I just saw Casino Royale, the new James Bond movie. I’m a longtime fan who hasn’t seen a James Bond movie in a decade. As a teenager, I ventured out of my suburban enclave to see Thunderball in downtown Washington, DC. And I was very impressed. I watched it twice through in one sitting, and thereafter recited every patented Bond quip at both appropriate and inappropriate moments. But what I did not talk about, because one did not talk about such things back then, was Sean Connery’s alpha male sexuality. I didn’t like how his James Bond treated women, even the sluttish women he encountered. But as a female, I recognized and responded on a visceral level to his dark, commanding maleness.
Thereafter I had a love/hate relationship with Bond movies featuring Sean Connery. I did not ignore them, precisely, but I was leery of them. Roger Moore’s James Bond wasn’t the same problem. He went for an urbane and superficial Bond. So it was easy for me to enjoy the action and ignore the rest, what little there was of it. None of those movies engaged me emotionally. I admit that I am a Pierce Brosnan fan but never went near his version. (I always think of him as Remington Steele, anyway, the Steele of the first year of that series who is an actor/con man playing a role, not the man in charge he later became.)
So I don’t know why I decided to see Casino Royale. Probably it was the preview shot of actor Daniel Craig, who plays Bond, in those tight swim trunks. In previous Bond movies, bikini-clad women rose from the surf like goddesses, notably Ursula Andress and Halle Berry. In this one, James Bond himself comes out of the water, his physique looking quite godlike to my admiring eyes.
Maybe it was sheer lust that led me to this movie—lust, and a liking for movies in which numerous bad guys get shot and things get blown up. I like action movies. They remind me of the 17th century English revenge tragedies I studied in college. And the body counts are about the same, too. The action movie that launched Clint Eastwood to a new level of stardom, Dirty Harry, had lots of dead people. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a revenge tragedy, too, and also has a large body count. But I digress.
So, I went to see this new James Bond expecting a hot male body and some people getting shot, stabbed, punched, and blown up, in no particular order. And I got all of that, plus top-speed running, jumping, car screeching, and drop-dead shooting. And fabulous locales beautifully photographed, underlining the wealth and power of the people involved in international terrorism and in high-stakes poker games. Very glamorous.
But what I did not expect was a sensitive love story in which James Bond falls for a seemingly sincere and somewhat hostile young professional woman. Eva Green’s character, Vesper, jousts with Bond, trying to take him down a peg, even while she’s obviously fascinated with him. That one could expect, and one could also expect that he would take advantage of her eventual softening or of her inevitable vulnerability and get her into bed. But instead, he comforts her when she’s freaked out over the violence. And he doesn’t put the moves on her. Later, after they’ve been through the usual capture and torture by the fiendish bad guy, and are recovering, Vesper declares her love. And then he lays his heart and his future at her feet. He declares his love, too. They become lovers. He resigns, so they can have a life together. And this James Bond does it with no irony intended. He holds nothing back. He is not expecting Vesper’s betrayal.
Sadly, I was. I’ve seen a lot of these movies, read a lot of these books. We see James being tortured, and only hear Vesper supposedly being raped in another room. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But she’s sure sexually confident when she tells James, during his recovery, that she is his. One would expect a little more hesitation from a woman who just got—at the very least—brutalized by some man. She acts as if nothing happened to her. And to me that shouted betrayal.
So, I was ready for the big doublecross, as James Bond was not. My heart broke for him as he kept opening himself more and more to Vesper. As he began to relax into being a playful, normal guy instead of a cold killer. I knew that what she was doing to him could wound him to the core. It could turn him into a coldhearted user. It could make it impossible for him to love again. In fact, it could turn him into something like Sean Connery’s James Bond.
As the story concludes, this Bond is all poised for that, even bitterly denigrating his dead love as a bitch. But his supervisor points out some clues to Vesper’s wish that it could have been otherwise. And so the movie ends with this James Bond having loved and lost, but knowing who the real villains are. It’s a remarkable movie. This is an exceptional vision of James Bond. I don’t expect a sequel to be anything but disappointing, but I treasure how deeply this story probes into the heart of a heroic man.