Casino Royalei

Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green and Judy Dench. Directed by: Martin Campbell.
Running Time: 144 minutes.
Rated: Rated M
Think of James Bond and it's hard not to think of Sean Connery. Cool, ironic, callous, and sexy. Gorgeous women of course, Aston Martins, and dry martinis, shaken not stirred. The villains in these early Bond films were memorable, too: Joseph Wiseman in Dr No, Gert Frobe and Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) in Goldfinger, Lotte Lenya as 'Colonel' Rosa Klebbe in From Russia With Love. And the opening titles were always sensational.

But like Superman, and other multimillion-dollar franchises (most recently the Wiggles), life goes on after the exit of the familiar face that marked the brand. Thus after Sean Connery came George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Connery again in Never Say Never Again (a rogue remake of Thunderball that many found disappointing), followed by Timothy Dalton, then Pierce Brosnan.

Now after much anticipation comes Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. This was the first book written by Ian Fleming about the super spy known to the world as 007, and like the treatment of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, New-Zealand born director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Mark of Zorro, Vertical Limit) presents the early James Bond in a darker, less frivolous light which is closer to Fleming's original.

Updated from 1953 to the twenty-first century, this grittier Bond erupts onto the screen in sensational opening sequences (including 60s-style title credits and Chris Cornell's haunting anthem You Know My Name), which sees Bond, who is not yet a '007', chasing a fleet-footed African bomb-maker (Sébastien Foucan) in Madagascar.

Obstacles in the environment, a bombed African embassy and a construction site with cranes, bulldozers, and overhanging girders, act as props for the two men to display their extraordinary prowess, 'free-running', and leaping from solid objects as if they were trampolines, in a manner normally seen only in cartoons or computer-generated Spiderman movies.

State-of-the-art camerawork that cuts into the action from every possible angle ensures that the viewer is involved intimately in the action, and the hard-hitting pace slackens only to admit a rarity in Bond films, a love story with genuine chemistry, not just smart repartee, that is woven tightly into the plot.

Filmed in Prague, the Bahamas, Venice, and London, Casino Royale sees Bond, new to his 007 status (now 'licenced to kill'), being sent by M (Judy Dench), the head of MI6 in London, to curtail the activities of Le Chiffre (Danish actor Mads Mikkelson), who is banker to the world's terrorists.

To bring down the terrorist network, Bond must defeat Le Chiffre in a high-stakes game of Texas Hold 'em poker, played in a private salon at the swank Casino Royale. Sparks fly when Bond meets beautiful Treasury official Vesper Lynd (French actress Eva Green), whose job is to oversee the money exchange, and ensure that Bond doesn't break the bank in the vital game.

As Bond and Vesper survive a series of attacks by Le Chiffre and his henchmen, a mutual attraction develops between them, which results in events that shape Bond's life for ever.

Bond films have always bordered on self-parody, and this isn't entirely absent from Casino Royale. Even while being tortured by Le Chiffre, bound naked on a chair which has had the seat removed, Craig's piercingly blue-eyed, steely Bond is still capable of heroic self-mockery in between screaming. But it is more plausible, and takes second place to Campbell's object of restoring Ian Fleming's dark, sometimes sado-masochistic take on his hero.

In keeping with this approach, even the villains of the piece are more character driven. Mikkelson's Le Chiffre is more human, but no less nasty for that. There is less typecasting and greater complexity with other characters as well, in particular the mysterious and alluring Vesper, played superbly by Green (Bertolucci's The Dreamers), Bond's CIA ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat), and the eminently watchable Giancarlo Giannini (Lina Wertm