James Bond walks over to the bar at Le Casino Royale in Montenegro. Frustrated, perhaps about to lose millions in a high- stakes poker game, the world’s most famous secret agent orders his signature drink. A bartender asks Bond if he would like his vodka martini shaken or stirred.
As the audience is about to answer for him, this new Bond (Daniel Craig) briskly replies, “Do I look like I give a damn?”
In that moment, “Casino Royale” reveals more about Agent 007 than previous Bond films have dared to explore. Craig’s Bond gets irritated, makes mistakes and often winds up with as much blood on his shirt as his enemies.
“Casino Royale” has made changes to Bond since the franchise’s last two or three releases. There are no invisible cars equipped with laser-guided rocket launchers. The Bond girls have names like Valenka and Vesper Lynd — not Pussy Galore or Dr. Christmas Jones. Still, labeling “Casino Royale” as a flat-out departure from classic Bond fare is going too far.
It just wouldn’t be a James Bond movie without the necessary accouterments. The cars, guns, gadgets and girls are still plentiful, just without the ludicrous plots that have made some of the recent Pierce Brosnan Bond films seem like borderline science fiction.
The film, based on the first of Ian Fleming’s spy novels, follows Bond as he tries to track down the sinister Le Chiffre, banker to the world’s most dangerous terrorists. After British intelligence reveals that Le Chiffre is attempting to raise funds in a massive poker game at Le Casino Royale, British Secret Service recruits its top poker player to take down the game: Bond.
Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) is delightful to watch as he sits across the card table from Bond. While he’s not quite as imposing a figure as Jaws, or Baron Samedi from 1973’s “Live and Let Die,” the Danish actor’s icy stare and tears of blood are intimidating nonetheless.
The most memorable villain in “Casino Royale” is Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan), an African terrorist who leads Bond on one of the most thrilling chases the Bond franchise has ever made. Audiences may recall Foucan from his high-flying escapades in a series of Nike spots, in which a chicken chases him. Leaping from staircases and crawling up walls with Spiderman-like ease, Foucan’s talents transfer effortlessly into an incredible opening chase sequence through a dangerous construction site.
Craig also deserves plenty of credit for that sequence. At 6 feet, Craig is the shortest actor to play Bond so far, though he is easily the fittest Bond yet. It’s hard to imagine poor, old Roger Moore, nearly 60 when he filmed his last Bond outing (1985’s mediocre “A View to a Kill”) leaping from cranes with the same ease as Craig.
His body seems to be on display throughout “Casino Royale” as much as any of the film’s gorgeous women. In a tasty homage to Ursula Andress from 1962’s “Dr. No,” 2002’s “Die Another Day” featured Halle Berry in a nearly identical shot of a goddess in a bikini slowly emerging from the ocean. “Casino Royale” does the same, but this time it’s Craig rising from the waves. After 20 Bond films, the producers must have decided it was time for a little something for the ladies.
Of course, there’s really a little something for everyone. A little violence, a little sex — OK, lots of violence and lots of sex. But this is what the audience has come for. After all, it’s James Bond. Nobody does it better than he does.
“Casino Royale” was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis and directed by Martin Campbell.
“Casino Royale” received 3 1/2 stars.