Batman and Superman have been reinvented for the 21st Century, so why not James Bond? Especially when you’ve signed Daniel Craig to play him.
This talented 38-year-old British actor, whose burning blue eyes have been highly visible in a variety of recent movies (“Munich,” “Infamous”), brings a lean, serious, plausible quality to agent 007 that’s quite welcome. After too many Bonds who seemed addicted to tossing off groaner one-liners and double entendres, Craig makes 007 dangerous again.
Not to mention human. This Bond is capable of falling in love and getting hurt; he doesn’t respond to torture with silence, nor does he react to poisoning as if he were invincible. On the other hand, he’s muscular and flexible enough to convince us that he’s capable of surviving a breathtaking series of fights and athletic stunts.
The stiletto dialogue is a big help. Especially enjoyable are Bond’s prickly exchanges with M (Judi Dench), who lectures him about arrogance and suggests that he learn something about self-awareness. His exchanges with the villains are equally testy, while mostly lacking the campiness that afflicted even some of the earlier Sean Connery films.
Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby,” had a hand in the script, which kicks off with a mean and gritty black-and-white fight sequence that instantly announces that this Bond is different. Only after the sequence ends with 007 triumphant does color — blood red, of course — trickle down over the traditional Bond logo.
Martin Campbell, who was previously praised for resurrecting Bond in “GoldenEye” (1995), is the director, and once more he delivers a series of astonishingly well-staged action sequences. He also manages to squelch the boredom potential of a lengthy gambling sequence by deftly interrupting it a couple of times for dramatic effect.
Ian Fleming’s first Bond book, “Casino Royale” was initially dramatized for a one-hour 1954 television show starring Barry Nelson. It also served as the basis for a clumsy 1966 spoof starring David Niven as Bond and Woody Allen as his nephew, Jimmy Bond Jr.
This third version takes place in 2006, in an insecure world fatigued by terrorism and treachery. The situation makes M long for the good old days of the Cold War, even as she disses Bond for creating an international incident by attacking a prisoner at an embassy.
The buildup to that incident, which involves vertigo-inducing acrobatics on a construction site, comes early in the picture, and it’s the kind of show-stopper that’s difficult to top. Wisely, Campbell and his writers (including Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) don’t really try.
They’re more interested in developing a credible love story for Bond and his latest conquest (French actress Eva Green) that rivals the relationship between 007 and Diana Rigg in 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The filmmakers take their time (this is the longest Bond movie to date), and Green may be no Rigg, but it’s remarkable how well the match works.