I don't know why after so many lousy James Bond pictures I always look forward to the next. Maybe it's the overture with the rangefinder, the blood, the thrumming 007 theme — it gets me drooling like a Pavlov dog.
Like most people, I bonded with Bond when he was Sean Connery, with his mixture of elegance and ruggedness and danger. Having a license to kill in "Dr. No" was shocking in the Sixties, when heroes only killed in self-defense.
After Connery decamped, Roger Moore made Bond old-boy and arch. Then he got heavier and the switch from Moore to his stuntman was the campiest thing in movies. Timothy Dalton was peevish. Pierce Brosnan grew on me but never overcame his role as TV's foppish phony detective Remington Steele.
Now, the CEOs of the Bond franchise have opted for Brosnan's opposite — for Bond as a bit of rough trade. And believe it or not, it works!
Daniel Craig is an actor whose versatility is uncanny — a weasel in "Road to Perdition," a brooding poet in "Sylvia," an intellectual at arm's length from his life in "Enduring Love," a murderer in "Infamous." As Bond, Craig tilts his head forward like a boxer, an impression reinforced by his smashed nose and sandpaper skin. But those irradiated blue eyes make him more than a bullyboy. This Bond is haunted, not housebroken, still constructing the persona.
"Casino Royale" presses the reset button. Judi Dench is back as the scolding M, but Bond has only just been licensed to kill. The ingredients are reshuffled to catch you off-guard. The villain isn't the usual wanna-be world dominator but a financier called Le Chiffre played by the Danish Mads Mikkelson, the clammiest actor alive — a man you never want to see across a card table.
The movie weirdly front-loads the action set-pieces, then settles into something cerebral. But it never loses its romantic pulse. Craig and the luscious Eva Green have a teasing, sometimes biting rapport — whoa, a complex relationship!
No, it's not a design for all Bond pictures — by all means, let's have gadgets, supervillains, an oh-so-superior hero. But let's also have the joy of rediscovery! Here, when Bond slips into a good tuxedo for the first time, you taste his glee in the tailoring. I hope Craig finds more moments like that. I want to see him in that tuxedo for years to come.