RATING |

You who carped that the 007 films had devolved into a catalog of fresh gadgets and stale puns, eat crow. You who said that the Austin Powers superspy spoofs made James Bond irrelevant, behave.

And you who thought that the Bourne Identity was a nervier political thriller than any recent Bond, understand that Casino Royale is the kickiest of reboots.

Most significant, you who thought Hugh Jackman or Clive Owen would be a hotter, sleeker, faster 007 than Daniel Craig (and I was rooting hard for Hugh), listen up: James Blond may be the definitive James Bond.

With his radioactive blue eyes and sprinter's sinew, Craig (you saw him in Munich and Road to Perdition) can beat any other double-O in a staredown or running game.

Good thing he possesses such stamina, because at 140 minutes, Casino Royale is a marathon. There's a great 100-minute film inside Martin Campbell's prolonged movie based on the Ian Fleming novel that started it all. My advice: Use the protracted poker match at midpoint as an opportunity to visit the concession stand and catch up on your e-mail.

When Sean Connery slipped into Bond's mod serge suit in Dr. No (1962), 007 defined a new kind of masculinity - hard, fast and hunky. Much as I enjoyed elements of the subsequent Bonds - Roger Moore's winks, Timothy Dalton's broodings, Pierce Brosnan's suits - none of them possessed the distinctive mix of macho, menace and magnetism that Craig so effortlessly displays.

Like Connery - but in different proportions - Craig is earthy and erotic, holding himself like a smoking gun. Unlike the no-sweat actor who created 007, Craig reconstructs Bond as inscrutable and vulnerable, a secret agent just as likely to wear an untucked shirt as a bespoke suit, one who sweats stuff big and small.

His eyes are diamond-hard, but his heart is soft when it comes to brunette stunner Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, from The Dreamers and Kingdom of Heaven). Craig is not your father's James Bond, but he is almost certainly your daughter's.

Lynd is a treasury officer who finances Bond in a high-stakes poker match in which the mission is to bankrupt Le Chiffre (Danish heartthrob Mads Mikkelsen, whose character literally weeps blood from his left eye), financier to international terrorists. Le Chiffre owns the film's most quotable line: "I don't believe in God, but in a reasonable rate of return."

In a grainy, black-and-white prologue, we see 007 earn his license to kill. Then the image bleeds to color into a retro-kitsch credits sequence that uses playing-card suits as an overture of the themes to come: Spades are bullets emanating from a stylized Glock, hearts are tears falling from a throbbing chest.

Director Campbell (Vertical Limit, Goldeneye) front-loads the action sequences and they are literally breathtaking, as Bond runs from Mbale, Uganda, to Madagascar to Miami to Montenegro and other far-flung places beginning with M. (Speaking of that letter, Judi Dench reprises her role as Bond's boss lady, and their chemistry is palpable.)

Without gadgetry or gags, Campbell masterfully choreographs these sequences. The scene where Bond chases a suicide bomber up a steel-framed construction site and down cranes effectively says, Take that, Spider-Man! Take that, Bourne! Too bad the film loses this momentum in its final act.

When Timothy Dalton was crowned Bond in the 1980s, he noted diplomatically that half the world thought Connery the best Bond ever and the other half preferred Moore. My guess is that those two camps will agree that Craig is a worthy successor to both.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.