Everyone knows this film is about the new Bond. New as in the new actor playing him, and new as in the new kind of double-oh seven that braces our screens. Gone is the campy Bond that had become the mainstay of the series - the new Bond is brutish, brutal, and rough around the edges.
An initial chase sequence sees him burst through walls with a raw strength not seen before in recent times, and it sets the tone for the complete experience. Let the the ones who think this new Bond is an incorrect direction for the series stay home; finally in Daniel Craig we have that reminds us of the raw power of Sean Connery.
The last few Bond films have taken a direction where you care about Bond less and less. Daniel Craig brings a simmering violence to the role, not to mention an imposing physicality, and this is a Bond I can get behind. There is a believability in his demeanor and actions, and after a long, long wait, we have a James Bond who does not look fuddy-duddy, but earnestly violent and dangerous.
In making this a Batman Begins-like origin film, the filmmakers have employed a huge gamble in making it darker, more violent and rough around the edges, and Craig embodies that fantastically.
In keeping with creating a new Bond, shammed, unbelievable gadgets are gone, and thank God for that - the last film actually had an invisible car. Bond's impersonal touch with women is not present, but is hinted as something that will develop as a result of events in this film, and best of all, there is no over-the-top villain who elaborately holds Bond to explain his mad scheme before meeting his doom.
How I love this more straight to the action approach to the Bond franchise. The charm and guts and inventiveness that personify Bond are still here, it's just that the super-heroics have been scaled to a credible level.
A black-and-white pre-credits sequence introduces us to our hero - an MI6 operative having a savage fisticuffs session in a public toilet, and all of a sudden you see a Bond who is all violence and vengeance. He quickly achieves double-0 status after a terrible Bond intro song set to some good imagery, and we see him in Madagascar tailing a suicide bomber.
After a fantastically well done chase sequence between the le parkour trained bomber and the more physical and witty Bond, he ends up creating a a diplomatic incident which shows how arrogant and under-experienced Bond is.
The trail leads to a middleman in Bahamas, and then to international terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who makes his money by investing the terrorists' money into the stock market, and betting heavily on the fallouts after terrorist incidents. Le Chiffre has some Bond villain qualities - he is nasty, and has a visual cue (his glass eye bleeds), but other than that this is a new age villain with no room for silly nonsense, and is vulnerable and menacing at the same time.
In an effort to bankrupt Le Chiffre to persuade him to defect to MI6, Bond has to travel to Montenegro to take part in a high stakes gambling tournament with stakes totaling to 120 million dollars. Accompanying Bond is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a British Treasury agent who has to keep her eye on Bond and the game, and make sure the money does not evaporate behind Bond's ego-play.
A dangerous game of poker ensues, dotted with some breathtaking cinematography of Montenegro and some tense moments of vicious action, that will become the trademark of this roughshod Bond.
Craig and Mikkelsen are such great actors at the poker table that instead of a simple game of cards with a lot of money, it becomes a battle, a fight between the two opponents, and despite not knowing Poker from Pokemon, I was fascinated by the game.
Like I mentioned, the poker game is punctuated with action - but unlike previous iterations, this film also shows emotional character moments as reactions to the action bits. Provided they are not Oscar-worthy, but this is an action entertainer after all. Combining Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with Oscar winner Paul Haggis for the screenplay has turned out to be a stroke of genius, as the pace of the film throughout all this keeps constant.
The dialog, just like Bond's first tailored Tuxedo, is sharp and crisp. Gone are the innuendo laden names and lines. There is a lot of genuine wit and humor in the banter, and some very well penned exchanges that bring out the inner pathos of Bond that was.
Despite phenomenal action sequences and fast chases, the screenplay keeps the film grounded. When Bond says, "Whatever is left of me, whatever I am, I'm yours," it really hits you. You realize these are not the cartoon characters that were staple in Die Another Day. These are well rounded, three dimensional characters that the makers have tried to create, albeit within the confines of a blockbuster.
Martin Campbell does not have the touch of an auteur like Christopher Nolan, but manages to keep his action and introspective moments together with great help from the cast. Apart from Craig, who I can't praise enough for his role, Eva Green and Judi Dench create real characters with motivations and provide a great sounding board for an arrogant, rough and brash young spy who is making mistakes, learning the ropes, and kicking ass all around.
The cast is well rounded, though some are criminally under-utilized. Campbell direction is in no way loose, though. The film moves at an even keel, and consistently delivers as it progresses.
A few events occur and Bond gets savagely beaten up, double crossed and tortured in the latter half. This is the part where the film sets the tone for the new Bond franchise. James Bond emerges from all this wiser, colder and stronger. It is proof enough of the film's strength and vision that the iconic introduction line is spoken after Bond has learnt from all his mistakes, and is now fully the James Bond we know. This is such a strong start to the new Bond, that I wanted to stay back and see the next part.
Fans of the franchise need not worry - this is quintessential Bond, but the overall focus is on his learning, and this film presents us with a Bond that you can genuinely care about. People who don't care about the franchise need to see this film nevertheless; they don't have the previous Bond films to compare to, but this is still a solid action film in its own right to stand up to any this year.
This is one of this year's best action flicks, and highly entertaining even standing alone. It rubbishes all the silly things about the previous films, and emerges a movie that eschews camp for character, full-blooded action for cockamamie gadgetry, and innuendo for wit.
He's in. Welcome back to the theaters.