15 years ago today (16th November, 2021), the 21st James Bond film, Casino Royale, was released in UK cinemas: it earned rave reviews, became the franchise's highest-grossing entry at that point and eliminated any negative pre-publicity that had surrounded Daniel Craig's casting with the same kind of ruthless efficiency that his newly-minted agent 007 was immediately seen to display on-screen.


A decade-and-a-half later, the release of No Time to Die in late September drew to a close Craig's five-film era as Bond – a tenure which saw the film series rebuke the critics once again and reestablish itself as a major player in the world of modern blockbuster cinema. But when the time comes for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to take stock and consider where Bond should go next, they'd be wise to reflect on past successes and, specifically, to consider what it was about Casino Royale that worked so well.

Now, this isn't a rallying cry to simply "do Casino Royale again" – in fact, the biggest mistake that Bond 26 could make would be to replicate the look and feel of the Daniel Craig movies, successful though they might've been. Instead, what the next 007 movie needs to mimic is the 2006 film's spirit of reinvention – in short, it needs to be as different from Casino Royale as Casino Royale was from Pierce Brosnan's final hurrah, 2002's extremely mixed bag Die Another Day.

It's easy to forget 15 years on how daring Casino Royale felt at the time, especially since the Daniel Craig era has since made subverting expectations and daring to go to places the franchise previously never would its stock in trade, culminating – perhaps inevitably – in the actual, not-fooling-honest death of James Bond. Looking to reimagine the 44-year-old series like never before, Broccoli, Wilson, director Martin Campbell (who'd previously relaunched Bond to great success, though in less subversive style, with 1995's Goldeneye) and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis ditched much of what was familiar and what might at one time have been considered sacrosanct.

Fronted by a steely but sympathetic Craig, who was ably supported by a sensational turn from Eva Green and the absolutely magnetic Mads Mikkelsen, the film loosely adapts Ian Fleming's story of Bond looking to financially cripple Le Chiffre – an enemy agent who is bankrolling terrorists – over a game of cards, only for the situation to spiral wildly out of control as 007 is hit by a betrayal he never saw coming.

Casino Royale was like nothing the series had offered us before – yes, gone were the gadgets and quips, but Bond had been here before, adopting a similar back-to-basics approach in the late 1980s when the tongue-in-cheek theatrics of the Roger Moore films gave way to a more sober portrayal of 007's world in two films starring Timothy Dalton. More striking even than the shift in tone was the ease with which Casino Royale did away with the opening gun-barrel sequence (at least in its traditional form), the brilliant inventor Q, Moneypenny and her playful relationship with Bond... you suspect even M might have been ditched if they (and audiences) weren't so fond of Judi Dench – and it's credit to the quality of the final product that not only did it wow critics and long-time Bond fans regardless but that it felt unquestionably Bondian despite the lack of those ingredients once thought untouchable and absolutely essential to the franchise formula.

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Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale (2006)
Columbia Pictures

This willingness to be bold and audacious is what the next film would do well to lift from Casino Royale. The 007 films have always thrived on reinvention – the Sean Connery films evolved from Cold War era spy thrillers to wild spy-fi blockbusters, Roger Moore took Bond intergalactic amidst the Star Wars fever of the 1970s, with Timothy Dalton then bringing the character quite literally back down to Earth, while Pierce Brosnan ran the gamut from more personal, human stories to utterly outlandish action capers (and that was just in Die Another Day) – but Daniel Craig's first outing is perhaps the purest example of Bond being willing to strip the character to his bare bones and then rebuild in a way that works for modern audiences – and, crucially, the actor playing Bond.

The temptation given the enormous critical and box office success of the Craig movies might be to simply produce a Craig-type movie but with a different actor – but to do so would be to ignore the best thing about Casino Royale and what allowed it and Craig to succeed. Give whoever picks up the baton next their own kind of Bond movie, let it reflect their strengths as a performer as Casino did Craig's. Do that and we'd bet big on Bond's next 15 years being every bit as bright as the last.

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