Bond’s mission is a relatively tame one—to beat Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) at a high-stakes poker game, preventing the financier from turning big winnings around for an international terrorist organization. Mikkelsen is a menacing figure, with his sour demeanor, scarred face, and cloudy eye that weeps blood. But as a Bond bad guy, he doesn’t have much to do away from the poker table. As always, Judi Dench is terrific as the no-nonsense M. It’s fun to see her working with Bond for the first time.
The film begins with a heart-pounding Parkour-style chase with Bond pursuing a man through Madagascar, climbing up and over a high-rise construction site. It culminates two–and-a-half hours later in a clever segment set in a collapsing Venice building. In between, the action moves swiftly along though the judicious editing of a good thirty minutes would have made for a tighter film. No matter, this first Bond film—the prequel for all the rest and the beginning of James’ 007 career—is an engrossing adventure from start to finish. [**** out of 5]