For those who thought the world wasn’t ready for a fair-haired James Bond, Daniel Craig acquits himself extremely well in this twenty-first entry in the franchise, which plays fast and loose with the series’ chronology to show the super spy as a newly minted double-0. Cool, steely-eyed, and, above all, physically and emotionally vulnerable, this Bond can actually love a woman, although we learn in short order why he stopped doing so. In this installment, Bond infiltrates an arms financier’s high-stakes poker game staged to win back clients’ lost money. While the story line doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, we get to see the evolution of the shaken vodka martini and the spy’s signature line of introduction.
Casino Royale also marks a return to sanity for the series, whose action set pieces had become utterly ridiculous during the Pierce Brosnan years. Yes, the action is intense, the bad guys still can’t shoot worth a damn, and the lead villain still talks too much instead of capping Bond between the eyes, but it all feels more real this time around. The stunts, while eye-popping, are at least possible in the physical world. It all adds up to a fun ride, and, with the icy Craig at the helm, it’s one well worth taking, especially for jaded Bond fans.
The anamorphic 2.40:1 picture is excellent overall, with just slight compression artifacts visible in the background of some shots. Like most Bond films, the settings here are frequently lush and sun drenched, and the colors pop out on the disc, whether it’s a sunset or the pastel architecture of the Bahamas. The audio, meanwhile, is forceful. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track delivers robust bass whenever you’d expect it—and sometimes when you don’t. Dialogue is a bit muddy, however.
There’s no commentary track, but the extras on disc two are all very good quality. “Becoming Bond” starts with the unveiling of Craig as the new 007 and evolves into a thorough look at the making of the film. “James Bond: For Real” dissects the aforementioned stunt work, which was all done without a blue screen. Most interesting is the latest in a line of documentaries on the Bond Girls, hosted by Maryam d’Abo (The Living Daylights) and featuring Girl-to-Girl interviews with classic Bond babes going back to Ursula Andress.
If you love James Bond, you’ll love Casino Royale. And, if you hated the last few films, you’ll love this one even more.