NASSAU, Bahamas — In the 44-year, 20-film history of the most successful movie franchise of all time, fans have watched international super-spy James Bond kill enough villains to fill a morgue, bed a stable of beauties that would impress Mick Jagger and get caught up in more chases than the California Highway Patrol. Right now he's doing it all again, for the very first time.
Everyone's eyes are squarely focused on newly crowned action icon Daniel Craig as he reinvents 007 here among the relentless sun and lapping waves of the "Casino Royale" set. And don't think he doesn't know it.
"People feel very strongly about it, and I don't blame them," Craig, casually dressed in a sweater and khakis, said Wednesday during a break from filming. "There are a lot of people out there who Bond means a great deal to. It means a great deal to me too."
Ever since the "Royale" shoot began here just over a month ago, rumors of un-Bond-ly aversions to guns, stick shifts and even the sun have constantly hounded the 37-year-old "Munich" actor. Laughing off such tales, Craig insisted that he never reads Internet chatter because it will only "drive you crazy."
"My aim is to sort of put as much of myself, as much of my energy, and as much of my talent as it stands into this movie," he said enthusiastically. "To make the best movie, and therefore to make the best Bond movie, that I can."
On Tuesday and Wednesday Craig attempted to make that best Bond movie while filming the spy's first-ever 007 mission (see "British Actor Daniel Craig Steps Into James Bond's Tux"). Arriving in a decrepit shantytown in Madagascar, Bond and an MI6 associate are on the trail of a terrorist named Mollaka, played by gravity-defying extreme-sport "free-runner" Sébastian Foucan (currently dropping jaws in Madonna's "Hung Up" video). When they discover him standing with a crowd encircling a dried-out swimming pool, Mollaka's gaze shifts from the snake-versus-ferret death match to Bond's associate, whose overzealous use of his earpiece leads to his undoing. When Mollaka takes off on foot, Bond jumps down from his perch atop a dilapidated hotel roof, chasing after the fleet-footed, backpacked man. Just don't expect Bond to take the guy out with his rocket-firing cigarette.
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"There aren't many gadgets," Craig explained of the rawness that director Martin Campbell is attempting to return to the franchise. "It's because we're starting in the beginning. They aren't there yet."
Without his high-tech gizmos, Craig's agent attempts to keep up with the terrorist as he darts through the woods. The gymnast-like villain effortlessly glides over a fallen tree at shoulder height; Bond improvises a bit by running up the back of a rusted car, jumping onto the tree, and then resuming the footrace.
Mollaka then tries to lose his pursuer by scrambling into an enormous construction site, as Bond jumps behind the wheel of a front-loader dump truck, crashing through a small office while attempting to run his target over. Mollaka quickly scampers up a support beam onto the first floor of the would-be building, while a relentless Bond rams his truck into the building. Eventually the chase leads to a high-tension moment on a pair of cranes far above the site, leading to a frantic phone call Mollaka is able to complete moments before he runs into an embassy and begs for his life over Bond's protests.
"He's an assassin," Craig said plainly of the Mollaka pursuit, Bond's first assignment after his appointment as a 00 agent. In order to attain the two zeros and the license to kill that comes with them, Bond commits two professional assassinations in quick succession and is then sent after Mollaka. "He has to prove that he can do it, so if he doesn't manage it or do it properly, then he doesn't get his 00 credits and he'd have to go back to being a commander in the navy."
" 'Casino Royale' is the first Bond novel that Ian Fleming ever wrote," explained Eva Green, the recently cast Bond babe who views the "Batman Begins"-like reimagining of the franchise as a chance to avoid continuity trappings while glimpsing the events that formed Bond (see "New James Bond Has A New Bond Girl: Eva Green").
"She's the first Bond girl," the "Kingdom of Heaven" actress with the piercing green eyes boasted. "She's the root of all the Bond girls, and she is quite complex and she's the one that gets Bond's heart, which is quite unusual. You will see a very human side of Bond in this movie."
Green has yet to shoot a single frame of the movie but insisted that she's put a great amount of thought into her portrayal of Vesper Lynd, a beguiling agent assigned by M (Judi Dench) to oversee 007. After Mollaka's phone puts them on a trail that leads to terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), Bond and Vesper braving danger and torture together. Their rivalry leads to several showdowns at the poker tables of Bahaman casinos, including the real-life Atlantis resort and the luxurious One and Only Ocean Club.
This being a Bond movie, however, there has to be more than one piece of eye candy in the picture. Enter former Miss Italy contestant Caterina Murino as Solange, the defiant girlfriend of Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), part of the same terrorist cell as Mollaka and Le Chiffre.
"Tougher" is how Murino described Craig's Bond versus the versions created by his predecessors. "A real killer, not just an elegant and sexy man ... he can be a very good killer and can be a very good lover."
Craig and Murino have already filmed the scene in which he first spots her, as the skimpy-green-bikini-clad sexpot strolls with her horse along a sandy beach. They've also filmed a steamy love scene, Daniel Craig's first roll in the sheets as the tuxedoed lothario.
"It felt very, very good. Danny is a great actor and I was comfortable with it," the brunette purred. "Very sexy. He has a great, huge body. He's very sexy, I think the sexiest in James Bond's history."
"It's going to have elements that you need in Bond movies," insisted Daniel Craig, who will shoot in the Bahamas for a few more weeks, then move to Prague and Venice before heading to London to put the finishing touches on the November 17 release. "I don't think it's going to be like any of [the other Bond flicks]. It's just not. ...When I was growing up it was a big thing to go and see the next Bond movie ... it's escapism, good escapism, and that's what this movie is gonna be."
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