Retro Review: Casino Royale Part 1

Film Criticism, Movie Review, Movies

I first saw Casino Royale when it initially came out on DVD and my impression at the time was that it was exceedingly boring. Quantum of Solace came around and had pretty lousy reviews, so I skipped it. With the buzz surrounding Skyfall, I decided to give Casino Royale another chance. I should have left well enough alone. Now I think it’s boring and awful. In fact, I was actually angry when it was over. Angry and with plenty to say about it, so this is going to be a multi-part review/rant.

I’m really surprised at the overwhelmingly positive reviews (95% of critics and 87% of viewers on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing), especially from critics. My guess is that they were so relieved and excited to see such a different spin on the Bond films that this novelty overwhelmed whatever criticisms they may have otherwise had. As with most of the Bond films, I suspect time will not be kind to critical assessment of this one.

(It’s strikes me as curious that Paul Haggis is one of the writers. I noticed the name in the credits but confused him with Paul Greengrass, and I honestly did not correct that misperception in my head until after I completed this review. I’ve had issues before with hating films he was involved with that other people loved, such as Crash and Million Dollar Baby. Like with Casino Royale, I recall actually being angry after watching those two films and it certainly now colors my perspective of what I say later about the racism and sexism of this film.)

I have never been a huge fan of the Bond films but grew up watching and enjoying a fair number of them. But by the time the Pierce Brosnan versions came around, the movies became tiresome and overly formulaic. It felt as if the makers of the Brosnan films were trying to ingest them with more seriousness while still maintaining the expected corniness but never successfully found the right balance, seemingly driving the franchise into the ground. The series was in desperate need of reimagining.

One of the major problems with Casino Royale is the seriousness with which it takes itself. All the Bond movies are full of dubious plot element, but they are easier to forgive when the film knows it’s a scam. The older films knows they are just a joke, just a fun ride with wacky villains and their elaborate plots to take over the world. But when a film takes on an air of self-importance, it asks to be more closely scrutinized.

Perhaps I was put off by Daniel Criag’s wooden acting (his duck lip expression (there’s only the one)) and his steroid muscles that makes his head look too small for his body are going to date these films more quickly than Sean Connery’s jet pack did for his, but I never saw much of the character motivation that many other people read into the film. Craig’s Bond is a cipher, a blank visage that shows little emotion. Paired with Eva Green’s bad English accent and a Sophia-Coppola-I’m-Not-Sure-Why-I’m-In-This-Movie quivering lip, Craig’s alleged emotional rise and fall left little impression on me. He’s pretty much a dick when the film starts and pretty much the same dick when it ends.

And my first impression that it is an exceedingly boring film was justified on a second viewing. The opening violent sequence tells us nothing other than he killed two men to get his 00 status (not much of a bar to meet to then get assigned politically sensitive work). The cartoonishly violent title sequence is followed by a rather lengthy chase sequence that, albeit visually striking, is just that: a lengthy chase sequence. We’re, what, 20 minutes into the film and nothing has really happened. Finally, the sequence ends with Bond shooting up an African Embassy and killing the guy he was supposed to capture. After all that, he walks away with the guy’s cell phone.

But the most offensively boring part of the film is the middle third involving the high stakes poker game. If there is any event LESS cinematic than people playing cards, please let me know. Unless you have David Mamet writing the script, you are basically left with people sitting around looking at each other. There’s also the laughable bad, unconvincing and interminable romantic stretch post-capture and torture later in the film. We’re in Padmé and Anakin territory here with dead-eared dialog and the aforementioned wooden acting.

Next: Plot Holes and Racisim!

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