Every Bond renewal comes with a bit of a risk. Every time an actor is introduced to become the new 007 there's always a weird overprotective (irrational) fear that studios would put their foot in it and cast Paul Giamatti or something.
Ironically, the result is usually fine and actually makes for a stronger Bond film. Perhaps all this freaking out is for the best and gives everyone the chance to put a little effort into not screwing up the best spy franchise out there. If only this much thought-process had gone into Moonraker...
Essentially, although the Bond franchise feels like a continuous thing, what it comes down to, really, is a collection of quite separate trilogies/series. Casino Royale tries something a little bit different by not only starting from the top with the origins of Bond and showing how he earned his licence to kill, met Felix Leiter, built a bit of an emotional shield between his life and his work... all interesting stuff we kind of take for granted in a Bond film. The film also tells a story which doesn't limit itself to itself but continues through Quantum Of Solace. Think of this one as the Batman Begins of Bond flicks.
Daniel Craig is the super-spy and right off the bat we realise this will indeed be a grittier Bond than ever, more in line with the Timothy Dalton films of the 80's than any other. A good move, I feel, after the principally lol-oriented Roger Moore-esque Pierce Brosnan outings (Die Another Day lol). That said, this Bond is a bit of a tough cookie so it takes a bit of time to get used to his no-bullshit no-pun policy. But it's likely you'll be sold after the thrilling (and thankfully not 5 hours long) opening sequence which remains my favourite Bond pre-titles scene to date. Already you've got style, action, sharp writing, cool random shit (gotta love the dripping jam during the gun-barrel bit lol) and... Chris Cornell. What more do you want? It's a great start.
We're then introduced to the film's main villain: a brilliantly intimidating Mads Mikkelsen (aka Le Chiffre) who not only sports a Blofeld-style scar on his face but cries blood and has... asthma. Yes, the man carries an inhaler around and uses it every so often in what is probably THE most adorable thing a Bond villain has ever done besides stroke a fluffy cat. Eva Green is our Bond girl and proves to be one of the most interesting female characters in a 007 flick for many years. No Q sadly, Judi Dench does reprise her role as M, though, making her way older than she was years LATER in Goldeneye... ?
The story mostly revolves around an unseen mastermind toying with the stocks in order to get his way and a rather pricy game of cards at the titular casino. Not to be mistaken with the Casino Royale in which Woody Allen and Orson Welles wrestled naked in a river of wasabi during an alien invasion.
That didn't happen but it might as well have in that f***ing movie!
Sorry, had to mention it. Elephant-in-the-room type of thing, you know...
But yeah, this Casino Royale is, in fact, very good. Remarkably well-made and paced, this is one strong 007 effort and one hell of an action/suspense movie. Sure there is that inevitable middle-bit lull, obligatory in every Bond film it seems, but even then the film remains tense and suspenseful enough that boredom never really has the time to sink in. You've got an early, crazy-ass chase which involves 007 running after a guy all the way up a crane then jumping back down, bursting into another country's embassy before... exploding it.
It's the England way!
You've got a Bond in real trouble also as the film sees the man being poisoned, tortured and surviving a pretty painful-looking car crash. Anything new the film brings to the familiar franchise works perfectly. I should nuance that by noting that Daniel Craig really isn't the most charming of the Bonds so far. I mean, he's a charismatic guy and a fine actor but the guy often looks either like a henchman you'd see playing alongside a Bond villain rather than against one or... he pouts. He's a bit less of a poser in Quantum Of Solace but even based on this first installment, he does have the potential to be a great Bond.
Other issues I would have with Casino Royale include the shameless product placement for brands like Omega (a whole LINE is given to them!) or Vaio and a few lines here and there which really don't feel natural and tend to make a scene feel a bit awkward. I'm thinking Bond being complimented on his "perfectly formed arse" or him laughing at Le Chiffre for "scratching his balls". Bit childish is all I'm saying...
Otherwise, on the whole, Casino Royale is not only a good Bond effort but also a terrific action/thriller on its own. The sequel couldn't match it in terms of style and didn't really stand out as much as this one so lets hope that Skyfall takes a page from Royale's book and manages to be not only well-made but also fun, memorable and, ultimately, unique.