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</script></div>{/googleAds}Let me start off by saying that I have never (and I mean never) been a fan of the pop culture phenomenon known as â"James Bond." In fact, the mere sound of someone regurgitating â"shaken, not stirred" when ordering a martini makes me cringe with embarrassment. Now, before the franchise-faithful call for my lynching, I have given Mr. Bond a chance - suffering through the cat-stroking villains, ridiculous gadgetry, invisible vehicles and spy adventures so magnanimous that they extend beyond this galaxy - and still, the egotistical-playboy-assassin who bedded anything with a pulse and stopped world annihilation without wrinkling his finely tailored suit, did nothing for me. Not George Lazenby. Not Roger Moore. Not modern Bondsmen Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan. Not even Sean Connery (oh, the blasphemy)! But then, I met Craig. Daniel Craig.

The sixth man to look down cinema's most famous gun barrel, Daniel Craig (Munich, Infamous) was a marked man before ever reaching â"OO" status. Bond fans and media outlets around the globe openly questioned the decision to cast a rugged (and questionably shorter), blonde-haired, blue-eyed actor as MI6's most beloved and deadly agent, fearing that the fifty-plus year franchise-favorite was headed for box-office assassination. Undoubtedly, it looked as if the new James Bond was taking on his most dangerous mission before ever donning the tux: a clean slate.

But viewers of the latest Bond flick will quickly agree that both the casting of a modern and younger Bond, as well as the decision to set the plot clock at zero, makes perfect sense. Based on Ian Fleming's first novel of the same name, Casino Royale introduces us to James Bond, pre-license to kill. Before there were high-tech gizmos, Q, Moneypenny, an Aston Martin or a signature drink, there was a dangerous, â"blunt instrument" of a man whose overinflated ego and inexperience as a secret agent had him jeopardizing (and questioning) his career, before it had even begun. Call it the birth of Bond.

Teasing with a gritty, black and white opening reminiscent of Bonds-passed, we watch how Bond callously performs the two professional hits that will promote him to 007 status with the British Secret Service. One is a quick, clean kill done in suave Bond-style; the other, however, is a rather brutal and prolonged beating. Uncharacteristically bloodied, breathless and disheveled, it is apparent that this no-nonsense Bond has just upped the franchise-ante.

Bleeding into color, Bond is immediately sent on his first mission to Madagascar, where he pursues bomb-maker Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan, co-founder of the pulse-pumping urban sport known as Parcour or â"free-running") in an effort to uncover the financial core of an international terrorist network. In one of the most heart-pounding and vertiginous foot chases ever choreographed for film, Bond and Mollaka find themselves scrapping on a construction beam, suspended 200-feet over the concrete below. Soaring building to building, Bond follows his prey into to the Nambutu embassy where his assassination of Mollaka, destruction of the embassy and flagrant violation of international law are not only captured on camera but immediately plastered throughout the on and off-line media. Welcome to the 21st century, Bond.

Needless to say, â"M" (Judi Dench) is not happy with Bond's overzealous trigger finger. Fearing that she promoted him too early, â"M" charges that Bond go stick his â"head in the sand" for awhile. His sand of choice? Nassau, Bahamas in order to hunt Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a wizard-financier with a terrorist clientele, a penchant for stocks & poker, and in Bond-villain fashion, sports a scarred eye that weeps blood. After losing $101 million in terrorist-funds, Le Chiffre attempts to recoup his client's money (and in turn, save his own life) by organizing a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale. Under the sexy supervision of Treasury Official Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Bond buys into the game and is dealt an action-packed hand of torture, murder, betrayal, love and self-exploration that will not only shape the assassin, but the man, known as James Bond.

Finally, Albert R. Broccoli's EON Productions brings us the intelligent Bond script we have been longing for; one which strips 007 of his soulless facade and dares to define the man behind the ego. Never giving way to camp (when a bartender asks an angered Bond whether he wants his martini shaken or stirred, Bond snaps â"Do I look like I give a damn?"), veteran Bond-screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Paul Haggis (of Crash and Million Dollar Baby fame) have successfully introduced the 1953 novel to a post-9/11 world, fusing together a believable, high-voltage, modern-day terrorist action series with a dash of classic Bond smirk and sex appeal. Although it delves, without apology, into the sadistic side of Mr. Bond, it also refreshingly gives James depth, evoking human qualities rarely seen on the Bond-screen (including James' use of the â"L" word). For example, when Vesper witnesses, and accidentally becomes an accessory to, one of James' assassinations, she lies in the shower suffering an emotional breakdown. Rather than disrobe and prey on her vulnerability, James surprisingly (and lovingly) attempts to heal a pureness never intended to be tainted by his deadly deeds. Undoubtedly, it becomes a defining moment for each of the characters involved and reveals a never before seen side of the usually hardhearted agent.

However, do not mistake kindness for weakness, for Craig surely provides a dynamic performance of ass-kicking proportions. Be it thwarting terrorist attacks on American soil or laughing in the face of testicular torture, the new and improved James Bond is NO JOKE. He is chiseled, charismatic, sexy, and has single-handedly breathed new and explosive life into the world famous franchise. Armed with sheer adrenaline, Craig is, without question, the best Bond to date.

Not to mention, he is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. Craig's Bond is both scolded and mothered by Dench's refreshing reprisal of â"M" (Bond purists know that this role is out-of-sequence, but will agree that she is oh-so necessary as the authoritative female who knocks Bond's overinflated male-ego down with a verbal upper-cut) and is introduced to his American CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Likewise, while Green may not be considered the quintessential Bond-girl, she will undoubtedly be regarded as the one meaningful pursuit in a future series of disposable pleasures. Intelligent, beautiful and sharp-tongued, Green's Vesper not only literally and figuratively restarts Bond's heart, but leaves a permanent scar upon it - one that will forever shape his career and ability to trust. (Speaking of Bond Girls, look for Craig to pay homage to early Bond flick, Dr. No, by emerging from the water reminiscent of Ursula Andress.)

Running two hours and twenty-four minutes, Casino Royale has been mildly criticized for overplaying its hand - particularly in Montenegro. While the necessity of some scenes is dependent upon individual taste, do not mistake the poker scenes as non-combative time-fillers. Not only are they edge-of-your-seat entertaining and crucial to the core of the franchise (dealing humorous insight into how the famed Aston Martin replaced Bond's less than chic Ford [gasp!], how his signature martini was birthed and why Bond's dinner jacket was tailored) but provide the opportunity for some deliciously-orchestrated kills during dealer-intermissions. More importantly, however, they proffer intense mental battles with a villain whose weapon of choice, is numbers.

The short of it is, Bond is back and this time, he lives up to the hype. In fact, director Martin Campbell's (GoldenEye) back-to-basics prequel reinvigorates the franchise with nonstop, blood-pumping action, a smart script and the most convincing, charismatic, multidimensional assassin, to date. Young, raw, brandishing a super-sized ego and employing the greatest gadgets in Bond's possession - his brains and brawn - you can bet the house that Casino Royale will not only recruit a new generation of Bond fans hungry for high-paced action and high-priced special effects, but ignite a newfound desire for more of MI6's most dangerous agent from the ever loyal Bond-brethren worldwide. Regardless of within which of those categories you fall, one thing is for sure - when Craig finally comes into his own and commandingly introduces himself with that long-awaited iconic catchphrase, â"Bond, James Bond," you cannot help but think to yourself, â"finally, a Bond who's earned it."


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1:1

Subtitles: English; French; Spanish

Language and Sound: Closed Captioned; English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.

* Featurette
o Becoming Bond (00:25:00)
o James Bond: For Real (00:23:00)
o Bond Girls are Forever (00:50:00)
* Music Video - You Know My Name
* Trailers

Number of discs: - 2- Two-Disc Special Edition)