Bond is back in blond

Few characters are as iconic as James Bond. Since 1962’s Dr. No, 007 has steadily been one of Hollywood’s most profitable characters. With its signature blend of over-the-top action, tongue-in-cheek humor and espionage intrigue, the Bond series has continued to rely on audience familiarity for box office success.

However, after the disappointing response to 2002’s Die Another Day, the series’ producers sought to reinvent the franchise, lest it lose the drawing power it remarkably maintained for decades.

The most obvious way to accomplish this was to once again recast the leading role, potentially drawing in new viewers who had become disenfranchised. So, eschewing 52-year-old Pierce Brosnan, rising star Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Munich) was selected to be the sixth actor to play James Bond.

Based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, Casino Royale follows Bond on his first mission after earning the illustrious “Double-0” status. Teaming up with the sexy Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), 007 must defeat an asthmatic villain named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a casino tournament to prevent its winnings from funding a criminal organization.

Along the way, audiences can expect many of Bond’s trademarks, including elaborate action sequences, beautiful women and plot twists galore.

Although Royale stays unrelentingly true to the series’ most famous elements, it also manages to transcend them – even offering a hint of emotional insight into 007 himself.

Director Martin Campbell, who also helmed Brosnan’s Bond debut in 1995’s GoldenEye, seems particularly well equipped to refresh the series. He wisely imbues Royale with a greater sense of realism, steering clear of the absurdity of some Bond films and depicting James Bond more as a genuine flesh-and-blood man rather than an invincible super-spy.

For this, however, the true credit belongs to Craig, who embodies the spirit of 007 and still manages to make the character his own. Although Craig maintains Bond’s allure and dexterity, his portrayal gives audiences a glimpse into his conflicted soul. While his particular line of work requires a certain level of detachment, Bond continues to struggle to retain his humanity, especially in regard to his burgeoning relationship with Lynd.

While Royale may not break any new ground, it effectively breathes new life into James Bond, re-energizing the series for Craig’s upcoming tenure. Much like last year’s Batman Begins, the film explores its lead character’s origin and, in the process, rejuvenates interest in his subsequent adventures.

The film certainly could have strayed a bit more from the traditional Bond formula, but Casino Royale is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. With any luck, the series will continue to raise the stakes and follow through on the promise exhibited in this latest entry in Bond’s never-ending canon of adventures.

After 44 years, the James Bond films show no sign of disappearing, and for the first time in a long time, the series has managed to hide its age.