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With No Time to Die hitting theatres earlier this year, Daniel Craig is hanging up his Double O license for good to let someone new take up the James Bond mantle. As well as capping off Craig’s Bond years, 2021 marks the 15-year anniversary of his first outing as the British spy in 2006’s Casino Royale. You can currently watch Casino Royale on Amazon Prime Video, and it’s certainly worth your time. Check it out right here.
Casino Royale wasn’t just Craig’s first Bond title. It was also his best, and a high point for the franchise as a whole, perhaps even its crowning achievement thus far. Read on for what makes it stand out.
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What is Casino Royale about?
Casino Royale is about James Bond on one of his first assignments as a Double O agent — his recently assigned 007 designation is a license to kill in the field.
The MI6 spy, played by Craig in his first outing, is following a trail of money. Terrorist banker Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is running out of funds fast and spending his clients’ money faster. After an attempt to manipulate global markets is foiled by Bond, Le Chiffre stages a high-stakes poker game to win back funds and avoid the ire of his very dangerous allies.
But MI6 is on to him, and Bond, their best poker player, is dispatched to beat him. If successful, Bond would be able to deliver a very valuable asset to his government. But if he loses, he’ll have used government funds to effectively bankroll terrorism.
Prequel, sequel, reboot, or all of the above?
Franchise continuity has become an almost intolerable part of fan culture, where we need detailed breakdowns of exactly how title X fits into the worldbuilding of series Y, which belongs to company Z, who doesn’t actually own the rights to title X. And on and on, ad nauseam. Casino Royale gives itself much more leeway than that, and it’s refreshing. It picks and chooses what to use from James Bond lore in a new way.
One could argue that every new actor who dons the James Bond hat marks a reboot for the series. Some elements inevitably carry over. Desmond Llewelyn played MI6 head of research and development Q opposite every Bond actor from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan. Actors playing recurring characters M and Moneypenny have also carried over from one Bond actor to another. In this way, all of the previous Bond films offered some semblance of continuity and forward momentum.
Casino Royale is at once an adaptation, a remake, a reboot, a sequel, and a prequel.
Casino Royale interrupted that. Or at least, it complicated it. Craig’s newly-minted Bond works alongside Judy Dench’s M, suggesting it’s a sequel to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films, where Dench was first introduced. But with his Bond receiving his Double O status, we’re also in prequel territory.
So, the 2006 Casino Royale occupies a unique position as simultaneously an adaptation, a remake, a reboot, a sequel, and a prequel.
Back to basics
Picking and choosing what to keep from Bond’s history allows Casino Royale to be a bold and fresh reinvention of the franchise.
The back-to-basics approach lets the filmmakers strip Bond down to reveal who he is at his core. And, importantly, what a Bond film is (or can be) at its core.
That does mean losing some arguably key elements. We get few fancy gadgets, no Q, and no Moneypenny in this Bond. That may seem sacrilegious, but it’s worth noting that Bond’s first onscreen appearance in 1962’s Dr. No similarly featured none of these.
This Bond is stripped down to his very core as a character.
Instead, we get a stripped-down story, a huge amount of which takes place at a card table, while still managing to be riveting. But don’t worry, we still get some sassy one-liners from 007 and a delightfully larger-than-life villain in Le Chiffre, who cries blood when he’s stressed. We also get some of the most electrifying sexual tension and chemistry of any Bond film by way of the flirtation between Bond and Vesper Lynd, played to perfection by Eva Green.
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As the first new Bond following the massive success of the spoof franchise Austin Powers, Craig certainly needed to stand out and gave the series a sense of serious gravitas, so doing away with some of the more commonly lampooned tropes made sense. It allowed Casino Royale to focus on Bond’s darker, grittier side. We see him grapple with how easy it is for him to take lives but also dealing with his responsibility to those he uses in his work. Craig does a terrific job of showing some vulnerability, such as when Bond realizes a woman he slept with is dead because of him.
It was a bit frustrating to see this reinvention thrown away a few years later in the more overtly conservative Skyfall.
Where can you watch Casino Royale?
As it’s been 15 years, Casino Royale is easy enough to find at reasonable prices.
If you’re an Amazon Prime Video subscriber, you can simply stream it there as it’s included with your subscription.
Do yourself a favor, and watch it however you can.