All hail Daniel Craig. The new James Bond not only looks but acts like a hood, as by rights he should, since from the opening moment of "Casino Royale" he kills without compunction. Yes, he falls in love (with the stunning Vesper Lynd, as played by Eva Green), though we know it will end badly; yes, he even turns in his license to kill at one point; but we also know going in that the owners of the Bond franchise will never let him mature into a husband who works weekends in the yard.
The film begins with a 10-minute chase so over-the-top that the most inventive video game pales by comparison. We are in an African port city, and Bond is after, well, someone. Up building scaffolds, across the length of construction crane arms, leaping fifty feet to another one, then another, till we, if not Bond, are exhausted. But it makes its point: This Bond can do anything he wants, whenever he wants to do it.
The plot quickly devolves, however, into MI6's search for the man who bankrolls terrorist organizations, with MI6 led by Judi Dench, now promoted to playing M; that is, according to the game plan of all Bond movies, we already know WHO he is (he is Le Chiffre, as played by the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), we just have to wait two hours to find a climactic point at which all plot lines will come together. In the course of those two hours, much of the time will be taken up with a Texas Hold'em game at a casino in a Montenegro of the mind (actually Karlovy Vary) for $100 million, with Bond and Le Chiffre trying to outbluff each other; the rest will be spent on the blossoming love between Bond and Vesper.
Though "Casino Royale" has all the tropes of Bond films, i.e., at the three-quarter point of the film he is captured and tortured, there are always more of the villain's goons to be killed, love scenes must be set on a tropical beach or beachfront villa, there is no hotel in the world with fewer than five stars, and those we regard as our friends turn out to be, well, not quite what we wished, the film survives them just fine. In fact, the film turns on the persona of Craig as Bond, and because he is mean, tough, and pretty much without the kind of assurance and wit that oozed out of Sean Connery, we get a very different kind of movie. And after the oversophisticated charm of Pierce Brosnan's turn in the role, this is a refreshing change.
Director Martin Campbell has made his career in action films; some worked ("The Mask of Zorro"), some didn't ("The Legend of Zorro," "Beyond Borders"), though he has always known how to frame and shoot the action. Here he shows that he can work in even intimate scenes as well, and other than the astoundingly bloated opening chase sequence he does very well. The script, which got some help from Paul Haggis ("Flags of our Fathers," "Million Dollar Baby," "Crash"), is expertly crafted to carry us from place to place. All in all, this "Casino Royale" is a very successful return to the original concept of the Bond films, with the additional frisson of a powerful new lead.