- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

Batman began. Now it’s Bond’s turn.

The James Bond franchise gets a reboot with “Casino Royale,” and darned if the minds behind 007 didn’t do nearly everything right in resuscitating the British spy.

It’s how Bond became Bond based on an updated version of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel.

And how is the new chap with the license to kill? Daniel Craig is no Bond — that is, the fellow with the gadgets, the stale rejoinders and impervious detachment.

This Bond is real, raw and more than a touch arrogant, making Mr. Craig a terrific choice. The actor’s rugged face looks as if he earned his license the hard way.

The series restarts with Bond assuming official double-0 status much to the chagrin of his superior M (Judi Dench, the epitome of class and fire). She thinks he’s too headstrong to cut it as an elite spy, and she’s right. He proves it during a delirious chase to stop a suspected terrorist. Bond gets his man but leaves dozens dead and creates an international incident. It’s the kind of improbable dash that epitomizes the Bond films, but director Martin Campbell (1995’s “GoldenEye”) somehow makes it seem gritty and grounded. It could be the longest action sequence of 2007, and it’s likely the best we’ll get.

Bond pretends to follow M’s advice and takes a holiday, but he’s really stalking a suspected terrorist financier.

That leads him into the arms of the suspect’s lovely girlfriend (Caterina Murino) and, later, to a high stakes gambler named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who funnels his winnings to sundry terrorists.

This Bond isn’t saving the world. He’s trying to cut off the terrorists’ money flow, and beating Le Chiffre is a good place to start. He’s aided by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, “The Dreamers”), a smart, sensible woman who gives Bond a hard time before falling into his arms.

She’s more a Bond Woman than Bond Girl, and the difference can be seen on Mr. Craig’s face whenever the two of them are on-screen.

Together, they square off against Le Chiffre at the poker table. The high stakes poker could easily be a snooze, but these games play out with a grand sense of tension and character development.

Le Chiffre isn’t a classic Bond villain. He’s more likely to reach for his inhaler than a pistol. But the villains here are almost an afterthought. We’re trying to see how Bond became the charismatic killer we’ve known for decades, and “Casino Royale” triumphs in telling that tale.

Let’s credit Paul Haggis, “Crash’s” Oscar-winning writer/director, for punching up a script by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. And, of course, Mr. Craig and his on-screen love Miss Green deserve kudos for giving us a bona fide love story that’s just as compelling as the requisite car chases.

The iconic Bond theme isn’t heard until the film’s final moments, but David Arnold’s bracing score more than makes up for its absence.

It’s no surprise that “Casino Royale” is too long. Show us a Bond movie that couldn’t use a trim. And the final battle set within a collapsing Venetian building is a special effects triumph and little more.

We’re always suspicious when Hollywood breaks out the defibrillator paddles for a lifeless franchise. Was it really only four years ago when Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was tooling around in an invisible car in “Die Another Day”?

Cynicism quickly gives way to wonder with Mr. Craig’s brutally entertaining “Casino Royale.”

Long live James Bond.

***1/2

TITLE: “Casino Royale”

RATING: PG-13 (Intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Martin Campbell. Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis based on the novel by Ian Fleming.

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures

.com/movies/casinoroyale/site/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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