Different face, same drink

The new Bond, Daniel Craig, is more rugged than pretty, but he’s still 007

Matt Graham

It’s doubtful Ian Fleming knew what he was starting when he wrote his 1953 novel, “Casino Royale,” about a British super-spy named James Bond.

The book – about the agent’s attempt at bankrupting Russian agent Le Chiffre in a high-stakes game of baccarat in order to get his superiors to turn on him – spawned 11 more novels, two short story collections, several made-for-TV dramatizations and, most famously, a film series.

“Casino Royale”
DIRECTED BY: Martin Campbell
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen
SHOWING AT: Area Theaters

The 007 movies are, in many ways, the progenitors of the current slew of sequel-heavy action series. “Rambo,” “The Terminator” and “Spider-man” all owe a debt to Bond.

Now in its 21st incarnation, the series’ handlers have finally decided to tackle the Bond source material with the first serious adaptation of “Casino Royale” (not to be confused with the 1967 parody of the same name).

Like 2005’s “Batman Begins,” MGM has decided to reinvigorate a floundering series by rebooting it. At the beginning of the film, directed by “GoldenEye” helmsman Martin Campbell, the young agent (Daniel Craig) doesn’t even have “Double-O status,” and spends the movie battling his inexperience as much as the terrorists (it’s 2006, so the commies have been replaced by terrorists).

After taking out a for-hire bomb expert in the film’s brilliantly executed first action sequence, Bond foils a terrorist plot to destroy a new commuter airplane, the largest in the world.

On the hook to his investors for over $100 million after the botched bombing, the scheme’s mastermind, mathematical genius Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), organizes a high stakes Texas Hold ‘Em tournament to win his money back (it’s 2006, so baccarat has been replaced by poker).

It’s Bond’s job to ensure Le Chiffre loses and figure out who’s financing him. He’s joined by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a chilly-but-beautiful MI6 accountant there to make sure Bond doesn’t lose all of the agency’s money to a terrorist organization, and Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), MI6’s slightly sleazy man on the inside.

This is Bond, so there are the usual intrigues, sexcapades and high-octane action scenes, all leading up to our hero’s eventual triumph. It’s never a matter of if Bond succeeds, but how.

It’s a well-worn pattern for the 40-year-old franchise, but it feels fresh. Some of this is owed to the film’s quasi-origin story, but it has more to do with the new 007, Daniel Craig.

Craig is a different kind of Bond – less suave, more badass. He seems like a fish out of water wearing his tuxedo at high society gatherings, but that’s part of what gives the scenes their edge, and his body-builder’s physique makes the action scenes as believable as such bullet-dodging affairs can be.

We are only given hints about Bond’s youth, but the character in this film is cocksure and sarcastic, has a chip on his shoulder and little apparent care for his own life. Deprived of the sci-fi gizmos that have populated the last few Bond films, this 007 gets by on guile, toughness and a serious violent streak.

The 144-minute film doesn’t feel long, because its plot twists and shoot-’em-ups keep the action coming – from the elaborate opening credits to the (what’s cooler than cool?) ice-cold ending. The Bond series works because the character is really friggin’ cool, none more so than Craig’s.