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Ever since its very first test screenings, the 21st outing of Brit secret agent James Bond, 'Casino Royale' has been a celebration- a celebration of the reseting and rewinding of the Bond franchise, a celebration of the first Bond film in ages to be based on an Ian Fleming book, a celebration of Daniel Craig and his 'dirty blonde', a celebration of getting the usually uptight and suave Bond down, dirty and realistic, a celebration of the toning down of the asinine gizmos. But as I sit here, buffeted and riveted by my experience of the movie, what i intend to celebrate is the return of 'cunning' to the whole enterprise.

A certain 'cunning' was always the foundation of the Bond franchise.. be it Fleming's books with it's deceptive prose and storyline or the earlier Bond movie like 'Dr. No'. Later as the gizmos came in, multicolored girls with multicolored underwear sporting multicolored names came in and most importantly, Roger Moore came in as 007... the 'cunning' came to the buried, almost lost in all the camp and cheese. Bond no longer spoke- he quipped, even in the face of the certain danger and death he was more worried if his clothes matched, his gizmos beeped and buzzed thier way ridiculously in and out of far fetched contrived situations, racial stereotypes thrived.. common sense was but a ruin, the sheer goofish otherworldliness of it all took over the series. The 'Timothy Dalton' films tried, unsuccessfully to drain some seriousness in but ended up being droll affairs that fell flat on thier face. The last Bond flick 'Die Another Day' took stock of the camp and played every Bond element in a self-deprecatory sort of way.. even having 'Q' offer a brochure to Bond instead of the usual gizmos.

'Casino Royale' starts auspiciously. In crisp black and White. Bond executes his first ever kill and earns his 'OO's. Cold-blooded, precise, deceptive. The Chris Cornell theme blares to the credits after which we join Bond in Africa for a wild chase sequence that more or less establishes the course the movie is about to take. Director Martin Campbell makes no concessions to the fact that fundamentally a Bond movie is but a BIG DUMB BLOCKBUSTER. It is an archetypal Bond chase sequence- the kind where Bond takes stock of the surrounding topography and responds to it. Not in a delirious dancing Jackie Chan kind of way but rather like a Chuck Jones' episiode of Tom and Jerry. In a Bond chase sequence, the mis-en-scene is replete with levers, fulcrums, propellers and projectiles. Cut a wire and Bond flies, losen a piece of wood and Bond tears it out and flings. Cambell plays out this violent carnival with verve and kinesis without stopping for breath. But what seperated this particular chase from the countless others, is the animal intensity that Daniel Craig brings. He's wild, he's driven, he desperate to prove his new found 'OO' status and he's not afraid to get down and dirty. No longer is Bond prim and 'propah', the Craig version moves more like Peter Jackson's 'King Kong'.. crawling and leaping on all fours. Even the kicks and punches have lost thier cheesy 'dish-bish' conotations. What you hear is pure knuckle on bone that grittier movies like 'Unleashed' employ. Every punch means business, every punch draws blood and there's lot of it in this movie. Never before have I seen Bond so bruised, so bloody. Also new in the series, is a sense of recklessness about Bond. At the end of his African rooftop dash, Bond crawls through dirt, grime, blood, metal and fire to blow up an entire embassy to get his man.

This recklessness finds it's detractor in boss 'M'. 'M' is no longer a kind of Mary Poppins, but rather a hard nosed taskmaster and even a sex-life has been hinted at. Judi Dench chews through these newfound shades with thespian relish. 'M' is a bit vary of Bond's promotion to 'OO' status but nonetheless offers him enough leeway to get things done his way. Bond's relentless investigations all point to one man, Le Chiffre (Maks Middlesen), math genius, diabolical criminal mastermind, banker to the world's terrorists and poker fanatic.

What it all comes down to, in true blockbuster pulp style, is for Bond to team up with femme fatale Vesper Lynd and play Le Chiffre for all his money at a high stakes poker game at Casino Royale, Montenegro and win.

Vesper Lynd is another one of the movie's successes. Unlike most Bond girls, she's more than bikini, beaches and bullets. She's not Honore Blackman's Pussy Galore nor is she Halle Berry's Jinx who resembled 'Black Mamba' from 70s blaxploitation more than a Bond girl. Eva Green plays Lynd as a woman of substance- intelligent, witty, fiery and surprise surprise, genuinely sentimental. Smooth and sexy, she's quite the anti-thesis to Craig's buffed up and rough hewn Bond. The conversations between them cackle with deception and chemistry. They spout thier lines with wit, charm and a certain slow burning passion that's absolutely live wire. Thier relationship is the first genuine one forged in a Bond film ever.

As bond villian 'Le Chiffre', Maks Middelsen delivers a performance that is sublimely reptilian that catapaults him right up there, next to the infamous Scaramanga from 'Man with a Golden Gun' in my book. What Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre has in common with Christopher Lee's Scaramanga is a kind of self-assuarance that is absolutely lacking in most Bond villians. Most Bond villians try to do scene-stealers on Bond with pumped-up, over-the-top, apoplectic ham routines while 'Scaramanga' and 'Le Chiffre' maintain a kind of disquieting quiet that gives one the feeling that something creepy is crawling inside of your skin. Mikkelsen's 'Le Chiffre' is not a very strong man. Rather he is diseased and almost frail- suffering from asthama and bleeding from his eyes. But somehow his sickness seems slimy, abhorent and even repulsive rather than sympathetic. Indian audiences, unfortunately, will not be privy to his moment of sadistic glory when he whips a thick piece of rope between a naked Bond's legs. Gone are the Kafka-esque contraptions by which you are lowered an inch a minute into a pool of sharks and oriental poisions which numb your brain cells, "Le Chiffre" gives it to Bond, quite clearly, where it hurts the most.

As for Bond. Craig Daniel is Bond every moment he is on the screen. And unlike other Bonds, he's not afraid of making a mess or even getting attached to his girl. At times, sappily so. He's sentimental enough to use his girl's name as password. He infuses a sort of 'primitive' into the Bond persona. He's charming, witty, brash, suave and cold blooded, all in requisite doses. At the very end when he stands up to deliver his catch phrase, you can't help but believe that this blue-eyed, blonde beast you're watching on the screen is none other than Bond, James Bond.

Martin Campbell has performed the near-perfect re- invention, surpasing even Nolan's Batman Begins. He has served up a Bond that is brand new while still adhering to the old school. He's aware that there is legacy reaching all the way back to 1963 to live up to and he does just that in a very hip and very very high octane and a very very very cunning kinda way.

Geekboy ponderings:-

James Bond v/s Transporter- Who Wins?

Ans: Transporter. He has nothing to lose. Works independently and is more of a blunt weapon than Bond and thereby relying less on local topography to subdue his opponents.

I need this:-

Jason Statham playing villian in the next Bond movie. Why not?

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