And how would you like your Bond? Shaken ... or sinister?
The James Bond that hits theaters in this weekend's "Casino Royale" offers a frightening new take on England's most famous spy — this grim-faced character played by Daniel Craig is as menacing as any classic 007 villain.
It's a radical change from his predecessor: the suave, ladies-man assassin played by Pierce Brosnan, who starred in four Bond films leading up to "Casino Royale."
"They're very obviously going back to what [Sean] Connery did in 'Dr. No,' a look where he could easily be the villain," said William Luhr, professor of English and film at Saint Peter's College in New Jersey. "It's clear this Bond is a very dangerous guy."
Photo Essay: Bond Premiere
Sony Pictures took quite a risk with the sharp change. Fans of the 007 franchise even set up a Web site, DanielCraigIsNotBond.com, to protest the new actor and characterization.
"This next generation of Bond as an unfazed, unremorseful killer is not your typical Bond, but it works," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a box office tracking company. "There's a grittier, more realistic edge to it, and the movie's going to be huge, one of the best box office performers of the holiday season."
Basing the new Bond film on "Casino Royale," the first book of Ian Fleming's James Bond series that was the inspiration for the films, helps carry the message that Craig's new character turns back the clock to Bond's grisly, earliest espionage days — as though the other films weren't even made.
Just as Connery's character in the first films in the '60s depicted a menacing, merciless hero with a license to kill, the first of Fleming's books depicts a shadowy, threatening 007, not all that different from the villains he struggles against and whose motives are sometimes impossible to determine.
"The original novels were very gritty, with a very sinister aspect to them, especially the first one," said Christopher Sharrett, a professor of communications and film studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. "The Bond of 'Casino Royale' is a brutal figure, not just a super-spy boy toy in a tux with a martini glass and knowledge of fine cuisine."
The plot of the 1953 book "Casino Royale" also helps bring an aspect of realism to audiences that have become accustomed to Bond films filled with special effects and villains trying to execute increasingly cartoonish plots to take over the world.
In "Casino Royale," Bond is placed in a high-stakes poker game with new villain Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who is trying to finance international terrorism.
MI6 assigns the gorgeous Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to watch over Bond, and his romantic interest in her grows out of his control. The smaller-scale plot draws the Bond franchise back to its roots.
Along with the more realistic plot, the events in the new film take on a dark, real-world tone.
"In the book 'Casino Royal,' there is a prolonged scene at the end where he's captured by the villain and his genitals are tortured for an hour," Sharrett said. "The filmmakers have shortened this scene and kept it in to some degree — but how they'll do this and maintain a PG-13 rating will be interesting to see."
The image of this rugged, dark Bond is something the film franchise has slowly, systematically moved away from.
"After Connery, James Bond became more of a high-society man with George Lazenby, and played by Roger Moore the character became even more suave, good-looking, really sort of a model," Luhr said. "The Bond played by Timothy Dalton you certainly wouldn't describe as 'dangerous,' and then Pierce Brosnan was maybe the prettiest of them all."
To go with a more dangerous 007, the filmmakers are also playing up the more animalistic side of his sexuality.
"Casino Royale" features a scene where Craig emerges from the water wearing only a snugly fitting bathing suit — leaving very little up to the imagination. The shot is very similar to one in "Die Another Day" where Halle Berry slowly comes up out of the water in a bikini, which was sold everywhere as the face of the movie. The Berry shot was a homage to Ursula Andress, who acted out the same scene in "Dr. No."
"Connery displayed his body much more in the early Bond films, with his shirt off, showing a rippled body," Luhr said. "It shows the filmmakers are showcasing the animal in Bond much more than the man."
Still, many Bond fans offer a big "No, thank you" when it comes to scoping out the new 007 in his skivvies.
"I think this new Bond is the ugliest Bond I've ever seen," said New York-based lawyer and dedicated James Bond fan Gloria Kui.
But it may have been important for Craig to show fans everything he's got to offer. After all, he's got perhaps the biggest shoes to fill in the entire American movie industry.
"They've got to show him off a little so the audience believes he can handle himself," Dergarabedian said. "They've got to show that this guy is mentally and physically there — he's definitely got something to prove."
Audiences remain hungry for more from the franchise that has provided 22 films in 44 years, but only time will tell whether Craig's raw character is the Bond today's moviegoers want — and whether this new 007 will have a license to kill at the box office.
Photo Essay: Bond Premiere