Has James Bond lost his sense of humour?

There were jokes in Casino Royale? I must have missed them. We all remember "Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead" and some of the classic one-liners. "Thought you might" or Daniel Craig gurning after the chocolate comment is hardly likely to go down in the pantheon of great James Bond quotes and witty moments. He just isn't very funny. Like Timothy Dalton he struggles to be upbeat or cheeky when the situation calls for it. No, Bond is not supposed to be a comedian but a playful sense of humour is a trait of the literary character. Three of the cinematic Bonds knew their way around a quip and could make you laugh with a facial expression and the other three were no threat to Groucho Marx. I'll leave you to guess who is in each camp.

It doesn't concern me if they make a fantastical film or a more down to Earth one. Some Bond films are sillier than others, some attempt to be less flippant. However, I absolutely hated the pretentious cobblers that surrounded Casino Royale. The "these are serious times so..." speech. Please. Just make a sodding James Bond film. And calling Craig the best actor to ever play Bond. That's a subjective statement that can be debated but it is also disrespectful to the other actors and the series. Campbell even said the other Bonds would agree with that. They would? Why doesn't he phone Sean Connery up and ask him for a quote. And Die Another Day. They act as if they didn't make that film. Who did then? Pixies? Little elves from the garden? I thought Die Another Day was reasonably entertaining as an OTT fantastical Bond film. It has too many flaws to mention though. Casino Royale is also far from flawless and suffers from being somewhat po-faced.
When Casino Royale was released some James Bond forums were talking about the film ruining the series because it made the rest of the films look bad. I don't get that at all. I watched Casino Royale and it didn't even seem like a James Bond film let alone ruin the series.

After faffing about for a couple of years with no sense of direction and craftily allowing Pierce Brosnan to enter his fifties so he would be easier to sack, Eon announced the next Bond film would be Casino Royale. While I liked Pierce Brosnan and felt he deserved a fifth picture I was looking forward to a new James Bond. Not all James Bond fans who struggle with Daniel Craig are Pierce Brosnan fanatics who wanted him and his invisible car back until he needed an invisible stairlift. I was excited too because as any Bond fan knows Casino Royale is the last piece in the jigsaw so to speak, the Fleming book that started it all and slipped through their grasp. Soon after this was announced word filtered out that this was a Bond Begins or prequel or Bond reset or whatever you want to call it. Batman Begins and Jason Bourne seemed to have a big influence on this but then Bond did invent the action genre and has pilfered or borrowed from other fads over the decades. Anyway, a young James Bond actor was promised. He would be 28 according to Paul Haggis and Martin Campbell and we would see how Bond became Bond.

Roll on to November 2006 and I sit in my local cinema and watch Casino Royale. Bond turned out to be 38 not 28 and I'm  was none the wiser regarding how 'Bond became Bond' after the film. I leave the cinema in no doubt whatsoever that it is my least favourite film in the series. This coming from someone who owns all the previous films and has seen each one about 500 million times. Daniel Craig is a very good actor (who I enjoyed in other productions) and there is nothing that wrong with his performance but he just doesn't fit this role. The qualities he brings to the part include: teeth-clenching, staring off into space, lip wobbling, grunting, stoic facial expressions and looking serious. He ruined the torture scene with his overwrought theatrics and failed to make me laugh once. The latest Bond is sorely lacking in this dept and humour is an important part of Bond. There is no corking laugh out loud Bond moment that you remember in Casino Royale. The valet scene was the best attempt. I didn't think there was anything wrong with the scene as written or the way it was played but I had a sense that this was a joke written for a young whippersnapper Bond. With Craig it seemed slightly jarring. But anyway, this was a nicely written scene if you didn't feel that way. One of the younger candidates in the leading role would have helped though. The one thing I don't understand about the Cavills, O'Lachlans etc is that if they were too young to be Bond --- and this has been more or less said by Eon themselves after reviewing the tests, why were they all testing with the much older Daniel Craig? Why not test Craig alongside actors of his own age?

Less of the leaden 'if only my little finger was left' style lines would have been fine by me. Casino Royale had a schizophrenic quality. The film was essentially trying to burn the candle at both ends. It didn't work for me as a popcorn experience or as a more 'worthy' Bond entry. It just fell somewhere inbetween the two and sank. As the film dragged on I found myself not caring about Vesper or the continuation revenge storyline that promises to surface in the next film. Worst of all I didn't care about 'Bond', who was a surly, charmless, sociopath and not an especially charismatic or interesting person to spend a couple of hours with. My theory is that someone decided the cinematic Bond was getting a bit old-fashioned and twee and simply decided to make him into a new character not unlike Jason Bourne. Personally, I like the traditional suave, handsome, witty Bond and I prefer him to actually be in a James Bond film when I go to see it! In its own way Casino Royale was as daft as any Bond film, but to insert scenes that could have come from a low-budget British film where Daniel Craig plays an alcoholic chef with rabies gulping whiskey in front of a mirror does smack of wanting to have your cake and eat it. Yes, the Bond of the books would do that but why is this incarnation of Bond so shaken by killing a couple of baddies when he's already killed dozens more people earlier in the film with no remorse or shaky introspection? The film just isn't very consistent.

I get that this is Bond 2.1. I've no problem with a fresh slant on James Bond and (unlike others) I can survive continuity issues. But for me CR was a Bond film without James Bond in it. The last scene fell flat for me because I sort of thought of Craig as 009 or something and not James Bond.
I hope they make a Craig trilogy fairly quickly and then bring the staples back eventually with a new actor. Casino Royale was certainly brave and striving for something, and while I admit it was time sooner or later to try something new, I didn't care for the final result and, crucially, the actor they picked. It has been suggested that CR is a Bond film for people who don't like James Bond films. I think there is something in that argument. There are also claims that CR represents a strict adherence to Ian Fleming rather than the Bond series of films and therefore appeals more to the 'die-hard' Fleming fans. I like the books as much as anyone but Fleming's visual descriptions of James Bond, (tall, dark, lean, comma of black-hair, movie star handsome) with the best will in the world don't fit Daniel Craig. I have no idea why people throw this 'Craig is Fleming's Bond' thing around so casually. He doesn't even look like him! Fleming's Bond is a bit of a snob, obsessed with food, at home in exclusive clubs. He went to Eton. Daniel Craig does not convey this background. One could even say that his Bond is more blue-collar than anything.

I do know that most of the Bond films have some good jokes and laugh out loud moments. Casino Royale didn't. Perhaps it was deliberate. Maybe I don't take the series as seriously as some people but for me they've sucked a lot of the fun out of James Bond. I don't expect a James Bond film to be like watching 'Duck Soup' but the humour, charm, one-liners, staples and fun are the principle reason why I've watched the films countless times from a young age. The staples and style are what made him unique amongst the action crowd. Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice are excellent respected entries in the series that tick these boxes. Even On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Casino Royale was a surprisingly dreary experience for me after the hysterical advance reviews. I like Oscar Wilde, Joseph Heller, the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen when I'm in need of a chuckle. I don't think think I'll be adding Purvis and Wade or Paul Haggis to that list just yet.   
- James Carpenter

c 2006 Alternative 007