Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Casino Royale

Reboots are basically an admission that you failed. A successful franchise doesn't need a reboot, and if you're going in that direction you're basically assuming that everyone agrees your franchise is dead in the water. So, after the awful Die Another Day, it was a welcome announcement to hear that the James Bond series would get a fresh approach and cease to suck. The reboot in question, Casino Royale did in fact manage to revitalize the series, and using a template from an unexpected source.

See, the Bond series had been rebooted before - though they didn't bother to get a new actor at that time - and in much the same way. Like Die Another Day, Moonraker was pants-on-head retarded, and someone in charge saw that, in spite of the decent numbers, something had to be done. You can't just go to space for no obvious reason and expect a series to top it. As a result, For Your Eyes Only took a gritty approach. The plot would be realistic, Bond would be crueler, and the filming style would abandon the lighthearted muckety muck of the last four Roger Moore installments. Yes, they didn't actually have enough balls to fire Moore, but it went grittier, darker, and better all around. Incidentally, it actually convinced me that Moore was a fairly good Bond overall, a position I maintained until watching every Moore film. Now, I believe he was good in For Your Eyes Only, but generally pretty awful.

While Die Another Day didn't go to space, it did have an invisible car, and once you go invisible you've reached that ridiculous wall, again. So, they went the For Your Eyes Only route, again, except they didn't pussyfoot around this time. Pierce Brosnan was out, replaced with the gruffer Daniel Craig. It would go from being about being about an experienced and suave spy to a cocksure amateur. They wouldn't get rid of Judi Dench - because Judi Dench is just plain awesome - but they would make the spy action a lot grittier, more realistic, and with a stripped down reliance on gadgets. The experiment worked, and the series was saved forever.

In fact, action movies were saved, because finally someone dared to make a film which didn't rely solely on CGI to replace practical stuntwork. The breathtaking parkour sequence, for example, was done with real people actually jumping from great heights. The human movement is something that CGI has consistently failed to achieve, and as a result we have a sequence that is genuinely tense. The knowledge that these are real people doing real stunts just enhances the program.

A strange thing is that it also proved that basing an entire film around a high stakes poker game could work, provided there were enough distractions on the way. It keeps the tension high, even though the premise as a whole is ridiculous and requires an exposition man to keep the audience on track with the rules of cards. The entire purpose is to have a backbone on which to build tension, and it succeeds in that.

That said, the film isn't perfect, and to be honest simply doesn't know where to end. It seems as though it should stop somewhere in the middle of the almost happy ending, but then the movie keeps going, barreling headfirst into a final big action sequence. Great, you might think, but for a good portion of the film before that it seems to be wrapping up. Perhaps it's a way to lull the audience into the same sense of complacency as the hero, but instead one feels the need to gather their jacket or find the DVD case, as the film is plainly over.

For myself, I can't help but think the entire last sequence would have been better placed at the beginning of the next movie, for it would be as much of a shock, and also remind the audience of the stakes of the game. Now, the next movie in general wasn't as well written or Casino Royale, and often seemed like a delivery system for action scenes rather than a coherent story - it's a rare film that works just as well if you replace the soundtrack with your own - but I think having the audience reminded again of who and why Bond was out for revenge would have been to it's merit.

Nonetheless, this is arguably one of the best action films of the decade. It justifies reboots, and it was the first time in a while it seemed like someone at the helm of the Bond series knew what they were doing. For a life long Bond fan, that didn't come a moment too soon, I don't think I could have taken another Die Another Day.

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