CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violent Action, a scene of Torture, Sexual Content and Nudity

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Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Paul Haggis

(based on the novel CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini & Simon Abkarian

The original James Bond series ran four decades and twenty films. Like any other movie franchise, it had definite ups and downs. 007 may have started off as a trend-setter in the cinematic world, but the franchise constantly found itself cashing in on other popular genres (e.g. kung-fu in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, cop dramas in LICENCE TO KILL, etc.). When DIE ANOTHER DAY (the fourth and final Brosnan entry) turned out to be an embarrassment, it became apparent that Bond was in desperate need of a reboot. Most reboots are seen as useless cash-ins or lame-brained attempts to reinvigorate doomed franchises. 2006’s CASINO ROYALE manages to surpass any and all preconceived notions about reboots as well as 007 films. This is one of the very best Bond movies we’ve ever received!

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James Bond is an MI6 agent who has recently received his 00-status. Armed with a license to kill, Bond draws some attention when he kills a terrorist at an embassy. As much as the strict M (Bond’s boss) doesn’t care for his radical tactics and hot-headed ego, she recognizes that he’s the best card-player in MI6. This skill will come in handy as Bond is assigned to enter a high-stakes poker tournament run by Le Chiffre, a nefarious banker who funds international terrorism. Aided by an HM Treasury agent, Bond finds himself sucked into an intense mental battle between himself and La Chiffre that gets more dangerous with each passing second.

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Out of all the actors to don the tux, I do believe that Daniel Craig might be my favorite Bond. Part of this stems from him being so unlike any of the other actors who have played the character before him. The rest of this comes from the iconic secret agent being written as a vulnerable, flawed human being. As fun as the original Bond is, you can’t deny that he’s one-note in his sexist treatment towards women and smart-ass attitude (complete with bad puns). Craig’s Bond is still a suave ladies’ man and action hero, but has a sensitive appeal as well. The script develops him as an emerging secret agent and serves as a compelling origin story. As Bond girl Vesper Lynd, Eva Green does a damn fine job and serves as a strong character in her own right. Much like Craig, Green is far different from any other Bond girl previously glimpsed in the series. Serving on the side are Jeffrey Wright (as CIA operative Felix), Giancarlo Giannini (as an aid to Bond) and Judi Dench (reprising her role as M).

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Besides the protagonist serving as a welcome change of pace in the series, Mads Mikkelsen also serves as a phenomenal antagonist. Mads has proven through NBC’s HANNIBAL that he’s very good at being bad. CASINO ROYALE sees him the role of a well-developed villain. He’s not just a cookie-cutter madman with a nuke. Instead, there are scenes that humanize him and make him that much more intimidating for it. We see how desperate La Chiffre’s situation is. We know how far he’ll go to keep his money from getting into Bond’s hands and why he’ll resort to such violent lengths. The tone of CASINO ROYALE is far more intense and brutal than any of the previous Bonds, but doesn’t ever go too dark. The visuals are well-shot and there is plenty of crazy action to be had, though the movie also takes time to dramatically develop the proceedings. What results is a beautifully constructed film in which scenes of people playing poker become just as intense as gun fights or car chases. The screenplay does a wonderful job of keeping the viewer on their toes and (unless you’ve read the book) you never really know where things are heading next.

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CASINO ROYALE is my favorite Bond movie thus far (though I haven’t seen SKYFALL yet). Opening with one of the catchiest tunes in the franchise, this secret agent reboot weaves together a fantastic origin story. Craig delivers a 007 that’s far different from anyone else in the series and is made all the better for it. The action is harshly realistic, but never crosses the line into being unnecessarily gratuitous. Mads’s villain is also fleshed out far more than other Bond baddies in the franchise. Simply put, CASINO ROYALE is not only one of the most spectacular Bond films yet, but it’s also one of the best reboots to ever hit the big screen!

Grade: A+

DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Sexuality

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Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Written by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang & John Cleese

The twentieth movie in the Bond franchise and eleventh in my 007 retrospective, DIE ANOTHER DAY marked the end of the Pierce Brosnan’s stint as the iconic secret agent. In the grander scheme of thing, it also technically serves as the conclusion of the original series and caused its studio to reboot the franchise. In other words, DIE ANOTHER DAY has a pretty bad reputation for wrecking James Bond to the point where the series needed to be remade. So, is this a colossal failure? Is DIE ANOTHER DAY the BATMAN & ROBIN of Bond? I wouldn’t go that far, because there are a couple of things I like about this “final” Bond movie. That being said, this is still pretty bad.

DIE ANOTHER DAY, Pierce Brosnan, 2002, (c) MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

James Bond’s latest mission has taken into dangerous North Korean territory. When his cover is blown, Bond is taken captive and suspended as an MI6 agent. Through a few cunning decisions and sheer dumb luck, Bond escapes and tries to track down a crazed terrorist from his past. This will require Bond partnering up with catsuit-wearing NSA agent Jinx. The two spies are forced to face off against a terrorist with diamond-acne and a super-weapon-wielding entrepreneur.

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Let me address the good stuff first. I really enjoyed the prologue in North Korea. The action may be bombastic, but there’s a sense of excitement that reminded me of GOLDENEYE‘s opening. It also set up this story with a ton of potential…and then everything goes down hill as soon as the opening titles roll. The problems begin in the titular song of the credits, which doesn’t sound like it even belongs in a Bond film. This just sounded like a random pop song that was thrown in at the last-minute. As the minutes tick forward from that point on, DIE ANOTHER DAY wastes away its potential on pointless scenes, a bored Brosnan, and a screenplay that’s riddled with plot holes. The story feels too clichéd and over-the-top, even for a Bond film (which can typically be far-fetched, but fun). Besides the opening sequence, the only other moment that sticks out for good reason is a fencing scene between Bond and the main villain. As cool as that sequence is, it only raises further plot holes once a few convenient (and stupid) revelations occur during the final third.

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Brosnan seems past his point of caring to be Bond. His performance in this film is even more apathetic than his purely-for-the-paycheck effort in WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. As far as villains go, only one performance stands out and I won’t give that cast member’s identity away for fear of spoilers. However, I appreciated this person’s contribution to the film and wish that their character served as the main villain instead of a mere plot device. Halle Berry headlines the film with Brosnan and doesn’t really feel like a Bond girl at all. Instead, it almost feels like CATWOMAN got crossed with a crappy Bond flick. Speaking of which, DIE ANOTHER DAY is on the same level as CATWOMAN’s special effects. We get some shockingly crappy visuals. These include cartoony electricity (courtesy of the main villain’s super suit), Flash Animation quality lasers (that don’t blend well with a fight scene), a Syfy-level melting ice palace, and a rubbery surfing Bond aided by a fake-as-hell parachute.

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DIE ANOTHER DAY came out on the 20th anniversary of DR. NO. Throughout this twentieth Bond flick, there are little nods to the other movies (e.g. the shoe-knife in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the rocket-pack from THUNDERBALL, etc.). All these little cameos only served to remind me how badly this final Brosnan entry screwed the pooch. The original Bond series survived decades of directors, actors, and varying levels of effects. However, none of that could endure after DIE ANOTHER DAY sent everything plummeting into such a rut that a reboot not only became preferable, but transformed into a damn necessity. The original Bond series ended with a whimper as opposed going out with a glorious bang…

Grade: D

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, some Sexuality and Innuendo

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Directed by: Michael Apted

Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Colin Salmon & John Cleese

The nineteenth entry in the Bond series and the tenth review in my 007 retrospective, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is a movie that I actually had a weird childhood connection with. Though 2006’s CASINO ROYALE was the only Bond movie I had ever watched before starting this retrospective (in anticipation of SPECTRE), I played the Nintendo 64 version of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH throughout my later years of elementary school. So while I had never seen this 1999 film, I had played its videogame counterpart enough to guess a basic outline of where things might head. That being said, I was excited to see if this third Brosnan Bond flick would hold up to his first two entries. To put it nicely, this was a disappointment…

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Sir Robert King, a high-profile businessman, has been assassinated inside of MI6. James Bond gives chase to the assassin, but is left in the dark as to why King was killed and by whom. As a result, MI6 assigns Bond to guard King’s daughter, Elektra. The culprit behind King’s assassination appears to be Renard, a chaotic terrorist who had previously abducted Elektra. Bond quickly discovers that Renard seems to be coming after Elektra for a second time and a deadly, destructive plan is set in motion. Aided by a most unlikely nuclear physicist (Denise Richards), Bond must race against the clock to stop a nuclear attack.

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The opening ten minutes of WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH speak volumes as to what kind of movie this is. We see Bond confront a Swiss banker, leap out of a building, witness an assassination, engage in a high-speed boat chase and then jump off an exploding hot-air balloon. As adrenaline-pumping and overwhelming as all of this sounds, none of these things come off as the least bit exciting. An apathetic approach towards the action is constant throughout most of the running time. However, there are a couple of ridiculous scenes that I enjoyed if only for their sheer absurdity. The best of these has Bond facing off against a helicopter equipped with saw blades. This sequence is just as stupid as it sounds, but at that point, I was taking any possible enjoyment that I could muster. The film also looks good (for the most part) with solid special effects and stunts, but sadly this cannot make up for a lackluster screenplay.

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I don’t know what happened between TOMORROW NEVER DIES (my pick for the most underrated 007 film) and WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, but it seems like Brosnan just stopped caring. When performed well, the character of James Bond can bring a level of fun and excitement to even the most preposterous script. In his third outing as the iconic secret agent, Brosnan seems bored. The only halfway decent performance in this movie comes from Sophie Marceau as Elektra King, but I saw her character’s whole story arc as forced and unbelievable. Denise Richards takes the spot of worst Bond girl that I’ve ever seen. She has no chemistry with 007 and her wooden delivery make all of her puns even more painful to behold. Finally, there’s Robert Carlyle as the scarred madman Renard. This Bond villain is just plain vanilla. He’s bland and the only unique characteristic to him is that there’s a bullet in his brain that makes him immune to pain. That being said, the final showdown between himself and Bond comes off like the actors are rehearsing for a fight scene as opposed to actually performing stunts in front of the camera.

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THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is where Brosnan’s stint as Bond began to turn sour. The self-referential attitude is absent and the character of Bond has suddenly turned into another generic action hero. The qualities that made this long running franchise of spy movies so special don’t seem to exist within the confines of these 128 minutes. I was far more bored than excited. The action scenes (which should have been impressive, save for that lame final fight) somehow come off as dull. Sadly, WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH doesn’t pack enough of a plot or enough excitement to be remotely satisfying.

Grade: C-

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action Violence, Sexuality and Innuendo

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Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode

Written by: Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Gotz Otto, Ricky Jay, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli & Judi Dench

The eighteenth film in the Bond series and the ninth in my 007 retrospective, TOMORROW NEVER DIES wasn’t as well-received as GOLDENEYE by most critics and audiences. Color me surprised, because I absolutely loved this second Brosnan Bond film just as much as GOLDENEYE. In a franchise that has frequently used evil organizations, constant nuclear threats and a noticeably sexist viewpoint towards its female characters, TOMORROW NEVER DIES does something out of the ordinary. It’s so vastly different from the rest of the 007 series (in a good way) that I couldn’t help but appreciate every second of this eighteenth(!) Bond entry.

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After saving the world during an opening sequence, James Bond is saddled with yet another assignment (does he ever get a break?). His latest venture is to investigate narcissistic media mogul Elliot Carver. Carver’s newspaper was the first to report on the mysterious sinking of a British submarine. Bond discovers that Carver is intent on starting World War III in hopes that he’ll gain a stronger hold on the media and more power for his god-like complex. Bond is on a mission to stop the insane businessman, but Carver is also onto 007. A deadly, international game of cat-and-mouse erupts between the two with others caught in the crossfire.

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I already said in my review of GOLDENEYE that Pierce Brosnan wonderfully inhabits the old-school Bond that Connery made his own. That doesn’t change in this second outing with Brosnan in the role. The biggest stand-out is Jonathan Pryce as Carver though. He’s simply a fantastic villain. Though his plan to start WWIII might echo a certain earlier Roger Moore entry, his insanity and motives are wholly unique. The narcissistic attitude and smugness in which Pryce plays the part make Carver into a Bond villain unlike any other. He’s simply a lunatic with a massive complex and a most unusual view of world domination. What’s also notable is a distinct lack of a singular Bond girl for a majority of the running time. If you want to be technical there are two female partners with whom 007 teams up, but they come at different points in the movie and don’t necessarily qualify as main characters in my view. It was nice to see Bond up against a villain who was one step ahead of him for nearly the entire film. Unlike Sean Bean in GOLDENEYE (who served as a wonderful villain due to his familiarity with 007), Carver is just an insane genius who makes some pretty ballsy moves in order to outwit Bond.

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Much like GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES uses familiar elements from older Bond flicks in a fresh way. A megalomaniac villain exists in pretty much every Bond movie to date. After all, who are you going to pit a seemingly invincible secret agent up against? An average small-scale bad guy or someone who wants to wreak global havoc? I think everyone would agree that the latter option will always be the better one. Besides a killer villain, TOMORROW also uses an extremely fast pace with tons of action. However, it doesn’t feel like it’s doing so merely for the sake of using bombastic special effects. Instead, the story ventures into remarkably darker territory (especially one scene in a hotel room) that older Bond movies wouldn’t have dared to go into. These plot points make for a more sinister and intense storyline. It all worked because I was hooked from start to finish.

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Thus far, the two Brosnan Bond flicks I’ve seen have shaken up familiar 007 conventions. Familiar plot points are adjusted with a modern flare that make for high-octane spy entertainment willing to take more risks than previous efforts. TOMORROW NEVER DIES really stands out as one of my favorite 007 films so far. It has a creative, original story when compared to most other entries in the franchise. Carver stands out as one of the most unusual villains in the series too. I was blown away by this movie and look forward to revisiting it many times in the future. TOMORROW NEVER DIES comes highly recommended as one of the very best Bonds.

Grade: A

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a number of sequences of Action/Violence, and for some Sexuality

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Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Gottfried John, Robbie Coltrane & Alan Cumming

The seventeenth Bond film in the series and the eighth in my 007 retrospective, GOLDENEYE brings a fresh-faced, modern take on Bond. It turns out that through studio disputes and (possibly) poor reception to Timothy Dalton’s previous outing (which is my pick for the worst Bond film I’ve seen thus far) was enough to sort of “reboot” the franchise. This 90’s Bond takes off with material that’s in line with the rest of the franchise and does so with an even more action-packed style. GOLDENEYE brought Pierce Brosnan to the screen as 007 and managed to be a big hit, both financially and critically. After watching it, there’s no surprise as to why that is.

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In the mid-80’s, oo7 and 006 (Bond’s partner and best friend) undertook a mission to destroy a Soviet biological weapon facility. The mission was an overall success, but 006 was killed in the process. Nearly a decade later, Bond finds himself on the trail of a super weapon that has fallen into very dangerous hands. This weapon is able to detonate locations from outer space and only one person has survived its power. The sole survivor is Natalya Simonova and Bond is forced to partner up with her. The search for the weapon will lead Bond to a sadistic murderer as well as a familiar face from the past (take a guess as to who that could possibly be).

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First things first, how’s Pierce Brosnan as Bond? Some people I’ve spoken with really don’t like him as the iconic secret agent, but I actually dig Brosnan’s 007 quite a lot. He seems to be taking the old-school Connery approach. By this, I mean that he balances a charismatic ladies man attitude with a likable action hero persona. I totally bought him as the character. However, certain Bond films are only as good as their villains and the baddie here is amazing. It’s not a spoiler (considering that most plot descriptions give more away than I will) to say that Sean Bean is impressive as a rogue agent. Seeing as Bean’s character was a former MI6 agent, it makes him a far more intimidating foe because he knows all of Bond’s tricks intimately. This also leads to tense confrontations and damn near impossible life-or-death situations that Bond finds himself trying to escape. Bean isn’t the only impressive baddie though as Famke Janssen plays a henchwoman who literally gets off on the violence she inflicts. Her scenes are both frightening and darkly hilarious in a really sick way.

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The Bond girl this time around comes in the form of Izabella Scorupco. I really enjoyed her performance as Natalya and she asks a question that few Bond girls have ever dared ask. She gets frustrated at the violence Bond inflicts and asks him why he must kill his enemy as opposed to merely thwarting and capturing them. This verbal bombshell gives her character far more development than most of the Bond girls from previous films. However, Natalya’s complaints fall on deaf ears as GOLDENEYE is pretty much constant action that moves a rip-roaring pace. The plot may resemble Bond movies of the past, but it’s executed in a bigger, better and smarter way. The Bond girl is a survivor of a horrific attack. The villain is a former friend of 007’s and not simply a cat-stroking, eye-patch-wearing madman. The weapon isn’t simply a nuclear bomb, but a threat that can hit from space. The sense of humor works with Alan Cummings playing an “invincible” hacker whose punchline is well worth a potentially annoying running joke. There’s also a fantastic chase scene in which Bond pursues the baddies through the city streets in a friggin’ tank (yes, you read that right!).

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The best part about GOLDENEYE is that it feels like a Bond movie that’s seen the rest of the Bond series. It’s not simply repeating well-worn clichés and staples in the series. Instead, it’s using the previous films to its advantage in keeping the viewer on their toes. The villain is well-aware of MI6 protocols and Bond’s personality, which makes him a more intimidating presence. There’s a Bond girl who actually is frightened and upset by the bloodshed around her, instead of merely shrugging it off as part of the battle. The whole plot is smart and thwarts expectations set by the series. Overall, GOLDENEYE stands as a fantastic example of why James Bond can survive various actors, over 20 films, and decades of pop culture. In the right hands, this material provides some of the best spy entertainment ever brought to the screen!

Grade: A

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