Casino Royale (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” consists of only three major action sequences and the rest is a high-stakes poker game. Yet it remains to be one of the most entertaining James Bond pictures—certainly the most emotionally complex because it humanizes our hero. One of the reasons is its confidence and skill and slowing down overt elements, at times to the point of minimization, that typically define a 007 movie.
It is willing to regale us with words—not just fun, cheeky repartees but actual conversations between highly intelligent and insightful characters, specifically between Bond (Daniel Craig), a newly minted 00 agent for the British MI6, and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an agent assigned to finance our protagonist during the titular poker game in Montenegro. At times listening to their dialogue is like being tickled with a feather. There is electric chemistry and a sensuality that emanates from the two. They can simply sit across a table while trading knowing looks and the silent exchange makes us smile. The longer this goes on, the more is revealed between James and Vesper while keeping us mindful of the stakes—why it is paramount that Bond must succeed in preventing a terrorist fancier named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning over a hundred million dollars. The screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis is alive and so we are receptive to every minute plot and character development.
Most sign up for a Bond picture due to the promise of impressive action pieces. It is without question the film delivers. The first big action scene takes place in Madagascar. It requires Bond to chase a bomb maker who is not only fast but also incredibly athletic. Just when you think the man is cornered, he finds a way to slither through the cracks. And so we observe Bond’s resourcefulness in trying to make up the distance. A surprise is thrown onto our laps every ten seconds. Comic moments are thrown in there for good measure. It becomes so ludicrous that Bond and the person of interest are climbing and jumping off cranes like spiders. The level of energy builds and builds until no longer tenable. Fight choreography grows more complex. But also notice the beauty of these sequences, especially when at high elevations. A person with acrophobia is likely to experience a gut reaction.
This is only one action scene. There are two others that are equally terrific to sit through. But they are entertaining in different ways. Notice, too, the type of chases do not repeat. And the immediate stakes are always different. Even these adrenaline-fueled scenes tend to reveal something new about our main character. This is the strength of “Casino Royale.” We are seemingly presented one thing, but so many gears are working together that the experience is informative and enthralling. The punchline is never having to shoot a gun. It is about the mission; success or failure is a given and so repercussions are treated with real gusto.
It would be remiss of me not to compliment the wonderful performances. Craig possesses a knack for being cold-hearted one minute and the next there is a vulnerability to him that you wish to get to know. That’s critical because I believe that is one of the traits that made Vesper curious about the assassin. Green, too, is exquisite. Every line uttered is like silk caressing the eardrums. There is a knowing in those eyes that makes you want to lean in and study her. And speaking of eyes, Mikkelsen imbues an enigma to a villain with a simple goal: survival. When sitting at that poker table, we feel that desperation to win. Because if he loses, he dies—fitting for someone who brazenly uses his clients’ money to gamble with stocks.
The Foreigner (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
12 dead, 38 injured from a clothing store bombing in London claimed by a group called “Authentic IRA.” Minh, a restaurant owner, played with a permanently dour expression by Jackie Chan, demands to learn the identities of those responsible after his teenage daughter perished in the terrorist attack. His target: Northern Island First Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former IRA leader who works with the British to maintain peace between the two countries. Martin Campbell’s action-thriller “The Foreigner” is not a straightforward action picture with revenge at its core. As can be expected from a Chan flick, there are jaw dropping stunts and energetic violence. Surprisingly, however, our protagonist’s methods can be downright questionable at times, particularly when he sets off bombs to try to get what he wants. Even the minister’s loyalty is obfuscated, a politician who holds his cards close to his chest while at work and at home. There is intrigue, even if it is the superficial variety, because David Marconi’s screenplay ensures that the audience has an appreciation of each key player’s motivation. It moves at a brisk pace and never wears out its welcome.
Green Lantern (2011)
★ / ★★★★
When Hal was young, he witnessed the death of his father due to an aviation accident. Almost twenty years later, we came to discover that Hal (Ryan Reynolds) followed his father’s footsteps and became a successful test pilot. Meanwhile, two entities had been in war for a millennia: a group of warriors known as Green Lantern Corps, powered by will, and Parallax, powered by fear. The latter was quickly gaining the upper hand by literally eating the souls of its enemies. When one of the leaders of the corps, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), made an emergency landing on Earth after being attacked by the evil Parallax, he managed to pass his powers onto unsuspecting Hal. “Green Lantern,” directed by Martin Campbell, was sloppily put together. A myriad strands were introduced but not one achieved an above average level of thought nor a minutiae of common sense, so the film ultimately felt flat. Let’s take the romance between Hal and Carol (Blake Lively) as an example. Supposedly, the two of them had known each other for more than half their lives. I found that very hard to believe. While the two obviously cared for each other, perhaps even on a romantic level, I found it frustrating that they didn’t know how to communicate as adults and as close friends. If you’ve been friends with someone for a very long time, that certain connection, which often defies explanation, should be palpable to a third party. But I never felt that special connection when Hal and Carol were on screen. In fact, the whole thing felt forced. There were a lot of puppy dog eyes and polite smiles, like I was watching some teenage soap opera where characters pretend to be dumb yet they have the nerve to complain about the fact that no one is getting what they want. The screenplay, by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, came off as rather desperate in injecting a human element into the story. I actually would have enjoyed the movie more if Hal and Carol were given the time to sit and talk about their feelings for up to three key scenes and defined their relationship once and for all. Then focus on the action, without the hammy and frivolous will-he-or-won’t-she interruptions, because 1) I wanted to see the war between good and evil and 2) watch things blow up in the city. The decision to put petty romances between action sequences made the project disjointed. As a result, the momentum failed to build and I ended up not caring. Another one of Hal and Carol’s childhood friend was Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a formerly corpulent boy who preferred to stay indoors and read books rather than to play outside. Eventually, Hector became an agent of evil after being infected by an alien life form. But why was his transformation necessary? Since the writers offered no answer to that question, it was pretty much implied that brainiacs were less than so they deserved to be punished. That wouldn’t have been the case if we had a chance to observe Hector being black-hearted as a child in the first place. “Green Lantern” need not have been too serious nor abound with grand special effects to qualify as a decent superhero movie. It just needed to tell its story with clarity.
Edge of Darkness (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mel Gibson stars as a homicide detective and a father of a girl (Bojana Novakovic) who was gruesomely killed by two men the night she visited him. The deeper Gibson’s character got into the investigation of his daughter’s death, the more he realized that maybe he was up against something way bigger than himself. However, that didn’t stop him from trying to do what was right even if he had to commit a few wrongs. Even though the film was very serious (sometimes too serious), I couldn’t help but enjoy it because it was such a joy to watch Gibson deliver such intensity into his character. It was kind of like watching Liam Neeson in the sleeper hit “Taken.” Every pause, every sharp breath and every shifting of the eyes communicated something to the audiences so it was fun trying to figure out what the main character was really thinking or what he was about to do in each scene. I completely believed that he was a father who wanted both justice and vengeance; I didn’t agree with some of his methods but I rooted for him because he exuded confidence and intelligence without sacrificing his heart. However, if I were to point at the movie’s major weakness, as the body count started piling up, the picture became more convoluted. Elements of politics and business were introduced but it didn’t quite hold up for me. By the end of the movie, some of my questions were left unanswered such as the further involvement (or lack thereof) of a rival company that Gibson’s daughter worked for and the real identity of a mysterious figure named Jedburgh (Ray Winstone). Winstone matched Gibson’s intensity in some scenes but I wanted to know more about him and his motivations. Since I didn’t know more about that particular key character, certain developments toward the end made me not buy what had just happened and I was left confused and a bit cheated. (Perhaps his character was further explained in the mini-series.) I’ve read reviews that said “Edge of Darkness” was an old-fashioned thriller. That’s exactly what I liked about the movie. “Edge of Darkness,” directed by Martin Campbell, is an effective thriller-mystery about corruption and revenge. The lead character may not be a typical hero that we can easily root for but we instinctively identify with him in his journey to finding out or getting as close as he can to the truth.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of the strongest Bond entries because it hints at the beginning of a more serious Bond mixed with more intricate action sequences. There’s a certain sinister tone, especially in the first half where most of the espionage scenes can be found, which made me more interested in what was going on and what is eventually going to happen. This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 and he is more than welcome to walk in the shoes of a beloved character because I believe he is as dangerous and charismatic Sean Connery. Even though he may appeal more to the modern fans of the Bond franchise, he has that classic fun factor that older fans can definitely appreciate. Brosnan is able to deliver the classic one-liners with a certain serious but undeniablly fun swagger. As for the supporting cast, I think the group is one of the most memorable: Sean Bean as Agent 006 proves to be 007’s match physically and mentally, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova is the smart and beautiful Bond girl, Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is the femme fatale who specializes in squeezing people to death, and Judi Dench as the cold but lovable M. The story of “GoldenEye” may be a bit unbelievable at times (especially back in 1995 during the first’s release) but it’s more relevant today because of technology’s exponential advancements. All logic and credibility aside, the action sequences are mind-blowing (the tank scene alone is reason enough to watch), the style is slick, and it’s fast-paced. Directed by Martin Campbell who will direct “Casino Royale” about ten years in the future, “GoldenEye” is a must-see for all Bond fanatics and spy film enthusiasts. (And did I mention that I believe this has one of the best opening squences in Bond history? So much was accomplished during the first five minutes, followed by an astonishing opening credits with Tina Turner.)