Overall, it was great!
For one thing, it’s the first Bond movie in decades that’s based on one of the actual Ian Fleming books. Loosely based, to be sure, but based. And they took the opportunity to “reboot” the franchise. Bond is now much more human in interesting ways. Sure, he’s emotionless — but that’s explicit. More importantly, he gets hurt and he exerts himself. It takes effort to do things. He sweats, he goes all-out, he gets bumped, and his hair does get mussed while doing it. It reminded me a lot of the two Bourne movies, which I also enjoyed for the exact same reason. Action sequences that are reasonably realistic are much more exciting than comic book fights. Any given stunt or fight should give you the impression, “That’s wild, and implausible, but not laughably impossible.” (It does have the usual motivation plot problems, which Easterbrook nails (scroll down to “Bunk”.)
So a big thumbs up. With that said, here are two things that bothered me.
1) Continuity. Having recurring characters and story arcs that span more than one movie makes a series infinitely stronger. Most movies can’t afford to do this. It’s so hard to get a hit that you don’t want to spend precious minutes laying the groundwork for a sequel that may not ever happen. So all the girls get killed, all the villains get defeated, everything gets wrapped up with a nice bow, because you get the biggest bang for your movie-making buck that way. But the Bond franchise is different. There is always going to be another Bond movie next summer, so you can invest in the future and make it that much stronger. Have a villain get away. Have the trail go cold. Have the girl he loves survive for a couple of years for once, would that kill you?
2) Poker. In the book (which I read many years ago), the game is Baccarat. Baccarat has no element of skill, and no one in America understands how it’s played. It’s a very stupid game. So the writers made a smart move and changed it to poker. More current, more chances for Bond to do clever things, and more familiar to the audience. But the poker was terrible — just awful from top to bottom.
There was no poker skill displayed – In every important hand, the players win by having a great hand. In the first half of the movie, Bond wins a sports car by having the nut aces when the other guy has kings. Whoo, that took some serious skill! In the final hand, Bond pulls a straight flush, which beats out two separate full houses and a three-of-a-kind. Strangely, he makes a big dramatic pause before decding to call the all-in bet. In any normal game, his reaction would be instantaneous, “You bet I’m in, you blood-spurting freak! Take a peek at these babies, I like to call them Nut One and Nut Two!” Or something along those lines. At any rate, the point is that it doesn’t take any poker skill to get dealt a great hand. It takes skill to take terrible cards and bluff everyone away and still win. That might actually require the best poker player in the service (which they claim Bond is).
The tells — no great poker player has a tell so obvious. If they have any.
The betting increments were insane. I see your $50,000 and raise you another $50,000. Big deal, standard raise is up to $200,000 or so. Anything less is a terrible bet. No one ever raised enough to scare anyone out of a pot.
There were too many people on big hands. On the winning hand, why would anyone stay in with trips? There’s all kinds of great cards on the boards, three other players in the hand, let them fight it out. That’s how you win a tourney.
Why did the CIA send such a bad player to play? What’s the point of that? Much as I like the Felix character, and making him black worked great, it didn’t make any sense for him to be there.
In fact, the whole game didn’t make any sense. The plot is that the bad guy is such a good poker player that in a $150 million winner-take-all tournament, he is such a threat to win that both the Americans and Brits infiltrate the game with their best players to try and stop him. First of all, no one is that good. At a 15 person table of top players, the best poker players in the world might have a 1 in 3 shot vs. a 1 in 15 shot. That’s why no-names keep winning the WSOP. And if the bad guy is really that good, why is he screwing around with financing terrorism, manipulating world stock markets, and working with people who like to chop his hand off? The heck with that, just become a professional high-stakes poker player. A lot easier, a lot more legal, a lot more fun — and with that bleeding eye schtick, your endorsements would be through the roof.
But even so, I liked it!