In my controversial article Why Do People Like James Bond? I raised the question of what sane person could sit down in front of one of Connery's Bond films; endure the obvious sexism and still come out thinking that Bond's the best guy ever. I did, however, know that the more modern Bond films were getting better about those issues. After reading a review of Casino Royale from Cinema Monolith I got to thinking about giving Daniel Craig's Bond a chance.
I managed to find a used copy of Casino Royale for $5.00 and purchased it. I was told this one got better about the issues of misogyny that had so repulsed me from Sean Connery's era. I was nervous but I gave it a shot and it was actually not too bad a film. I'll confess seeing as I've never actually gambled in a casino before I didn't always understand the poker phrases that were used by the characters but they did manage to get some good tension out of those scenes.
I had seen the 1967 spoof version. For those of you who haven't seen that one, it involved David Niven as the "real" James Bond who has to catch the people responsible for an "assassination" (and by that I mean the guy's hat was shot off but he was otherwise unharmed) which somehow led to twenty different people taking on the name of James Bond. The film opened with a group of men casually driving past lions in the English countryside and built up to a mind-boggling climax in which a whole bunch of random characters got into a brawl in the casino but everyone dies because Woody Allen is tricked into taking a nuclear explosion pill. Seriously.
That version was a disaster. Six different directors ended up working on different segments of the movie and none of them really tied together. The whole thing ended up being just one great big jumbled mess with absolutely no coherence whatsoever. It was a waste of time and not one I'd recommend at all unless you enjoy your movies making no sense, and I don't mean that in a good way like with the films of Lynch or Cronenberg.
Fortunately, I was assured that Craig's version made a lot more sense, and it certainly did. I'm not sure there was really any resemblance to the 1967 version. The 2006 version of Casino Royale actually has a plot that could be followed. Admittedly it is a very complicated plot that had a lot of stuff going on but it's certainly better than its predecessor.
Now I'd also been assured that the Craig films get better about one big issue that had kept me from the Connery films, and that was the way women were treated. In Connery's era, women were basically just things Bond could have sex with. Sometimes he'd go through five or six different love interests in one movie, confessing his love for each only to blow them off as soon as they got killed. In Casino Royale, there is some of that womanizer aspect of Bond's character, but it's certainly downplayed.
If anything, while that aspect of Bond is still present, it's now treated as a flaw in his character. Connery's films often glorified the fact that Bond likes to have sex with women and can't get within ten feet of any female character without thinking about it. That's not even getting into the fact that Goldfinger, one of the most respected films of Connery's era, had a glorified rape scene.
Here, in addition to the fact that M has been a woman since the Brosnan films, the love interest Vesper Lynd is still glamorous but actually has a personality of her own. Bond has to earn her respect (and not by sexually assaulting her and curing her of being homosexual). In her very first scene, she and Bond use Sherlock Holmes-style deductive reasoning to find out about each other. One thing Vesper notes in that scene is Bond's tendency to treat women as sex objects rather than actual people.
However, whereas Connery's Bond would have embraced that notion, Craig's Bond does find himself questioning that outlook and coming to respect her more. There is one memorable scene where he finds Vesper alone in the shower following a rather violent confrontation in which two people were killed. Instead of continuing to hit on her Bond actually can see that she's freaked out by seeing that kind of violence for the first time and takes the time to try and offer some comfort. Later on he even ends up wanting to leave the British Secret Service to be with her, something Connery never would have done, and goes out of his way to try and save her even when it seems hopeless.
Another enjoyable aspect of the film was the way that Casino Royale occasionally poked fun at or subverted some of the "classical" Bond conventions. The fact that they acknowledge the absurdity of how women were treated in Connery's films is one thing, but really they do all kinds of fun little twists and turns.
One particularly amusing twist is on Bond's favorite drink. Traditionally, Bond would always ask for "Martini, shaken not stirred" but here when setting up that famous line, he asks for an insanely convoluted concoction. Later on we do see him getting tricked into drinking a poisoned Martini and ordering one at the Casino Royale. Of course that time he's in a hurry so when the bartender asks if he wants it "shaken not stirred" Bond just replies with "Do I look like I care?"
Now, I want to make it clear that this only applies to the Craig and Brosnan-era Bond films. I still stand by everything I said before with regards to Sean Connery. Craig's, however, aren't too bad. They've certainly gotten better about the issues that made the Connery films so repulsive and to be fair they also made Bond a far more interesting character.
Casino Royale was an enjoyable enough film and it even got me emotionally invested in the main character at times. I'd be willing to try out Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the latter of which I've been told is even better than Casino Royale.