a tuxedo, he is
not especially bright. In virtually every encounter, from
a chase in Uganda to the final push, Bond fails to
achieve his goal. Playing poker, sizing up double agents,
getting his man—this craggy, pugnacious Bond rarely
rakes it in.

When he does earn M's promotion—and Miss Dench
does her best to lift the proceedings—it is unclear what
if anything has been achieved. It's as if GoldenEye
director Martin Campbell went from putting the whole
universe at stake in every instant to putting nothing up
in its place. Campbell all but cancels the bet, throwing in
a curiously flat scene of total destruction in Venice as
homage to those classic Doomsday countdowns.

Destroying Venice epitomizes the movie, which aims to
be edgy by eviscerating that which is beautiful,
reversing the old formula. Through no fault of the actor,
who is more stout than civilized in the role, this
includes Bond. Even M is reduced to mouthing cliches
about the Cold War.

Casino Royale spins and wins a few. Scenic locations—
Italy's enchanted Lake Como, the balmy Bahamas,
Venice—are gorgeously depicted, recalling the postcard
quality of past Bond pictures. Whether inside a rail car
or a sports car, details are rich and inviting. An airport
showdown is thrilling, though it hasn't much to do with

Neither does this buffed, new James Bond, who bleeds,
fails and loses and who convinces the world that he is
completely through being cool.