James Bond gets a hefty whack in the testes in Casino Royale, both literally and figuratively. The 21st installment of the world's longest-running movie series strips away the gadgetry to focus on action and character, introducing a younger, tougher James Bond (Daniel Craig) struggling to complete his first major mission. The target is terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), whom our hero must defeat in a high stakes poker game at the swanky Casino Royale in Montenegro.
First things first: Daniel Craig is not a good Bond. He's a great Bond. Specifically, he is 007 as conceived by Ian Fleming - a professional killing machine, a charming, cold-hearted patriot with a taste for luxury. Craig is the first actor to really nail 007's defining characteristic: he's an absolute swine. Following his example, Martin Campbell's film hits the ground running with a breathless chase through a building site, a sequence so impressive that the rest of the action struggles to trump it. Bond takes a tremendous battering throughout the movie. He's beaten senseless, thrown off ledges, poisoned and tortured. Even his withered heart takes a whupping when he falls for slinky treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). It's all thrilling stuff, closer in tone to The Bourne Identity than the camp quippery of old-school Bond.
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There are a few problems. 144 minutes is dangerously long for an action flick, and audiences may be restless during the protracted romantic interludes. You could drive an Aston Martin through the holes in the plot, and Chris Cornell's theme tune is an embarassment. But these are small niggles. Casino Royale is a 1,000 watt jolt to the heart of a flagging franchise, bringing Bond kicking - and frequently screaming - back to life.