A "reboot" of the "Bond" franchise (because, reportedly, after the invisible cars of "Die Another Day", the producers thought they'd reached a ceiling with the gadgets shown in the tech-heavy Brosnan "Bond" films), "Casino Royale" is the debut of new 007 Daniel Craig. However, the story itself is an origin tale, showing the character now beginning in MI-6. There's little humor (a few funny bits, but not much in the way of one-liners or bits like Bond adjusting his tie after destroying part of a city with a tank in "Goldeneye"), there's little in the way of gadgets and the film's swift, brutal action is more similar to the "Bourne" films than the flashy, over-the-top "Bond" adventures in recent years.
This time around, Bond has been assigned by a hesitant M (Judi Dench, returning again here) to track down terrorist financing. The mission has Bond heading from such locales as Madagascar, Miami and Montenegro, where he finds himself in an extremely high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale. His opponent is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a terrorist banker who has lost a great deal of money in the stock market and plans to try and gain it back at the tables. Financed by MI-6 and its lovely accountant, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Bond tries to beat Chiffre at the tables, although there are villains lurking whose plans are to take Bond out of the picture first.
I've voiced my disappointment that Brosnan exited (or was shown the exit) the franchise on several occasions now, as - while I'm sure many may disagree - I thought Brosnan managed the one-liners and the dramatic moments splendidly, and capably handled the action. None of the Brosnan 007 films were nearly as good or fun as "Goldeneye", but at least Brosnan held them together as they became increasingly more over-the-top. If Brosnan had to go, I'd hoped that Clive Owen, Jeremy Northam (who seemed to be auditioning for "007" in Michael Apted's excellent spy drama, "Enigma") or Dougray Scott would be the one to replace him.
But, none of the three were chosen and instead we get Daniel Craig ("Tomb Raider"), who created a great deal of controversy when chosen. However, Craig works well in the role. This is a more raw, inexperienced and impulsive Bond. While the character isn't without some warmer moments (especially with Lynd), he is otherwise colder and more straightforward than he has been in the past films, and Craig portays this superbly. The actor also does very well with the action scenes, which don't include super-duper technology and instead are more rough and brisk (including an impressive construction site fight early on.) Bond gets banged up this time around and shows cuts and bruises. There really aren't too many significant supporting roles, but Green stands up to Craig nicely and the two share an enjoyably edgy chemistry with one another.
Aside from the gadgets, the film provides the details one might expect from a film like this, with beautiful cinematography from Campbell's usual cinematographer, Phil Meheux, who gives the picture a beautiful look but a slightly grittier feel. There's also stunning locations, expensive cars and more. The film does feel a little overlong for the story at nearly 2.5 hours, but I was never bored.
I was admittedly skeptical of "Casino Royale" going in, but I thought this was a smart, tense and entertaining new start for the "007" franchise. I'm looking forward to Craig's next effort in the role, and the end of this film does certainly seem to make it apparent that that'll happen.
VIDEO: "Casino Royale" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is not without a few minor concerns, but is largely top-notch. Sharpness and detail are excellent throughout the show, as the picture remained consistently crisp and well-defined. The presentation did show a handful of instances of light edge enhancement and a couple of minor instances of artifacting, but no print flaws were seen. The majority of the presentation remained crisp and clean.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack wasn't consistently aggressive, but the action sequences (such as a spectacular scene in Venice late in the picture) provided some superb use of the surrounds for sound effects and ambience. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, well-recorded sound effects, strong bass on occasion and clear, undistorted dialogue.
EXTRAS: Some extras are included on the second DVD. The one disappointment is that a commentary with director Martin Campbell was not included, as Campbell has provided some very informative tracks in the past. That said, the second disc starts off with "Becoming Bond", a 26-minute doc that details the announcement of Craig as the replacement for Bond and the development of the story. We also see Craig's screen test and hear more about the massive controversy that accompanied his announcement as the new Bond. We also see more about Craig's training, Green's character, the return of Dench, filming fight scenes and other aspects. This is not an exceptionally in-depth program at only about 26 minutes, but it's still a well-done piece that remains informative throughout.
"James Bond: For Real" is a 23-minute featurette that looks into the planning and filming behind some of the film's main stunt sequences. Finally, we get the 48-minute documentary "Bond Girls Are Forever", which is a 48-minute look at Bond girls, which originally aired in 2006. The second disc also has trailers for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: I was admittedly skeptical of "Casino Royale" going in, but I thought this was a smart, tense and entertaining new start for the "007" franchise. I'm looking forward to Craig's next effort in the role, and the end of this film does certainly seem to make it apparent that that'll happen. This DVD presentation could have offered a bit more in the way of extra features, but audio/video quality is excellent. Recommended.
The Film B+