The Production Of Casino Royale Had To Be Careful Not To Set Off The 'Austin Powers Alarm'

Of all the franchises to reinvent themselves after decades in the spotlight, the James Bond saga arguably comes out among the best. It helps that a new actor steps up to star in a new set of Bond films every few years, effectively drawing the interest of the next generation. It wasn't until Daniel Craig was tapped as the gentleman spy, however, that Bond as a franchise actually felt fresh again. That's due in part to the fact that Bond producers wanted a new take on the spy movie — but it was so much more than just a stylistic choice. Introducing a newer, darker Bond was also part of a concerted effort to distance the franchise from some of its most famous parodies.

In the late '90s, the "Austin Powers" films had become immensely popular for their absurdist riffs on well-known Bond characters and tropes. The trilogy was such an effective satire because it poked holes in the very fabric of the Bond formula — a treat for audiences, but a real wake-up call for the 30-something-year-old franchise. Distancing Bond from the many, many satires out there was suddenly a matter of survival. That meant that Craig's first outing as Bond, the 2006 film "Casino Royale," couldn't afford to make any mistakes.

A method to the madness

Keeping "Casino Royale" firmly in the realm of reality wasn't too much of a challenge for the Bond brain trust. With Craig's commitment to the gritty material — and of course, a rock solid director on deck — the Bond franchise was born anew.

While Craig himself found his own way to bring the character into the 21st century, other developments were spurred by an aversion to the "Austin Powers" films. The actor told The Guardian that there was an "Austin Powers alarm" on the set of "Casino Royale." That limited the use of gadgetry and spiffy, semi-aquatic cars — not only in Craig's inaugural film, but in most of those that came after. Even with the introduction of a new Q (Ben Whishaw) in "Skyfall," the new Bond films kept the gadgets subtle. They even made a dig at the "exploding pens" and other kooky memorabilia that previous Bonds used. It was all in an effort to abandon the things that "Austin Powers" had skewered so liberally. "If something's been parodied as much as that, there's a reason for it," Craig explained.

That's not to say that those gadgets and cars didn't have their place in other Bond films. "I love the fact that Roger Moore drives a Lotus into the water and it becomes a submarine. It's a great movie moment," Craig added. But "Casino Royale" was a very different movie — one with a very different mission.

'It's a Bond movie — it's not Ingmar Bergman'

Another priority for the new, improved Bond involved an emphasis on character:

"I'm not trying to kid anybody here: it's a Bond movie — it's not Ingmar Bergman, for Christ's sake. That's not to say anything against Martin [Campbell]'s direction. But it needed to have some emotional content to it. So we started filming and nobody stopped me delivering that. So I felt I must be doing something right."

Craig was also adamant about adding substance to even his racier scenes as Bond. It's impossible (sacrilegious, even) to extricate Bond from his notable sensuality. While Craig does appear shirtless several times in his tenure as Bond, his shirtless scenes often subvert his status as a sex symbol. Whenever Craig's Bond trades in his tux for a pair of swim trunks, he definitely looks good, but he also looks like a trained killer. "I wanted to be like, if Bond takes his shirt off, the audience thinks, 'Oh he can do those things, those mad stunts and violent scenes,'" Craig said.

I'm not sure that everyone had that thought ... at least, not right away (it's hard not to be distracted by shirtless Craig, even outside of a Bond film). But "Casino Royale" definitely did the work to humanize Bond in a way that few films had before. Remember the torture scene in "Casino Royale?" It was one of many that helped make Bond's mission real, distracting as his physique may have been. It's nice that Craig and everyone else involved in making the film were so adamant on depicting Bond in a different light. To say they succeeded in their efforts would definitely be an understatement, given the renewed relevance of the Bond films. They could stand to bring the gadgets back, though.