Taking over a franchise is never easy for an actor. They’re usually asked to either take on roles that other performers have already played, or to portray their predecessors’ in-universe replacements. While plenty of actors have managed to nail these transitions, there have also been no shortage of instances when such reboots fall infamously flat.
It’s for that reason that Casino Royale remains so impressive. Not only did the movie serve as the perfect introduction to Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond, but it also managed to breathe new life into a franchise that many viewers had lost interest in. 16 years later, with Craig’s run as Bond at an end, Casino Royale remains a stunningly well-realized espionage thriller that efficiently blends deeply felt character beats with awe-inspiring action sequences.
The Martin Campbell-directed film is about to leave Netflix, and you need to catch it first.
Based on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale reveals the origins of Daniel Craig’s complicated British spy. The film’s grainy, black-and-white opening minutes depict the two encounters that resulted in Bond earning his “00” status, while the main, poker-centric plotline gives Craig the chance to slip into the dignified, charming persona that has become an integral part of the Bond character.
Casino Royale also brings Craig’s Bond face-to-face with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the clever and passionate woman destined to haunt all his future romantic pursuits. Together, Green and Craig have better chemistry than any other Bond pairing in history, which makes Vesper’s eventual fate (and Bond’s reaction to it) hit that much harder. While the film’s central villain, Le Chiffre, isn’t quite as imposing as more memorable Bond antagonists, Mads Mikkelsen manages to bring a lot of sinister charm to the character.
Le Chiffre and Bond’s final scene together, in which the villain uses a knotted piece of rope to torture the hero, ranks as one of the most uncomfortable, viscerally affecting scenes in the franchise. The same can be said for many of Casino Royale’s best moments; whether we’re witnessing Le Chiffre’s inventive cruelty or the connection that Vesper and Bond share, Casino Royale is brimming with an extra level of tension and invention.
After helming Pierce Brosnan’s best Bond film (1995’s GoldenEye), Martin Campbell managed to one-up himself a decade later. Behind the camera, Campbell brings the kind of reliable, rugged craftsmanship that’s become increasingly hard to find in Hollywood’s contemporary blockbuster scene. Campbell never draws too much attention to his visual style, allowing Casino Royale’s action sequences to shine solely on their own merits.
That’s especially true of the thrillingly well-constructed opening parkour chase, which is punctuated by so many memorable character beats that it tells viewers everything they need to know about Craig’s Bond. The moment when he chooses to avoid a complicated parkour movement by simply charging straight through the door his target dodged perfectly establishes the rough, straight-to-the-point brutality that would define much of Craig’s run as the character.
That kind of clever character insight is present throughout all of Casino Royale. As franchise reboots go, it managed to check all of the necessary boxes with so much flair that it’s easy to see why some viewers felt compelled to call Craig the best Bond. Not only did his debut deliver all the practical stunt sequences that Bond fans expected from the franchise, but it did so while delivering the series’ most emotionally complex and affecting adventure. If the next era of Bond is to succeed, it needs to study the lessons that Craig’s debut offers.
Casino Royale is streaming on Netflix until Saturday, December 31.