Taking the Batman Begins approach, the James Bond film franchise is relaunched with Casino Royale, giving fans the best Bond film in ages! The franchise has thrown away most of the goofy gadgets, replacing them with a stunning story, brutal fights, and toughest James Bond since Sean Connery (maybe even ever!). Given the major buzz on this movie, it was no surprise to see it rip through the box-office (both domestic and international), staying for a healthy run before finding its’ way onto DVD. Casino Royale is a big surprise and now, finally, a must own.
Daniel Craig stars as “007” James Bond, the smoothest, sexiest, most lethal agent on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Based on the first Bond book written by Ian Fleming, the story, which has never been told on film until now, recounts the making of the world’s greatest secret agent. Casino Royale brings us back to the beginning. Craig heads up an all-star cast, breathing new life into this classic character and the dangerous world that surrounds him.
James Bond’s first “007” mission leads him to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker to the world’s terrorists. In order to stop him, and bring down the terrorist network, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale. Bond is initially annoyed when a beautiful British Treasury official, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), is assigned to deliver his stake for the game and watch over the government’s money. But, as Bond and Vesper survive a series of lethal attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen, a mutual attraction develops leading them both into further danger and events that will shape Bond’s life forever.
The above synopsis does not do the film justice. Despite the running time feeling a teeny bit bloated, the movie almost flawless. From the very beginning we know this is going to be something different, something almost unique. From the stunning black and white pre-credit sequence, we know this is a new Bond. It pushes the restart button much like the Batman franchise did with 2005’s also successful Batman Begins. The new Bond is rough and tough around the edges, prone to mistake. He relies on himself more than on flashy gadgets and invisible cars. Gone is the over-the-top cheesiness of the past few Bond films (and the less said about Die Another Day, the better). We witness Bond gain his “00” status, and the game (and movie) is afoot.
As you already know, and after much controversy, the title of Bond falls on Daniel Craig’s broad shoulders. His rough edge makes his character arc work. We believe his performance as we watch him go through his first mission at the Casino Royale, eventually transforming into the James Bond we’re all familiar with. It’s stunning to watch his performance unfold. Bond becomes human and vulnerable, ready to give everything up before a third act twists forces him to act on his instincts. His performance sells it, watching as he gets tangled up with a dangerous woman, making the inevitable personality quirks all the more believable.
The movie not only brings Bond down to earth, but we also get a realistic villain in the process. His nemesis here is classy thug who is simply funding terrorism. He’s not threatening to blow up a chunk of the world or unleashing whatever maniacal device from deep below the sea or in some super-secret headquarters. Instead, he’s a plausible and realistic villain. And Bond’s approach of brains and brawn, not relying on some clever gizmo, is refreshing. Plus, he manages to get a few choice insults during it all. He’s witty, but not overbearingly so.
It’s just a great movie whose only real fault was the running time. Well I was glued for nearly the entire feature, there were scenes I thought dragged on a bit too long. The crux of the film, the poker tournament, could have been trimmed down some. While poker enthusiasts may marvel at the hands being dished out left and right, those uninterested or educated in the game might find it all boring. A few moments could have helped that, though the movie manages to spice things up with a couple tense scenes in-between deals (with the required Bond quip, “That last hand nearly killed me.”).
Casino Royale is the latest reboot of the franchise, making the characters more harder-edged, and it works. With the majority of the production team still intact from the Pierce Brosnan era, I hope this new life for the Bond franchise continues. If I recall, the Timothy Dalton era tried to execute the same “hardcore” thing (bringing in a tougher Bond), but it seems to work better here. And I may be in the minority, but I’m glad they left Judi Dench as M. I found it was brilliant casting originally, and I’m glad they stuck with her. I hope that the mistakes made in this reboot (which is namely just the running time being a shade too long), will disappear in future installments. Craig has my undivided attention as the new Bond, and I think this “back to basics” approach is the best thing to happen to the franchise in ages.
Casual fan or no, I think this movie should definitely be checked out. Not only is it a great James Bond movie, it’s a great movie period. It has solid action and is accessible to anyone. There’s plenty of eye-candy with not only Craig, but the Bond ladies as well. Whatever floats your boat, you will be satisfied with the gorgeous people, six-pack abs, solid action (including a stunning sequence where Bond chases a very agile opponent), and a great story. There’s even some over-the-top theatrics in the third act! It’s a solid movie through and through. If it seems like I’m repeating myself, well, I just enjoyed this movie.
As for the the DVD itself, the movie comes in a standard Amaray case with a hinged flap to house the second disc. The movie comes in a cardboard insert duplicating the box art. There’s no insert inside, just an ad for a contest. The cover art differs from what we’re used to with a James Bond release, something I think was intentional. Sony wants to have this DVD stand out from the rest, and they pulled out all the stops to do so. Personally, I found it to be well done.
The audio and video, for this standard release, is excellent. While I’m sure the Blu-Ray release looks incredible, the standard DVD release looks pretty damn good, too. The transfer is crisp and dark, reminding me of the stunning transfer from Batman Begins. It looks great, and the sound matches. During the climactic third act in Venice, your speakers will rumble and shake as buildings grumble and water gushes in from all sides.
As for the extras, it’s not as packed as you’d think a two-disc set would be (something this movie also has in common with the two-disc Batman Begins DVD set, which many found undeserving for a two-disc collection). The extras include a look at casting the new James Bond, a look at the special effects, a look at the Bond Girls (including the newest additions), and a music video. There’s no commentary or an extensive making-of documentary, so you can bet we’ll be seeing another edition of Casino Royale on DVD in the near future. That should not stop you from picking this release up, though. It’s a solid movie and a good release (though not great). I’d prefer it if all the possibly extra features could have been included, but what’s included isn’t too bad. A bit paltry, yes, but still worth it.
As with recent Sony DVDs, the second disc is packed with trailers, but none for the main feature. I’m not a fan of this practice, but I’m sure all trailers and TV spots are being held for the next release of the movie.
Overall, not only is Casino Royale a great James Bond movie, but it’s a great movie by it’s own rights. Easily accessible, fun, and enjoyable from beginning to end. The DVD itself gives us a great audio/video transfer and some nice (though incomplete) bonus features. It’s worth picking up if not to hold you over until the next installment of the rejuvenated Bond franchise. Casino Royale: 2-Disc Widescreen Edition comes Highly Recommended.