Casino Royale Thoughts

January 18th, 2010

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(More thoughts on non-game related subjects, I know. Basically, I’m ploughing through other media (comics, manga, anime, movies) before I head overseas again, and hey, Okami has been sucking me dry for time. Expect more of this gear for the next few days. )

Ages ago I was given Casino Royale on Blu-ray as a Birthday present to use with the PS3. Considering I’d seen the movie with friends at the cinemas I didn’t feel the need to re-watch the movie in such a hurry, but the other day I decided to give my favourite Bond film a second viewing. Here are some of my observations:

Watching Casino Royale retroactively filled in the numerous mental blanks underpinning my confused reaction to Quantum of Solace. There was a two year gap between the movies, yet their themes (the friction between the mission and the love interest: Vesper) are very tightly bound. Furthermore, Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel, as in Bond literally begins from where he left off in Casino Royale, so confusion was sure to ensue. The movies are best watched in succession. With that considered, I’m not interested in watching Quantum of Solace again. You saw the movie, you know why, but fundamentally, Vesper was too smarmy and not worth watching Bond weep over.

Actually, let’s talk about Vesper. She’s both good looking AND intelligent which were points that previous Bond girls were keen to labour over in the extra features. Fair enough, when contrasted against the Bond Girls of the past, she’s peaking the recent trend into more capable female side kicks. I still didn’t like her though. Three reasons:

1) She’s indeed smart—and that’s a good thing—but the script is keen to make a point of it as though her intelligence is unusual or worthy of attention. On debut, the writers attempt to give her intellectual capital over Bond through their childish squabbling match, but it instead has the opposite effects, making the two protagonists seem like self-important aristocrats. Pricks.

2) She seems uncomfortable in her role, I don’t know if this is intentional (because she’s an accountant? Maybe) or just the actor (Eva Green) not suiting the part. Eva’s face always wears a sullen smile, as though she wants to be elsewhere, preferably not with Bond.

3) I don’t think that she suits the typical mold of a Bond girl either. It’s just her breasts and the desperate attempts the costume designers take to fit her in clothes which make them more apparent. It appears as though they’re trying to fit her into a strong female archetype (the business one) which doesn’t suit her, and therefore a sense of attractive which is incongruous with her natural look (which is supposedly French Gothic).

M, on the other hand, holds a stern presence over Bond, she is a strong female character not because she retorts Bond’s slick quips, but because she silences them. Vesper, plays Bond’s mind games because she thinks she can win, M grounds Bond in the reality where his games are nothing but trivial. Judy Dench is probably at her best in this installment, I’d wager. Overall though, I dig Solange Dimitrios, the ost, she’s so sensual and a bit of a throwback to the Roger Moore era. (I can’t justify that last point, I just have a feeling).

In general, the production is far superior to prior Bond movies. Grounding itself more firmly in reality and losing the fantastical elements which made Die Another Day so nauseating, Casino Royale has given the series a new lease on life. Shedding the shallow gender stereotypes and corny jokes also helped to make Bond more socially relevant in a more responsible world.

However, despite these comforting amenities, Casino Royale stands out for its brilliant action sequences. As an action movie buff, I evaluate set piece action sequences on two key qualities: 1) Originality 2) Realism. I chose these two points because I enjoy action sequences which mirror the themes, issues and vibe of the narrative and don’t rely on special effects. A great deal of action movies are loaded with trashy, senseless violence that contribute to the movie’s story or characterisation.

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The parkour sequence is a great example of inspired action. Free-running is modern and very stylistic, yet it’d never been incorporated into a mainstream production before, particularly of this scale. Bond isn’t just running through streets and on roof tops though, the construction site setting further puts a twist on the already unique free running concept. The visceral, improvisation-heavy action sets a striking impression of the new James Bond.  The realism is also very much in check as everything which happens on screen was acted out. Sends chills down your spine just thinking about it, eh?

I think that summarises most of my thoughts, I’d just like to add a handful of ideas which I couldn’t fit in above:

  • I really love this movie. Quantum of Solace lost me for two big reasons:
    -The plot felt lackluster.
    -The new director didn’t know how to shoot action scenes.

    The plot was, what, about the QUANTUM agency trying to raise taxes on water in Bolivia? That’s just so low-rent for someone like James Bond. So they completely lost me there.

    The bigger problem was how quick-cut the action was. That opening car chase sequence, for instance, was abominable. It wasn’t bad in terms of what was happening, but how it was filmed. So many quick cuts back and forth, back and forth, that made it hard to tell what was even going on. And most of the action sequences play out just like that.

    Though Quantum of Solace did, to its credit, have some pretty good sequences in it. The opera scene, for me, stands out as being awesome.

    But Casino is perfect for me. Great action, great new direction for Bond, Daniel Craig does a fantastic job, and… Le Chiffre. What a great villain. Crying blood? Awesome. Such a classic Bond villain. He goes down in history with some of the best Bond villains.

  • I found the opera scene to be a little too progressive actually. I didn’t like it so much, but yeah, the consensus on Quantum of Solace is just as you say. I wonder what the next bond movie will be like.

  • This is the Bond that Fleming created. We see more vulnerable moments in him, more man than superman. And surprisingly, that makes the legend even stronger.