Three minutes into the interminable Casino Royale, and the kid leans over to me and asks: "Dad, has the movie started yet?" This has never happened before in the history of Bondage and I'll admit I was somewhat in doubt myself. Usually in the Broccolli family franchise, the customer is never uncertain as to whether the previews have ended and the main action begun. But this was different. The silver hues, the BBC-style video angles, the weird television music. Was this another commercial, a tie-in to the new James Bond flick, a spot for expensive watches?
And are you trying to tell me that's James Bond up on screen - a hulking blonde who looks like a back-up linebacker for the Chargers, and sounds like one of the extras in Tony Blair's cinematic cabinet in The Queen.
Speaking of The Queen, it was wonderful, driven by Helen Mirren's spot-on portrait, which gives a person known more as a tourist postcard than a human being some real, emotional depth. As the Bond dreck dragged, I was thinking of The Queen and about the Blair era - both these flicks are really Tony Blair vehicles.
One's a throwback to when Tony Blair actually mattered, and the other is a fantasy that pretends he still does.
In the Elizabeth-Diana spectacle, Michael Sheen portrays a bounding, tail-wagging, eager terrier of a Prime Minister - fully three-dimensional as the young, suburban emblem of a younger, suburban nation. Pre-9/11 Britain was proud of its boutique size and the speed with which it could adapt to the modern. It was like the cool, smart ad agency next to the plodding old-world behemoths. (I remember vividly the kangaroo steaks in a St. John's wood dungeon-bistro, followed by a wild ride to the museum of cinema, closed for a strange dot-com party in the late 90s).
Blair is, of course, not represented in Casino Royale, but Judi Dench serves well in the portrayal (by far the best in the film) of an England beholden to America, of an intelligence agency that is easily compromised, of a Cool Britannia that has gone all cold, and gray, and failed. Terrorism is the enemy in this Bond, but it's a terrorism driven by greed - white Europeans control the more dangerous, darker-skinned elements; indeed, there's a broad hint that 9/11 itself involved a plot to short airline stocks.
In another way, Casino Royale is the perfect analogy of the Tony Blair tenure - it's too bloody long by far. The movie drags on and on and on, with several false endings, an endless game of (ugh) poker, and two - yes, two! - evil guys with only one good eye. It also features long and luscious shots of the flesh of this blondie Bond Daniel Craig (who may be best remembered for his role as a Brit bounder in one of the excellent Sharpe dramas of a decade ago; in that episode, Sergeant Harper kills Craig's character off with alacrity - the deaths in Casino Royale take much longer). I remember when this treatment was reserved for the Bond girls, and in smaller doses.
Ironically, a much thinner and less-buff Craig played a tormented Jesuit priest in the 1998 bio-pic Elizabeth. No double-0 status then, but a real role.
Then too, this Bond epic is one long (long, very long, unending) commercial - product placement is everywhere. Sony, Ford (Ford?!), Ericsson, and Virgin are splattered about more than the bad guys' blood. Look! There's Sir Richard Branson setting off the alarms at the airport security check-point....clever.
The blonde Bond doesn't work; nor does the back to the future pre-007 concept. This is no legitimate successor to Connery - it barely stacks up the George Lazenby.
And if I thought Bond's blonde locks were sacrilege, imagine the disgust my kids felt watching the previews for the forthcoming Harry Potter epic. "Dad, Harry Potter has a buzzcut!" sputtered the little guy. Is nothing sacred?
UPDATE: Jason has a post on how Bond doesn't make sense in the post-Cold War world, how hw's just another action hero who could be portrayed by Vin Diesel - which reminds me of the best line in the movie, when Dench's M proclaims: "Christ, I miss the Cold War." Shades of Condi, I'd say. Here's Jason's review in a nutshell:
As exciting as the action set pieces are (and most of them are very good), they can't distract from the ludicrous spectacle of MI6 and the CIA fighting the global war on terror by sending not-so-undercover agents to play Texas Hold 'Em in Montenegro. (Next up, Bond goes head to head with Bin Laden in a high stakes match of Rock, Paper, Scissors in Cannes.) Despite the fact that most of the events of Casino Royale come straight from the novel, they lose all meaning when ripped from the context of time and place. The grim, vaguely S&M gay torture sequence that once packed cultural punch as an expression of guilt over an unchecked libido, now is just a weak excuse for a cheesy one-liner. Meanwhile, the plot twists of the original novel are reduced to an interminable 40-minute coda whose storytelling is so obtuse as to be almost unfathomable.