Saw Casino Royale last night. The casting was excellent (I note with interest that Daniel Craig and Eva Green have been cast in the film adapation of His Dark Materials as Lord Asriel and Serafina Pekkala), the action scenes were excellent, the dialogue was very good, the plot dragged a bit toward the end and got rather dubious, but I'm told this is not unusual for Bond movies, and on the whole it was a movie much more to my tastes than I expect prior installments of the franchise would be.
You can hear the "but" coming, can't you? Not only that, you can probably guess what it is.
But I really disliked the romantic subplot.
I suspected going in that I would have a problem with it, since it was clear from reviews that Bond's love interest was going to die, and I worried that it would feel perfunctory and manipulative, just checking off a box in the process of turning Bond into a slick soulless killing-and-seducing machine. It wasn't perfunctory, at least, but I still didn't like it.
My thoughts about the likely fate of Vesper went something like this:
- On reading the reviews, I suspected she was going to be killed as an innocent bystander, for great tragedy and revenge.
- I spotted her betrayal not long before it was revealed, and then I hated the movie for making her evil.
- Then she killed herself, and I said, "huh?"
- Then the movie turned cartwheels to make her betrayal sympathetic (this is one of the places where the plot turns incoherent and one of the problems with introducing woodges of backstory so late in the game; see below for more on this), at which point I mentally threw up on my hands for the short time left in the movie.
- But the end result for Bond is still, don't trust anyone.
Now, I freely admit that I may not be able to separate the means from the end, here. And I disapprove of the end. If it's not possible or desirable for Bond to have a continuing relationship [*], there are other ways to get him to a place where he has a new "girl" every movie, such as Vesper being killed as collateral damage, or to get to Bond, and as a result Bond being sufficiently heartbroken to avoid any but superficial relationships from then on. There's no need make "the bitch is dead" the movie's goal, even if it is a line from the book. Actually, especially since it is a line from the book; see scott_lynch for more on the Bond of the books.
[*] See also the Bourne movies, about which I'd probably be much more upset if I hadn't been so damn motion-sick.
(Besides the fact that I dislike misogyny, this also limits the possibilities for future movies. Unless Bond's bitter armor gets pierced and then repaired every damn time, he's one-dimensional; he's got no emotional vulnerabilities. Frankly, as impressed as I was with Daniel Craig, I doubt I'll see subequent Bond movies following this reboot, because I'm just not interested in characters who are slick soulless killing-and-seducing machines.)
However, I did think Vesper's suicide didn't make much sense and therefore felt like just a forced way way of making it really, really clear that Bond was now "Bond. James Bond." with all that implies. What, she couldn't live with what she'd done? Then she was a coward for making Bond watch her die on top of that, which I don't think she was. She knew he was going to dump her after learning of her betrayal and couldn't live without him? That's pathetic, which ditto. She was trying to keep him from killing her? Okay, that's a tougher one; I don't think she heard his comment about "don't let me stop you" when Mr. White or whoever threatened to kill her, but maybe she did; still, by the time she locked the elevator door, it seemed pretty clear to me that he wasn't going to. But regardless, I'm not convinced that it would make a big difference to him, and it might even be worse, that she didn't trust him. Have her be killed by one of her bosses, possibly while trying to help Bond, and it's much less muddled and annoying.
And what happened to her kidnapped boyfriend who she no longer loves, anyway? This is the problem with introducing a whole new plot in the last few minutes; stuff gets explained poorly or not at all. Which leads me into:
An afterword on the plot problems
The poker-related sections of the plot rest on what strikes me as a dubious idea: that the wrong person with the right password would be able to get the money. The Swiss banker guy was told who won, after all, since he specifically came and found Bond for the transfer; and it's a Swiss bank, it has a lot invested in its reputation and its staff must travel with heavy security in a situation like this, so I have a hard time believing that if Le Chiffre showed up and wanted to transfer the winnings, even at gunpoint, he'd be able to.
(Le Chiffre also didn't need an account number from Vesper Lynd, as he claimed when he was torturing Bond (and how the hell did this movie get a PG-13 rating, exactly?); the account number was for where the money was going, not where it was from.)
In fact, possibly an even more dubious idea is that the Swiss banker wouldn't be right there at the end of the game and immediately set up the transfer. When that kind of money is involved, I think they could convince him to stick around.
But, suppose all one really would need was the password out of Bond. Fine.
The stuff with Vesper still doesn't make any sense.
Vesper was either working for Le Chiffre or for someone else (either a rival or someone further up the chain from Le Chiffre). If she's working for Le Chiffre, then there's no need for Le Chiffre to kidnap Bond and torture him; so I'm inclined to say not, even without all the later events. (Incidentially, this means that Mathis is guilty.)
If Vesper was working for someone other than Le Chiffre, as I believe we are meant to understand, then the whole "she bargained your life in exchange for the money" is nonsensical. What could they want but the money, and so what would she have to bargain with? (If all they wanted was Le Chiffre dead, they could've had that easily, as shown by the Ugandans.) And, once again, all Vesper's bosses had to do was have her transfer the money to an account they controlled, and poof! It's gone. No need for long, drawn-out scenes of love and regret or for suspenseful chases as she withdrew the money as cash, nothing like that.
(Also, there's no reason she shouldn't stake Bond the extra $5 million, because she wants him to win. I admit I liked the CIA's involvement—apparently the agent is a recurring character and shown in a better light than usual—but still.)
Finally, even if the credit sequence was traditional, I still hated it, both in itself and in the horrible jarring way it turned violence and dead bodies into manipulation of cards, in contrast to the terrific, gritty, black-and-white pre-credits sequence where the violence was deliberately not stylized.