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Along with Brutal Bond, Casino Royale offers Hyper Bond, a character more muscular and kinetic than before. So is the movie. It's not easy to freshen up the elaborate action sequences that the franchise more or less invented and that have been imitated in hundreds of movies. But Casino Royale succeeds by taking a modern form of physical activity--parkour, the urban steeplechase in which participants run up stairwells, jump across roofs and slip through transoms that was showcased to exhilarating effect in the French film District B13--and applying it to Bond's pursuit of a bad guy (parkour star Sébastien Foucan) on the high beams of a construction project. Marvelous!
Unfortunately, Casino Royale has to stick to the Fleming plot; it must also be Basic Bond. (The movie is so personality-split that 007 could refer to the number of the hero's warring personalities.) In this case, that demands not just the sneering villain (Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, banker to the terrorist élite) and the tempting females, one blond (Ivana Milicevic) and one brunet (the criminally alluring Eva Green). It means that the focus of the plot must be ... a card game! We grant that high-stakes poker has its tension, especially if it's your hand and your multimillion-dollar stake. But dramatically there's something lacking in a movie climax that needs the hero to be holding higher cards than the villain. Luck is not fate.
But love is. And at last, toward the end of its nearly 21/2 -hr. running time, the film arrives at its final Bond: the secret agent with a vulnerable heart. Bond has one, which he wants to give to his ally in the Le Chiffre charade, Green's sympathetic Vesper Lynd. It's a nice try, throwing romance into the stew, but after all its expert exertions, Casino Royale can't rev up the melancholy mood. Which is appropriate, for this is a Bond with great body but no soul.