welcome to Mirror, a monthly film column in which I revise and then re-evaluate a movie I’ve already seen under the new critical (and improved?) lens of 2021. I’m so glad you’re here.
It’s been a decade and a half since Daniel Craig first appeared onscreen as James Bond, the role he just left. So how’s her first turn as 007 going? In short, very good! In retrospect, Casino Royale is a fun action flick with stellar performances, best enjoyed with a dry martini and a mellow, thoughtless demeanor.
Let’s go back. I was a teenager when Casino Royale came out, but I was quite familiar with Bond as a cultural institution. My baby boomer dad was very fond of Sean Connery’s films, and we sometimes watched them together. I know I had certainly seen The golden finger, and while I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to articulate what a character name like “Pussy Galore” meant (the nuances of the backward feminist camp are sometimes lost on children), I understood that this series was for adults, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly serious.
The Austin Powerses did a pretty good job of familiarizing myself with the tropes of the genre – incompetent henchmen, ridiculous gadgets, girls in skimpy outfits, villains with One Weird Trait – and I even think I knew there were novels, although I didn’t know anyone who would read them. I knew the ‘license to kill’ was one thing, and read enough celebrity news to know. Casino Royale was the rare remake. There was already a Casino Royale Bond, but now it was a new one. It would also be the first I would see in theaters, having been too young for one of the Brosnan installments I saw advertised on bus stops and billboards. And that turned out to be an origin story. How convenient!
Recently, sitting down to revisit it for the first time in 15 years, I remembered thinking it was good, but more than that. I was surprised at how many specific plot elements and details I could remember. It wasn’t a movie I had thought about much, but I knew there was a game of poker, that the villain’s “tell” was a bleeding eye, that the tell was wrong, that the vile plot. involved sabotaging a plane to manipulate the stock market (essentially recreating the airline stock market crash that followed 9/11), and I remembered Eva Green looking gorgeous in her eggplant dress and Craig licking her fingers in the shower (the one I might have seen on GIF on Tumblr – it’s one of the best sexy moments in movie history).
I also remembered Bond vividly grabbing a glass and a salt shaker to make himself vomit after ingesting poison, because since then I have wondered if that would work. I hope I never have to find out. It’s a testament to the writers of how many of these details stuck in my mind. I watched the Impossible mission movies during my quarantine and I couldn’t tell you half the plot points of this series or the Bourne movies, which I also binged under lock. Why, then, was Casino Royale so fresh in my memory?
Of course, I could choose times when the male and female gaze was used. I could write about how it fetishizes guns, but no more than the next action movie, about the value of women until they are disposable. But frankly my dear, I don’t care.
Two reasons, I think. Just as we always remember the lyrics to our favorite first song or can always recite our childhood best friend’s phone number, the first memories are imprinted deeply on our lizard brains. Casino Royale was one of the first adult action movies I saw in theaters. It was basically projected onto a blank slate in my mind, and I soaked it up like a sponge (forgive my mixed metaphors). I was just old enough to understand everything that was going on (it’s not a particularly complicated or subtle movie), but I still had to be careful, I couldn’t let my mind wander. The other reason is that it’s just very skillfully done, with memorable characters, solid sets, and absolutely delicious performances. Each actor makes the most of every minute onscreen and the cinematography, after a brief black-and-white introduction, rewards them with meaty close-ups and lingering moments. The fact that it all depends on the sweet romance between Bond and Vesper Lynd probably doesn’t hurt either. I’m not too proud to admit that I’m a girl who far prefers a romance to a shootout.
Revisiting it now, I felt I had made the most of my viewing experience when I tried to recreate that somewhat childish open-mindedness, when I turned off the critical part of my brain. Of course, I could choose times when the male and female gaze was used. I could write about how he fetishizes guns, but no more than the next action flick, the value of women until they are throwaway, how wink moments work. (he invents his famous martini on the fly) because Craig is so charming, the cultural implications of Bond calling his first love “the bitch” at the end of the movie, setting the stage for the womanizer we know he has. bECOMES. But frankly my dear, I don’t care.
If a generation of men have seen their understanding of masculinity perverted by this frankness, it’s just not my job to correct that. I’m as much of a movie buff as anyone else, and I took this movie at face value and enjoyed it. The car zoomed in really fast, and Bond? Bond wore a really elegant suit. There were more comic elements than I remembered. Vesper and James face the classic sitcom situation of pretending to be husband and wife before falling in love with each other for real, and even buying little outfits. In my version of this movie, they stayed together, did two-man missions, always bickering in and out of bed. But it’s an adult boys’ movie, so she betrays her country to save her life and tragically martyrs herself. Well, you can’t have everything you want.
I was jumping Quantum of Consolation but seen (and very hated) Fall from the sky. I didn’t bother to Spectrum, but I could broadcast No time to die for funsies one of those nights. On the other hand, I could just put on my best bitch satin, pour myself some vodka and watch Casino Royale again. I think I have all the details this time, but I admit that I don’t know anything about poker. I’m going to look for my deeper meanings there. It sounds safer and more fun. Florida