I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road a second time earlier today and I feel confident in saying that it’s the best action movie to come out in years. Pure action films have rarely ever been among my favorites; I’m more of a character guy and sometimes that isn’t given proper focus in action films, so I find myself not caring about the action involved. However, I have gradually started to develop an appreciation for the artistry behind a good action film; how they are shot, how the stories are told, how characters are developed without sacrificing the action, etc. The first time I sat down with an action film to truly study this was in the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale.
Casino Royale is directed by Martin Campbell and stars Daniel Craig as James Bond, his debut playing the character. I didn’t play a lot of attention when this movie came out in theaters because I just didn’t have a lot of interest at the time, but it has since become one of my favorite “popcorn flicks”; a movie to throw on when I just want to relax and have a good time without having my intelligence insulted. The film has some spectacular action scenes; the parkour chase and the airport scene are the ones that always stick with me because of their energy and tension, but there are other good scenes throughout. However, Casino Royale also does well at the quieter aspects of the James Bond franchise: a cerebral villain and a love interest that actually feels fully realized.
La Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) is the primary villain and he and Bond play a lot of mental chess with each other, especially at the Texas Hold’em poker game that dominates most of the second half of this movie. Chiffre is a great character because he is feeling pressure from those behind the scenes and it is really cool to see such a desperate antagonist whose motivation is completely understandable. He looks like he never sleeps and may snap at any moment, which makes him both vulnerable and scary.
James Bond’s status as a sex symbol is at least as important to the appeal of his character as his job of being a super spy action star. Women have always thrown themselves at him throughout the franchise’s fifty year history, but I don’t think any of them hold a candle to Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green). Though she doesn’t appear until about a third of the way into the movie, she instantly makes an impression with her verbal jousting match against James on the plane, where they analyze each other based on first impressions. Vesper’s personality is well established and she doesn’t just fall into Bond’s lap, showing considerable reluctance to even pretend to be romantically involved with him.
Of course, as the film develops Bond ends up saving Eva on a few occasions, but it’s a scene where they have survived a near fatal run in with assassins that really sets the tone for their relationship and for this era of Bond films. As Vesper sits in the shower visibly shaken and trying to clean the blood off of her, Bond moves in to comfort her, showing a tenderness and compassion that is unusual for the character. James Bond has historically shown little regard for anyone, so to see him be kind to someone makes him more human and thus more interesting. In many ways, this movie is a deconstruction of the James Bond character, and this romance is no small part of that.
And that brings me to what is probably this film’s greatest aspect: Daniel Craig as James Bond. I remember seeing trailers for Casino Royale and being surprised at who they had cast in the role. Bond to me was the dashing 1990’s action hero Pierce Brosnan and the suave, classically handsome Sean Connery from old Bond films that occasionally showed up on television. Craig seemed to just be a little too rugged for the role in my eyes; of course I hadn’t seen the man smile in any of the action-filled trailers and didn’t realize that he’s perfectly capable of making hearts melt. Ironically, Craig is now considered by many fans of the series to be the very best James Bond, or at least one of the best.
The reasons for this are two fold; one is the aforementioned vulnerability that he showcases. He is willing to show a more human side to the character and isn’t always calm, cool and collected. He shows that he’s capable of caring about another person, that he feels fear and can be selfless and even have his heart broken. This makes the audience connect to him a little more and we don’t just see him as some idealized symbol of masculinity. Sean Connery’s Bond was a TV character, but Craig’s Bond feels like a real person.
And on the other side of the coin, Daniel Craig is also the roughest, most realistic portrayal of James Bond to date. There’s a ferocity in his eyes during action scenes that is just endlessly more compelling that the unshakable grins of most other actors who have played the role. While Timothy Dalton showed that it was possible to do a harder, tougher Bond, Craig was able to take those aspects and amplify them while still keeping the charm and humor that have become synonymous with the character. This allows the grittier action and more serious style of Craig’s films to stand out in the franchise without feeling completely out of place.
Casino Royale is my favorite James Bond film to date because it was the one that made me finally connect with the character. While I enjoy other Bond films (Goldfinger and Skyfall being the other two standouts for me), this is the one that resonates with me most. I love Daniel Craig in the role and I hope that Spectre is far from the last time we see him play the character. For me, he is James Bond.