Prepare for James Bond V6.0 writes the LA Times
A newly buff Daniel Craig brings Secret Agent 007 down to earth. This year's model is conflicted, sweaty â yes, even vulnerable - reports the LA Times
It's somewhat odd that Martin Campbell, director of the 21st James Bond installment that opens Nov. 17, describes "Casino Royale" as "the perfect opportunity to reboot the series and go back to basics." Reboot? The Bond franchise was hardly stalled, at least not financially.
In 2002, "Die Another Day" starring Pierce Brosnan grossed $432 million worldwide, the most any Bond movie has earned since 007 first appeared on screen 44 years ago.
The story the numbers didn't tell was that the arguably formulaic and long-in-the-tooth cash cow had become pretty bloated, stuffed to its wattle with product placements, fantastical action sequences, campy humor and over-the-top super villains.
"There's a tendency for series to lose their way when they continually try to top themselves," says producer Michael G. Wilson, keeper of the Bond legacy with his stepsister, Barbara Broccoli. "We saw ourselves going farther down that route and thought it was time to bring Bond back to his roots. The studio asked, 'Why fix it if it ain't broke?' Making changes is always risky, of course, but in a way it was necessary to keep the thing from eventually collapsing under its own weight."
"Casino Royale," the novel the producers acquired the rights to in 1999, is a Bondian Genesis. Going back to the beginning of Ian Fleming's saga gave the filmmakers the opportunity to retool the secret agent's myth. The book was published in 1953, but the movie is set in the present. Although the basic plot remains â the villain loses someone else's money and arranges a casino tournament to recoup his losses â the Cold War baddies of the original story have been replaced by more contemporary nasties: international terrorist groups. "By virtue of the book, this film is more realistic and down to earth than any Bond movie we've seen in years," director Campbell says.
Although Brosnan wasn't ready to relinquish his license to thrill, the producers felt a grittier interpretation of the character required an edgier star. After an extensive search attended by rumors about nearly every age-appropriate actor with a BAFTA card, Daniel Craig, a 38-year-old British actor with piercing blue eyes and a solid rÃ©sumÃ© ("Munich," "Road to Perdition," "Infamous") was chosen as the sixth Bond. Chat rooms filled with noisy Bond loyalists didn't applaud the winner. He's too blond, too short, too working-class, they complained.
"I don't think anyone could have come in without being heavily criticized," Craig says, "or at least heavily analyzedâ¦. We are living in that world now, where everything can be scrutinized."
Campbell, who directed Brosnan in his first Bond outing, initially didn't think Craig was ideal. "Before I read the final draft of the script, I had this vision of Bond being the continuation of what he'd been," Campbell says. "But once I saw where we were going, Daniel was the perfect fit for the story we were telling. The character in the books is much darker than he has been in the movies and that's what we've returned to. It's a more personal, more emotional story than we've seen Bond in before. Daniel has a sexuality that's very much in keeping with how Fleming saw the character."
Craig's an amateur rugby player who has played literal and figurative lady killers, and he would doubtless have been a convincingly formidable threat even if he hadn't bulked up for the role. "I did three months of solid training before shooting started," he says. "I wanted to make sure that if the shirt came off, I'd look like I could hurt somebody. It wasn't about, 'Oh, he's got a good body.' "
There are women in the story very interested in Bond's body, even one who breaks his heart. Besides romance, every Bond movie must have action sequences â chases, spectacular fights and explosions. The previous Bonds â Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Brosnan â barely broke a sweat and routinely bounced back from near-death encounters as unscathed as Wile E. Coyote after a run-in with the Roadrunner. Today's hero bruises and bleeds.
"We haven't seen Bond bloodied before," Campbell says. "But this is a tougher movie. When he fights, he bleeds and, emotionally, he can also get wounded. An idea that comes straight from the book is he finds some of the violence in his world ugly. He's not comfortable with messy, brutal killings. We show Bond as a human being, who sometimes thinks with his heart instead of his head. He's vulnerable, and he can be that way without being a wuss."
Campbell predicts that the British tabloids that attacked the actor before he'd shot a minute of "Casino Royale," will be pleasantly surprised. Craig has signed on for two more Bond movies.
"However good this film is, the next one has to be better," Craig says.
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