There's something quite nerve-wracking about watching a new actor playing James Bond. It's rather like going on a first date: every part of you wants it to work, but there's the unfortunate fact that some things are out of your control.
Casino Royale is the biggest re-boot the Bond franchise has ever undergone. The public have been promised a back-to-basics, no-frills approach — a return to the Fleming original. There will be no more invisible cars. And this time around there will be a plot.
Of course, the main reason the Casino Royale 007 is different is because he is blonde, thereby quickly contradicting Fleming's original. But I won't harp on about it. (see The-Latest poll on the subject).
So is Daniel Craig a Roger Moore or a George Lazenby? An impressive film-noir style opening quickly establishes the movie's thriller credentials but, more crucially, depicts Daniel Craig as a credible Bond. He sits shrouded in darkness, behind a door, waiting for his quarry to arrive.
The scene echoes an early Connery film, where he sits patiently with his Walther PPK and silencer, ready for the kill. The victim-to-be enters. He asks how his contact died and 007 replies "Not well". Flashbacks show Bond murdering the man in a bathroom. And then he dispatches victim number two with a single shot.
This is not a Bond to be trifled with.
The pre-title sequence sets the mould. Taking its cue from movies such as Mission Impossible and The Bourne Identity, the movie pulls no punches. There is action galore — indeed, Craig barely utters a full sentence for the first 20 minutes.
This new Bond is the result of a less-than-holy union between Roadrunner and The Terminator. He runs, jumps, climbs, and hunts relentlessly. A sub-title along the lines of The Running, Jumping, Standing Still film would seem appropriate, if it were not already the name of a silent Spike Milligan flick.
But some things remain the same. There is still 007's characteristic disregard for property damage, as location after location is demolished in his wake. And there is the beautiful but "complicated" Vesper Lynd, played brilliantly by French actress Eva Green.
Gone is the gentleman killer of the earlier films. This time Bond is almost loutish; a cold-hearted thug. Traditional conventions are subverted. Instead of Honey Ryder or Jinx emerging from the sea, there is Bond — and he has bigger breasts anyway. There are Aston Martins, girls and action. But the cars are simply cars. And Craig's fight-sequences are the most credible since Timothy Dalton's Licence To Kill.
There is no megalomaniac with a white cat. And the subject matter — the funding of terrorism — is hardly the stuff of science-fiction. The main villain, Le Chiffre, is underplayed, with his weeping-eye the only hint of theatricality.
There is little room for humour. It creeps briefly into a casino scene, and then — bizarrely — into a horrific torture scene. Bond asks Le Chiffre to scratch an "itch".
Casino Royale is a massive improvement on the "Bond-by-numbers" films of Pierce Brosnan's period. In a neat twist, Craig utters the immortal line, "Bond … James Bond", but only at the end of the film.
If there is one criticism — besides the blonde hair — it is that the dialogue sometimes lacks its customary sparkle. Craig is still on probation, and while he can pull off the action scenes, his performance teeters uncomfortably towards the two-dimensional in the more dialogue-heavy moments.
Casino Royale is not perfect. But it's the best Bond film since Goldeneye … although, curiously, it does look as if Daniel Craig has a Mars Bar stuck up his bum when he runs.