The James Bond series gets a fresh start with “Casino Royale.”  There is no Q, M is a woman (Judi Dench), the female lead (Eva Green) doesn’t have an outrageous name (e.g., Dr. Goodhead, Pussy Galore), Felix Leiter is a black dude, and Bond (Daniel Craig) doesn’t have Bond gadgets.  It’s a stark contrast to the dozens of Bond movies of the past, but it wouldn’t be a fresh start if it was the same old stuff, right?

Have no fear, Bond fans, there’s enough of the Bond DNA in “Casino Royale” to make you happy.  Let’s start with the villain: Mads Mikkelsen (what a hell of a first name for a Bond villain!) plays some type of investment banker for terrorists/dictators.  He makes a really bad trade in the stock market and loses the bad guys’ money.  Not wanting to be chopped up into teeny pieces by his “investors,” Mikkelsen decides to play high-stakes poker in a place called Casino Royale, where the buy-in is $10 million and there will be ten players.  Fancying himself as a math genius and a great poker player, Mikkelsen expects to win the entire pot and have enough money to pay off his debts.

As for our hero, Craig, he throws a monkey wrench in everything that the villain does; and he does it with great style and the cocky attitude that we’ve all come to expect from the spy with the license to kill.

One very strange thing about “Casino Royale” that makes it stand out from the previous Bond flicks: the movie is structured so that there are two separate plots, the first taking place in the first hour (the attack on a new airline to make its stock plummet) and the second (the Casino Royale poker tournament and its aftermath) taking place in the last hour and twenty minutes.  From a technical standpoint, this is a mistake as it violates the standard, tried and true, three act structure of screenplays.  I noticed the sudden change of pace as the movie transitioned from plot one to plot two, going from the wild ride of an outrageous, roller coaster to the mild, slow turns of a tea cup ride for toddlers and tweens.   Fortunately, there were enough bits of juicy dialogue between Craig and Eva Green, and short but intense action scenes that kept the movie from flatlining at the halfway mark.  Bottom line: the unorthodox structure was a big gamble that paid off…kind of fitting considering what the second plot is about.

Third place for my memorable moments of this movie is the introduction of the gorgeous, powerful, Aston Martin DBS.  This is the real Bond girl, as far as I’m concerned!

Second place goes to the scene when Craig meets Eva Green’s character for the first time, and they have a verbal exchange that no Bond movie of the past can touch.  This is screenwriting excellence.

First place for my most memorable, movie moment of “Casino Royale” is the scene when Craig is captured by Mikkelsen, stripped naked and put on a chair that has the seat cut out so Craig’s babymaker is hanging out in the cold.  Mikkelsen wants information, Craig just gives him a f@*k off look.  Mikkelsen then hits Craig in his privates with a weight attached to a rope…multiple times!  Oh…my…God…this scene makes me cringe and cross my legs every time I see it!  I would’ve caved.  I would have told the bad guy everything he wanted to know!  I would’ve admitted to killing Kennedy, that I know where the lost city of Atlantis is, where Al Capone’s secret vault is (you know, the one that Geraldo Rivera couldn’t find), whatever the hell he wanted to hear!  Just leggo my eggos!

Obviously I wouldn’t make a good spy; but Daniel Craig makes a great James Bond, and “Casino Royale” is a very good reincarnation of the Bond series.

— M