A "reboot" of the "Bond" franchise (because, reportedly, after the invisible cars of "Die Another Day", the producers thought they'd reached a ceiling with the gadgets shown in the tech-heavy Brosnan "Bond" films), "Casino Royale" is the debut of new 007 Daniel Craig. However, the story itself is an origin tale, showing the character now beginning in MI-6. There's little humor (a few funny bits, but not much in the way of one-liners or bits like Bond adjusting his tie after destroying part of a city with a tank in "Goldeneye"), there's little in the way of gadgets and the film's swift, brutal action is more similar to the "Bourne" films than the flashy, over-the-top "Bond" adventures in recent years.
This time around, Bond has been assigned by a hesitant M (Judi Dench, returning again here) to track down terrorist financing. The mission has Bond heading from such locales as Madagascar, Miami and Montenegro, where he finds himself in an extremely high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale. His opponent is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a terrorist banker who has lost a great deal of money in the stock market and plans to try and gain it back at the tables. Financed by MI-6 and its lovely accountant, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Bond tries to beat Chiffre at the tables, although there are villains lurking whose plans are to take Bond out of the picture first.
I've voiced my disappointment that Brosnan exited (or was shown the exit) the franchise on several occasions now, as - while I'm sure many may disagree - I thought Brosnan managed the one-liners and the dramatic moments splendidly, and capably handled the action. None of the Brosnan 007 films were nearly as good or fun as "Goldeneye", but at least Brosnan held them together as they became increasingly more over-the-top. If Brosnan had to go, I'd hoped that Clive Owen, Jeremy Northam (who seemed to be auditioning for "007" in Michael Apted's excellent spy drama, "Enigma") or Dougray Scott would be the one to replace him.
But, none of the three were chosen and instead we get Daniel Craig ("Tomb Raider"), who created a great deal of controversy when chosen. However, Craig works well in the role. This is a more raw, inexperienced and impulsive Bond. While the character isn't without some warmer moments (especially with Lynd), he is otherwise colder and more straightforward than he has been in the past films, and Craig portays this superbly. The actor also does very well with the action scenes, which don't include super-duper technology and instead are more rough and brisk (including an impressive construction site fight early on.) Bond gets banged up this time around and shows cuts and bruises. There really aren't too many significant supporting roles, but Green stands up to Craig nicely and the two share an enjoyably edgy chemistry with one another.
Aside from the gadgets, the film provides the details one might expect from a film like this, with beautiful cinematography from Campbell's usual cinematographer, Phil Meheux, who gives the picture a beautiful look but a slightly grittier feel. There's also stunning locations, expensive cars and more. The film does feel a little overlong for the story at nearly 2.5 hours, but I was never bored.
I was admittedly skeptical of "Casino Royale" going in, but I thought this was a smart, tense and entertaining new start for the "007" franchise. I'm looking forward to Craig's next effort in the role, and the end of this film does certainly seem to make it apparent that that'll happen.
VIDEO: The film is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.40:1 (1080p/AVC). The presentation is a clear improvement over the DVD, but it's not without a few concerns at times. Sharpness and detail are often exceptional, as the picture remained smooth and detailed in most scenes. However, while most sequences looked crystal clear, some moments did look noticeably softer. Mild edge enhancement was briefly seen in some sequences, but didn't cause too much irritation. No print flaws were spotted (nor should one expect to see them from a movie this recent), but I did see a few traces of pixelation. Colors tended towards warmer tones and appeared well-saturated (sometimes a touch overly so) and rich throughout the show (aside from the opening moments, which are in gritty, moderately grainy B & W.)
SOUND: The film's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack wasn't consistently aggressive, but the action sequences (such as a spectacular scene in Venice late in the picture) provided some superb use of the surrounds for sound effects and ambience. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, well-recorded sound effects, strong bass on occasion and clear, undistorted dialogue. The original release of "Casino Royale" offered a PCM 5.1 audio option.
When I reviewed the original DVD release, I complained about the lack of a commentary from director Martin Campbell. While I haven't enjoyed all of Campbell's films, I've liked most of his work and have found his commentary tracks to be very informative. For this new edition, we get a commentary (picture-in-picture for those with the capability or audio-only) from director Martin Campbell and long-time Bond producer Michael G. Wilson. The two provided an excellent commentary for "Goldeneye" and they don't disappoint with this track, either. The two seem to be having a terrific time chatting about the picture and manage to. The second track is introduced by famed producer Barbara Broccoli and features comments from many members of the crew edited together.
The second disc offers up a series of new featurettes: "The Road To Casino Royale", "Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation", "Death In Venice", "James Bond in the Bahamas" and "Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise". "The Road to Casino Royale" is a fascinating 26-minute look at what it's taken to get to this point, complete with detailed discussions of Fleming's work, as well as looks at some very early appearances of Bond (including a look at the character on TV.) For a fairly brief documentary, this documentary does provide a rather good overview of some of the fascinating points of "Bond" history (including an interesting discussion of what to do after "Die Another Day", such as the potential "Jinx" spin-off, which never happened) leading up to present day.
"Bond in the Bahamas" and "Death in Venice" are two docs that run about 25 minutes each and cover the production's filming experience in each location. "Ian Fleming's Incredible Creation" is a 20 minute look at "Casino Royale" and how the decision was made to adapt the novel (the first "Bond" story) into the basis for a new start to the franchise. Finally, "The Road to Paradise" also runs nearly 25 minutes and talks more about the connection of Bond to the Bahamas.
Also new on this edition are a handful of never-before-seen deleted scenes (nothing extraordinary, just a few minor additions), BD-Live features and trailers for other titles from the studio, such as "Hancock".
Carried over from the prior release is: "Becoming Bond", a 26-minute doc that details the announcement of Craig as the replacement for Bond and the development of the story. We also see Craig's screen test and hear more about the massive controversy that accompanied his announcement as the new Bond. We also see more about Craig's training, Green's character, the return of Dench, filming fight scenes and other aspects. This is not an exceptionally in-depth program at only about 26 minutes, but it's still a well-done piece that remains informative throughout.
"James Bond: For Real" is a 23-minute featurette that looks into the planning and filming behind some of the film's main stunt sequences. Finally, we get the 48-minute documentary "Bond Girls Are Forever", which is a 48-minute look at Bond girls, which originally aired in 2006.
Final Thoughts: I was admittedly skeptical of "Casino Royale" going in, but I thought this was a smart, tense and entertaining new start for the "007" franchise. I'm looking forward to Craig's next effort in the role, and the end of this film does certainly seem to make it apparent that that'll happen. This new Blu-Ray edition of "Casino Royale" offers very good audio/video quality, but the upgrade over the prior edition comes in the form of some terrific new supplements. Recommended.
The Film B+