Casino Royale turns 15 today and continues to stand as not only one of the best Daniel Craig James Bond entries, but one of the best James Bond films period thanks to an abundance of style, strong performances, exotic locations, compelling characters, and, of course, some of the finest action sequences of the modern era.
Director Martin Campbell ushered in the new era of 007 with some extraordinary set pieces that not only set the tone for Craig’s five films but established this Bond as a one-man wrecking crew who would much rather knock the head off a criminal than sip martinis at the local pub.
For starters, take a look at the famous “Parkour Chase” that kicks off the film. Up until now, we’ve seen James Bond quietly execute two bad guys — one during a violent fight in a restroom, the other via somber execution in an office high rise. We’ve only heard the man utter a few lines, but the film has already established this iteration of the famed spy as a no-nonsense, get the work done no matter the cost kinda guy.
Of course, that wasn’t enough for Campbell, who also wanted to show Bond as a very human, violent fellow with an appetite for destruction. He isn’t invincible, but he can clearly adapt to any circumstance as we see in the moment where, after the criminal in pursuit leaps over drywall, Bond bursts through unfettered like a wild stepchild of the Incredible Hulk.
The scene also displays Bond’s relentless determination. He doesn’t stop until the job is done, and shows remarkable calmness in the face of danger. We also learn that this guy is a bit reckless as he allows all manner of chaos to unfold even in the face of innocent civilians.
In short, this is not your dad’s James Bond. There are no quips — Bond has zero lines in this entire sequence — no gadgets and absolutely no camp. When it comes time to pull the trigger to execute the bomb maker, Bond doesn’t hesitate. He kills with steely resolve which makes the character a tad more dangerous than we’re accustomed to seeing. The whole sequence is brilliant.
The airport chase kicks off with Bond seducing a woman for information and then abandoning her immediately when duty calls. This characteristic falls more in line with Sean Connery’s 007 than either Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan.
Indeed, part of Connery’s charm was his intense loyalty to Queen and country. He enjoyed the occasional frolic, but once it got time to get down to business, there wasn’t a bikini-clad woman in the world who could sway him from duty.
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Similarly, Craig’s Bond has no use for women and mostly sees them as a distraction, or a tool to extract information from, which is one of the main reasons he’s completely blindsided by Vesper Lynd’s betrayal. Like Lloyd Christmas, he just never saw it coming.
As such, Bond ditches his date in order to pursue a person of interest. He tails the man in question to a human body exhibit, mercilessly kills him, and then tracks and follows another contact to an airport. Here, Bond makes a mistake — he doesn’t do a very good job hiding from his suspect and unwittingly kickstarts the main action.
What follows is a madcap series of chase scenes, fight sequences, and amazing stunt work on or around Miami Airport. The sequence, starting from the aforementioned late-night frolicking, acts as a sort of mini-movie — the first part introduces the conflict and characters involved, the second contains an absurd amount of rising action and the third and final culminates in Bond achieving his task and killing the would-be terrorist.
The best part about this sequence is that Bond never seems like he’s fully in control. For starters, he has no idea what’s happening and merely relies on instinct to reach the next point of his adventure until it becomes obvious that the bad guys are planning on blowing up a massive airplane.
At this point, he’s taking everything one step at a time. He leaps onto the bad guy’s vehicle, but misses his mark and must quickly abandon his initial plan, regroup and try again. He successfully leaps aboard the truck the second time but is still overpowered by his opponent, and by sheer luck manages to thwart the bombing attempt.
Through all of this, Bond remains cool and collected as he leaps from vehicle to vehicle, punches bad guys, dodges explosions, and essentially keeps pushing until he can fully understand the situation. Once he discovers the bomb tucked underneath the vehicle, he seizes the opportunity to upend the entire bombing plan.
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And the best part is: Bond flashes a “F— you!” grin once the villain is destroyed by his own device. James Bond may be busting his ass to save the world, but he’s also enjoying the job — another character trait that pays off down the road.
On a final note, these action sequences pop because Martin Campbell films them in a traditional manner. The editing is quick, but not so quick you lose sight of the characters. There are no shaky camera tricks or digital foolery. This is old-school filmmaking and it’s all the better for it.
By comparison, watch this sequence from Quantum of Solace:
No, it’s not bad, per se, and the scene certainly hits a little harder, but it’s also confusing as hell. You spend so much time trying to figure out who’s doing what to who that the moment doesn’t quite land as well as it should. And considering the success Casino Royale achieved, I always found it odd that the producers decided to go the Bourne route rather than continue with what had worked before.
At any rate, these moments in Casino Royale established Daniel Craig’s iteration of James Bond and set the table for the adventures that would follow.