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24 Nov 2006

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig isn't just the new James Bond. The 38-year-old Englishman comes across in Casino Royale as a sex object, strangely strong and vulnerable, a mix of blond twink and hunky daddy - perhaps just be fabulous enough to qualify as a Bond Girl.

Director: Martin Campbell

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Wright

The best part of a James Bond movie was always the babes. Strong, sexy and clever, the Bond Girls were the goddesses we wished we were. They even had drag queen names: the secret agent Kissy Suzuki, the pilot Pussy Galore, the nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones. They switched sides, went through deep emotional journeys, and often kicked ass better than Bond himself.

From the top: Daniel Craig stars as the iconic British spy James Bond, Eva Green as Vesper Lynd with Craig, Caterina Murino as Solange and Judi Dench as M, the head of the British secret service, MI6.

But where are the Bond Girls in Casino Royale? Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) was advertised as one, but her character's boring - I mean, she's an accountant, for chrissakes. Bond doesn't sleep with any other women throughout the movie - though he gets halfway with the unremarkable Solange (Caterina Murino). Even the opening credits, usually plastered with silhouettes of dancing girls, now feature outlines of fighting men.

What's going on here? What happened to our fabulous female role models? It's simple: Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, is also the new Bond Girl.

No, Craig isn't a pansy in any way - far from it; he's a tough chunk of solid muscle, with a more rugged, craggier face than some Bonds of yesteryear, like the picture-perfect Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton. But the way the movie treats him is quite different from the portrayal of previous superspies.

Craig is sexualised the same way as the Bond Girls were - look at that scene in the trailer of him rising out of the surf in his tight blue speedos. It's a direct reference to the way Honey Ryder walked out of the sea in a bikini in the first Bond movie Dr No. And the fact that he doesn't have a young Orlando Bloom mannequin body makes this sexual focus all the more intriguing, affirming how older men can still be sexy. That masculine sensuousness radiates from his body all the more because it isn't flawless.

That blond hair also somehow softens him, brings a bit of twink into that hung-daddy persona of his. The Bond of Casino Royale is still new in his role of 007, still making mistakes, still vulnerable in many ways - and like the sadistic voyeurs that we are, we enjoy watching him suffer. The first chase scene, showing Bond and a bombmaker racing through rural and industrial sections of Madagascar, is one of the best I've seen in any movie, and it's accentuated by the joy of watching Bond get hurt by the physical exertion, landing impact, sharp objects and explosives.

Bond gets hurt a lot in this movie, and it's yummy. He's like a bottom-boy in a Japanese hentai comic. If you don't believe me, just wait for the nude cock-and-balls torture scene - I'm not making it up; it's in there. It's just another part of being a Bond Girl: sometimes you have to be a victim.

It's a reflection of a sea-change in our sexual politics - director Martin Campbell even revealed that he was considering making M (Judi Dench) a lesbian. People are no longer as interested in heroes like the old James Bond, who was basically a heterosexual nymphomaniac cartoon character with fancy gadgets and a tux.

In Casino Royale, Bond is forced to confront the fact that his traditional strengths can also be grave human handicaps - his willingness to take risks, his cockiness, his apparent incapacity to love. We end up meeting a new, more complex James Bond, with all the style of the original, but more easily hurt, more self-aware. Like Batman Begins or the Spiderman series, this movie explains the costs of being a hero, making the protagonist more human, more worthy of empathy, and - dare I say it? - more fabulous.

Campbell's directed a film that's consequently much richer and more mature than its predecessors. And while gay guys will miss the glory of the Bond Girls, at least we've still got Dench, playing the figure of M with classic, no-nonsense magnificence. She's got a good match - Judi's a woman in a man's role as head of intelligence, and Craig's a man in a woman's role as the girl of the movie. Our best heroes today no longer belong to only one sex.




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