Pierce Brosnan's last memorable line as James Bond comes early in Die Another Day, during a routine walking tour with gadget guru and perpetual shut-in Q. After passing by some vintage toys from his twenty prior adventures -- they don't seem to spark much recognition -- Bond is led to a vehicle track, where an empty platform comes rolling by. "The ultimate in British engineering," Q announces, proudly. "You must be joking," comes the reply. Apparently, someone was joking. In addition to the invisible Aston Martin, the last and least of the Brosnan quartet also featured a mansion chiseled out of ice, a medical procedure for changing a person's race, and an orbiting magnifying glass used by the villain to cook enemies on the ground like ants. The whole enterprise smelled of Viagra. Enter producer Barbara Broccoli, who like a Templar Knight, has devoted her life to fulfilling a task handed down by her father -- protecting the Bond franchise from harm. Brosnan was tossed, and a series re-boot commissioned. How severely the foundations would be rocked no one knew.
What's been delivered is a movie not only exciting and sharp-eyed, but also weirdly respectful of the character Ian Fleming first dreamed up at his Goldeneye resort in Jamaica. Casino Royale, the origin tale, is unfortunately saddled with one of the series' least evocative titles. A better one might have been Ballbreaker, which would not only reference the story's signature scene -- when the villain Le Chiffre captures Bond and attacks his balls with a carpet beater -- it would also get at the creation moment, when the Bond we know is punished into existence by a velvet heartbreaker called Vesper Lynd. Luminous French actress Eva Green melts the screen as the Eve-figure in Bond mythology, who rides shotgun for 007's first globe trot, beginning in the toy soldier kingdom of Montenegro and going all the way to an oceanside Bahamas vista, and further. Green makes this Vesper's film, with her actions half-explaining, half-justifying everything that will follow her -- a thousand misogynist sneers, a catalog of cold remarks, and the hero's often-suspicious inability to save the girl.