The seminal moment in Casino Royale has James Bond stripped, tied to a chair and about to have his testicles whipped with a length of rope by the villain Le Chiffre. Before he starts, Le Chiffre says to his victim: "You have taken care of your body." Who could argue? This film is an homage to the six-pack, a celebration of musculature. It will be enjoyed by everyone, but above all by gym fetishists.
It is a movie made for men's magazines. The locations are fine - Bahamas, Lake Como, Venice. The female interest, Eva Green, is featured soulfully rather than lustfully in the current GQ. The magazine really loses its head and heart over Daniel Craig's torso.
Rather than interview the director, Martin Campbell, or the frankly-wrong-demographic Dame Judi Dench, the magazine goes for the fitness coach Simon Waterson. His thrilling goal for Craig was "functioning muscle" - "There's no point in having great muscles if they can't be used in a beneficial way like speeding across the ground, climbing, jumping and fighting."
Craig's muscles appear most beneficially in the shower scene. Having completed his jumping and fighting he spots a traumatised Eva Green crouching in the shower, wearing her evening dress. Naturally, he joins her in black tie. His wet shirt quickly becomes transparent; this must be the most homoerotic scene in the history of British cinema. Eva Green is beautiful but nothing like as sexy as the beefcake.
Marines, who pride themselves on being the toughest soldiers, are said to put up pictures of bodybuilders on their walls rather than topless women. Daniel Craig's James Bond is much more Andy McNab than Ian Fleming, so it is right and proper that he should be proud of his pecs. It also takes care of the Bond sexism lobby. Eva Green is allowed to compliment Craig on his "perfectly formed arse", which is not a phrase James Bond could get away with now.
But here is the sly trade-off. When the violence hots up, Craig can say "Get the girl out" and it would be shrewish to complain. This is the updated version of Sean Connery patting the girl on the bottom and telling her to leave him to his man's business.
The latest Bond has dispensed with the Hugh Hefner approach to female casting - one of everything: a blonde, a brunette, a redhead, a Scandinavian-looking one, an Oriental one, etc. There are only three glamorous women on show and none in the opening credits.
The political incorrectness lies instead in the detailed, unconditional depiction of violence. The film shows you what James Bond actually does for a living. People are not dispatched by fabulous technology but by knuckle-to-knuckle fighting. The opening scene, which shows how James Bond got his promotion, is a shocker. The men in my cinema audience enjoyed the flaming trucks and falling buildings but best of all they liked the fact that Bond's guns got bigger during the performance.
I remember David Hare writing a newspaper article, in the aftermath of his play Stuff Happens, about neocon contempt for artistic liberals. Hare said the reason he was thought to lack political authority was that he had never killed anyone. The military men are certainly riding high. President Bush may have lost the trust of Americans for his policy in Iraq, but John McCain can do no wrong because he fought bravely and was tortured in Vietnam.
The real role model for Daniel Craig, however, is Kiefer Sutherland in 24. Not only did he give cultural permission for Daniel Craig to be tough and blond, but he also set the pain bar. Bond, like Sutherland, is capable of physical endurance just short of crucifixion and of inflicting any degree of violence for the sake of "the job". Although Bond is British, Daniel Craig does not refer to patriotic motives. By taking the character out of the class system, the film's producers have removed the assumption that Bond is propelled by school and country. Daniel Craig's Bond is an outsider, apparently an orphan who was bright enough to get to Oxford. Like Kiefer Sutherland, he risks his life outrageously many times a day because that happens to be his job.
There is also an innate SAS ethos that he is testing himself and his perfect body to the limits. Incidentally, if the SAS is his role model, then we must object to his much quoted line in the film: " Well I understand Double-Os have a very short life expectancy." It contains the twin sins of bragging and self-pity. I have, knowingly, met two SAS heroes. The first, who I later discovered had performed astonishing acts of bravery in Iraq, looked a little like Daniel Craig but without the high living and self-reverence. He found everybody else much, much more interesting than himself. His lack of vanity extended to a refusal to be photographed - which also happened to be a statement about self-preservation.
The other SAS leader I met in Afghanistan was so quiet and unassuming that I feared he was shy or stupid. In fact, he had a reputation for unsurpassed toughness. I was not looking at a wallflower but a coiled spring. Judi Dench, as M, asks Daniel Craig if he can stay emotionally detached. As with Kiefer Sutherland, the dramatic tension lies in a tender man showing hardness, or the other way round.
The Craig Bond appeals to men, but women are also bathing in the reflected glory. If I may return to the shower scene; what makes it so charged is that here is a killer, with overpowering muscles, holding a woman's head like a vase. The power and menace are part of the excitement. He could rip her tongue out, but look, he is cradling her instead.
The pre-publicity for this film started early and back in July I saw the short-lived love interest, Caterina Murino, being carried across a Jamaican beach by Richard Branson. (Did Branson's cameo role end up on the cutting-room floor?) At the time, there were huge doubts about the suitability of Daniel Craig for the role. Murino defended him oddly. She said that Craig was the best Bond because you could believe that he would kill someone.
It is true that he has killer sex appeal. He is a post-11 September Bond. As M sighs at one point, oh for the certainties of the Cold War. Daniel Craig knows that the enemy is shadowy and that he means immediate and violent harm. When Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director general of MI5, announced last week that the secret services had thwarted five major conspiracies since the 7 July attacks, you might have thought she was helping Tony Blair's anti-terror legislation, but of course she was really part of the hype for James Bond.
Manningham-Buller is quite an M character, even though she works for the other service. Doughty and headmistressy, she also has a quick-witted quirkiness about her. I liked M's irritation and admiration when Bond broke into her penthouse. I had a breakfast last year with Manningham-Buller who said she would like to read the newspaper I was then editing but could not get it in her village. I offered to deliver it, if she would just give me her address. She fixed me with direct blue eyes and said: "I don't think so."
The great controversy about Casino Royale is the ditching of Moneypenny. Since Bond's boss has become a woman, there is no need for another office figure and she never made the grade as love interest. I am of the pro-Moneypenny tendency. The obituaries of the East German spy Markus Wolf make clear that targeting of self-sacrificing spinsters is at the heart of spying narratives.
The most important distinction between Daniel Craig and his earlier predecessors is that he has approached the role with the intensity of an actor. Both Sean Connery and Roger Moore regarded the film as mere entertainment.This had advantages and problems for Craig. He is more convincing and three-dimensional in the role. He is both tougher and more sensitive. He shows real tears. But because he is more of an actor than his ancestors, paradoxically, it is harder for the audience to separate him from his role.
I think that he has also fallen into the Ross Kemp trap of identification with his screen character. Someone like Roger Moore was firmly of the it's-only-a-film school of acting. It would be vulgar and ridiculous to go overboard on character. A certain woodenness was more dignified. Craig is more of an actor on set and off it. He has displayed hurt and paranoia over his rough treatment by the press. He has never forgiven the red tops for laughing at him when he turned up to a press launch anxiously hanging on to the rail of a speedboat and wearing a life jacket. No man wants to be described as a big girl's blouse but especially not James Bond.
His outburst in the current Radio Times sounds mildly hysterical: "People hate me. They don't think I'm right for the role. It's a simple as that." Craig said in another interview, only half joking, that he would be happy to use a stuntman in the sex scenes but not for the action. He is endearingly proud of the pain he has endured. "I learned from day one that it was gonna hurt," he says to Empire magazine. "And the whole film really did hurt. Just pain. If you are not getting hurt you are not doing it properly."
You can certainly hear the thud and the cracks during the film. This is the action Bond movie. The credits for stuntmen at the end of the film roll on endlessly. David Walliams's slightly embarrassing fanzine tribute to James Bond on Thursday night, My Life with James Bond, included an interview with Jonathan Ross. The witty metrosexual presenter sighed that Bond was simply the manliest man on the planet.
Each James Bond has been a new incarnation of manliness. Daniel Craig brings us Special Forces hardness. That is why men will love this film. Women will love it because our hero is prepared to give up his vocation for the Bond girl he loves. His line "You have stripped me of my armour. Whatever is left of me, I am yours" had women in the cinema audience collapsing.
Casino Royale is more than a terrific film. It is a rebalancing of the sexes. The feminist revolution is over. It is a rapturous return to Adam and Eve.Reuse content