The Story: In a restarting of the James Bond franchise, Daniel Craig takes his first turn as the world’s most famous secret agent, 007. The rookie Bond’s first mission pits him against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker serving some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. In order to stop him, Bond must beat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes game of poker at Casino Royale in Montenegro. MI6 appoints Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to look after Bond and watch over the government’s money. They soon are under attack, falling for each other while the stakes around them grow higher, leading to a series of events that will change Bond’s life forever.
The Good: Bond is back and better than ever as Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, the Zorro movies) returns to jumpstart the series once again. Daniel Craig was personally my top choice to play the new Bond, and he quickly proves he was the right man for the job. He takes Bond in a direction that hasn’t really been gone before, making him more of a ruthless killer rather than a sophisticated charmer. He does exude a little of that suave Bond is famous for, but the character is much psychologically darker this time around. This fits in with the grittier, more realistic tone the movie strives after, which overall works quite nicely. The action scenes especially are able to capitalize with this newer, more intense style, as the beginning foot chase through a construction yard is one of the best I have ever seen. Eva Green also manages to hold her own as the newest Bond girl, and her character is smarter and more complicated than most of Bond's previous love interests.
The Bad: The movie’s structure is a problem. The beginning is front loaded with the majority of the action sequences, making the last half really seem to drag more than it should. The big poker game towards the end doesn't compare with all that has been leading up to it, and the needed payoff is decidedly missing. It doesn’t help the fact that the movie is about 15 minutes too long. The time leading up to the finale particularly could have been trimmed down. The torture scene at the end, which is well known from the novel, is lacking in execution and feels a bit out of place. The scene can’t make up its mind about what mood it wants to be, coming across as awkward, painful, and funny. The movie is also lacking in the villain department. Le Chiffre makes for a decent bad guy but never distinguishes himself as all that interesting or threatening.
The Verdict: The bar for the spy genre has risen over the last several years, forcing Bond to learn from its peers and adopt change. While Casino Royale is never able to reach the level of the superior Jason Bourne movies, it is able to quiet the doubters and take its place among the best Bond films of all time. With a sequel soon on the way, I can’t wait to see what is up next for Daniel Craig and Co. The future of James Bond has never looked brighter.