2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 21: CASINO ROYALE (2006)
THE COLDEST BLOOD He steps towards us through a storm of playing cards, a faceless, ink-dark silhouette transformed into flesh and blood. He has a boxer’s countenance, quite at odds with his faultlessly tailored suit. His eyes are a frightening, vengeful blue, like glaciers on fire. “The coldest blood runs through my veins,” declares the relentless testosterone surge of the title song, and in that moment you feel the chill of this man. Meet the new James Bond: reborn, rebuilt, rebooted. Released in 2006, a long four years from Die Another Day, Casino Royale proves a muscular reinvention of the Bond brand, one that obliterates four decades of big screen mythology. The filmmakers had contemplated the prequel option before – at one stage 1987’s The Living Daylights was set to focus on a neophyte 007, winning his licence to kill. Cubby Broccoli nixed the idea, convinced audiences would never buy the notion of a rookie Bond. Now the prequel was prime Hollywood currency, reinvigorating rival franchises from Batman to Star Wars. In a sense Bond was once again chasing big screen fashion, just as Moonraker had so opportunistically scrabbled after the space fantasy dollar. But deeper creative impulses were at play – while Die Another Day had proved Pierce Brosnan’s most triumphant mission at the box office, the Bondmakers were determined to arrest the franchise’s perceived slippage into the fantastical. The true life horror of 9/11 also echoed in their desire to forge a new Bond, one conceived as a tactical response to a fundamentally more terrifying world. They returned to the wellspring of Ian Fleming. Published in 1953, Casino Royale was the first Bond novel, the darkly elegant big bang of all that was to follow. It was a choice that Brosnan championed – he had even conspired with Quentin Tarantino on a pitch for an authentic period adaptation – but the fifth James Bond found himself unceremoniously dismissed from Her Majesty’s secret service (“It was disappointing, it was surprising and I accepted the knowledge after 24 hours of being in shock,” he shared, clearly wounded). “I will replace you”, vows Casino Royale’s cocksure title song, and for once the traditional gentlemanly transition between Bonds feels like some alpha male death match. Guess who wins?
THUG CULTURE “He’s someone you don’t want to have an argument with at the bar,” said director Martin Campbell of his bruising new star. For all that Daniel Craig takes a blowtorch to the cinematic myth of Bond as some suave, unflappable charm-bomb, his brute-in-a-suit chimes with Fleming’s original conception of the character: in You Only Live Twice Blofeld dismisses the fastidious, worldly 007 as “a common thug, a blunt instrument wielded by dolts in high places.” More pugilist than playboy, Craig’s Bond takes inspiration from the actor’s time on Munich, the 2005 thriller whose set he shared with technical advisors from Mossad and the British secret service: “You can see it in their eyes. You know immediately – oh, hello, he’s a killer. There’s a look. These guys walk into a room and very subtly they check the perimeters for an exit. That’s the sort of thing I wanted.” Roger Moore, you imagine, might subtly check the vintage of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild instead. Defined by his compelling blue-ice gaze, Craig’s teutonic, distinctly weatherworn looks delivered a radical new face for Bond, earning him a firestorm of abuse from the more vicious and judgmental corners of the press and the internet. Incensed, he fed his ire into his performance, igniting the kerosene smoulder that would come to define his Bond: “It did spur me,” he revealed. “I did think ‘It was going to be good before. Now it’s really going to be good.’” Craig’s musclebound, butcher’s window torso lets the film deliver another profound reinvention of the Bond myth. Homaging Ursula Andress’ timeless entrance in Dr No, he rises from the Caribbean in a pair of equally immortal blue speedos, a moment that explicitly sexualises 007 himself for the first time in the franchise’s history. It feels like long belated payback. Somewhere, you suspect, Honey Ryder watches from beneath a mango tree and smiles.
LICENCE TO KILL The opening moments of Casino Royale form an instant mission statement. Tellingly – disorientatingly – the customary gunbarrel sequence is stolen from us: no parade of blank white circles punctures the anticipatory dark of the cinema, no familiar Monty Norman overture hurries our pulses. Bond, we realise, must earn these iconic trappings, just as he earns his licence to kill with the two contrasting kills we will shortly witness. The opening shot places us in the frost and the steam of the Prague night, an eternal heartland of espionage whose lingering Cold War ghosts are captured in crisp, jolting monochrome. Bond waits in a darkened room, an assassin in the shadows, just like his fateful rendezvous with Dent in Dr No. This kill is smooth, functional, sardonic. It’s intercut with an altogether uglier encounter. In flashback a snarling Bond brawls with a man in a toilet, a brutal, graphic combat presented to us in grainy footage reminiscent of a surveillance cam, slamming into the classy noir stylings of the main narrative. It’s raw, vicious, intense and, above all, messy, the kind of bloody kill that stains Bond’s hands, his suit and his soul. Yes, he wins his licence to kill for us, with all the thrill-loaded promise that entails, but maybe, just for a moment, we feel less an audience and more like accessories to murder.
KEEP ON RUNNING Bond’s remorseless pursuit of scarred bomb-maker Mollaka is one of the most satisfying action sequences yet – a defiantly physical reproach to the crowd-swindling CGI of Die Another Day. He’s clumsy but winningly gutsy in the chase, clearly lacking the free-running expertise of his quarry but compensating with balls, determination and ingenuity (when he’s not commandeering a bulldozer the inexorable agent is smashing through a plaster wall with just the faintest touch of Wile E Coyote). Framed against clear Madagascan skies, the confrontation on the towering cranes of a construction site has a dizzyingly vertiginous sense of reality – and when Bond effortlessly catches the gun that a desperate Mollaka lobs at him it’s a moment of masterful, minimalist cool. This exhaustively choreographed sequence took six weeks to shoot, with real life free-running specialist Sebastien Foucan cast as the fleet-heeled terrorist.
“I’VE GOT A LITTLE ITCH…” “It’s the simplest thing to cause you more pain than you can endure…” 007’s torture by the poison-eyed Le Chiffre may be the moment the franchise finally separates from its cosy fixture as a Christmas Day TV mainstay. Bloodied, bound, stripped naked, Bond is repeatedly thrashed around the unmentionables by a coiled hank of rope – more dry sherry and an After Eight, Granny? There’s a faddish hint of Hostel-style torture porn in the grime and meat hooks of the staging but this scene is present in all its leg-crossing glory in Fleming’s original novel – though the literary Le Chiffre favours a carpet beater rather than a length of rope. The studio was troubled by its inclusion in the screenplay but Eon and Martin Campbell were determined not to compromise on its essential ferocity (the stuntman doubling Daniel Craig was more troubled by the thought of performing nude, a prospect he found petrifying). Our hero’s initial animal howls are genuinely distressing, but within moments the scene tilts into delicious black comedy. “I’ve got a little itch…” gasps Bond, somehow, impossibly, finding the upper hand in this bleakest of situations. “Would you mind? No, no, no… to the right! To the right!” It’s a pivotal moment for the screen Bond. He’s just discovered that gallows humour is the best defence against the ever-circling promise of death. Every dark one liner to come is born here.
“HALF-MONK, HALF-HITMAN”Casino Royale takes the raw matter of James Bond – one of MI6’s “maladjusted young men”, taunts duplicitious love interest Vesper Lynd – and builds a screen icon around him. But there’s a cost involved. “You do what I do for too long and there won’t be any soul left to salvage,” he tells Vesper, and we soon learn the truth of this. Bond slays a machete-wielding assailant and, in the aftermath of the kill, strips himself to the waist, scrubs away the blood, swills neat alchohol and confronts himself in the mirror, his gaze urgent, searching, clearly wondering what’s become of his humanity. And then he holds a shellshocked Vesper in the shower, suddenly tender, protective, still human. Her ultimate betrayal removes even this sliver of salvation. The final scene finds him stepping into shot like some Savile Row Terminator, his suit immaculate, his outsized gun an unmistakable Freudian statement. The signature theme finally begins to prowl after being denied to us for too long. “The name’s Bond,” he declares, “James Bond.” It feels like a triumph for the icon, a tragedy for the man.
THIS NEVER HAPPENED TO THE OTHER FELLERS So just how many James Bonds make six? For all that this reboot sets out to scorch the past, Casino Royale proves the most persuasive argument yet for one of the wilder theories in Bond fandom – James Bond is simply a codename, a title to be earned, a nom de espionnage bestowed upon the best and deadliest operative on the MI6 payroll. Sure, Casino wants to be a clean slate, but even director Martin Campbell admits “If you think about the timeline, it makes no sense”. Judi Dench’s M is a clear holdover from the Brosnan era, after all (unless she’s playing some subtly different alternate reality version of the secret service matriarch). The idea of the government wielding Bond as some indestructible, weaponised concept rather than a single mortal man has a certain appeal. If it’s true, it’s small wonder diabolical masterminds shudder when he announces his name – he may as well suavely declare “I’m warfare… Bio-chemical warfare!”. And if you squint the theory makes a kind of sense when applied to the history of the franchise. Perhaps Lazenby’s young, sensitive Bond was broken by the death of his wife, leading to the recall of Connery, whose despatch of Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever always feels more a callous piece of business than the culmination of some fiery vendetta. You can easily imagine Roger Moore’s surprisingly long-lived incarnation finally retiring to charm the blue-blooded beauties of Monaco. And perhaps Dalton’s Bond got a taste for the life of a freelance “problem eliminator” after going rogue in Licence To Kill. There are glitches in this theory, of course – Brosnan’s introduction in GoldenEye takes place in 1986, exactly midway between Moore and Dalton in the true-life timeline (though a nice nod to the fact that Brosnan so nearly won the role that year). And why would each new Bond acknowledge the death of Tracy, even to the extent of placing flowers on her grave? Perhaps she’s an eternal symbol of everything they must sacrifice to be this man. Die Another Day helmer Lee Tamahori fought to bring the multiple Bonds theory to the screen – “You either believe that it’s the same guy all along, and he just keeps being played by different actors, or you ascribe to the view that I have which is that Connery and all the others were actually different guys with the 007 prefix” – but he was overruled. How many James Bonds make six? Ultimately, there’s only one answer. There are six James Bonds. And only one Bond… James Bond.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Casino Royale was brought to the screen as a TV adaptation in 1954 and a lacklustre big screen spoof in 1967. Eon reclaimed the rights in 1999.
Shortlisted Bonds included ER’s Goran Visnjic, Sam Worthington and a 22 year old Henry Cavill.
Martin Campbell took direct inspiration from The Ipcress File for the film’s moody, espionage-drenched opening scene.
While a proposed solo film for Die Another Day’s Jinx was eventually abandoned, the script’s more personal, grounded take on the character inspired the screenwriters’ approach to Casino Royale.
Vesper’s scarlet dress in the Venice scenes is a direct homage to Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.
Danny Kleinman’s title sequence took inspiration from the cover of the first edition of Casino Royale.
Look for cameos by two past Bond girls: Thunderball’s Diane Hartwood and You Only Live Twice’s Tsai Chin.