Before the title was known, this project was referred to as Bond 21. It is the 21st film to be produced by a Broccoli, and the 21st film to feature Monty Norman’s famous theme. Besides the producers returning, writers, the composer and even one of the regular actors returned. But this James Bond is not the same James Bond of the previous films. This is a new take, a different adaptation of Fleming’s character.
Despite all that, this is a film that recognises the Bond film formula: the gadgets, the women, the stunts and the espionage. There may be less of the first two than we’re used to, but it’s all there; and after the credits roll we’re straight back into the action. Even the scaled back stunt sequences are in the over-the-top tradition; they’re undeniably effective and give the film the fast pace, high energy feel of ’90s Bond, but still get a bit silly from time to time.
It’s in the black and white pre-credits sequence that the producers signal their intention that this should be a young, just-starting out Bond; from then on there are just little touches to carry the “Bond begins” theme through. The way Bond dresses, the way he takes his drinks, the car he drives, the way he introduces himself all evolve through the film. Sometimes it’s none too subtle (“Shaken or stirred?” “Do I look like a man who gives a damn?”) but it’s all done rather well; it plays with the regular audience’s expectations without interrupting the action. The music, too, echoes this, with only the lightest hint of the Bond theme until the final frames, when the familiar chords explode behind that first uttering of the words “Bond, James Bond”.
So, does it work? Well, the producers essentially had three options in adapting Casino Royale:
- Leave out the “Bond begins” elements, and just go for the back to basics feel.
- Make a period prequel to Dr No
I thought the reboot the least favourable option, and would have like to seen a more subtle use of Fleming’s material worked into the series (after all, we’re prepared to suspend our disbelief about the fact that Bond has been around for 40 years without ever ageing more than 20). This is what they did with For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights with, in my view, reasonable success. A 50s or 60s set Cold War story might have been good, but would never have had the broad appeal an up to date Bond could have. It would also have suffered unfavourable comparisons with the films that would then be supposed to follow it: an unfair challenge, how could a period film compare with a contemporary picture in capturing the exuberance of the era or the sinister menace of the cold war?
Instead, the reboot gets its edge from the current global political climate, and it works. Casino Royale is a great opening to a new Bond series, and I’m looking forward to see Craig’s Bond in several more films evolving into the sophisticated super-spy he is destined to become.