Some thoughts on Quantum of Solace
I will have to wait for the DVD release of Quantum of Solace to issue a full analysis — I’m not afraid to admit that I didn’t understand a lot of it the first time around. The key question of my Bond analysis – “What does James Bond actually do to save the world?” is still a little vague for me twelve hours after watching the movie. I know he goes to a whole bunch of places and kills a whole bunch of people while on the trail of this Dominic Greene character, but I’m not exactly sure why he’s doing it and I’m not exactly sure how he’s going about it. If I had watched Casino Royale earlier in the morning I would probably be better oriented, and if you have that kind of leisure time at your disposal I recommend doing so — a number of key plot-points revolve around things that happen in the earlier movie.
Quantum is the most “realistic” Bond yet — Casino Royale feels like Live and Let Die in comparison. There are no gadgets, no Q, no fantasy vehicles, no Moneypenny, few quips, no ridiculous deaths, no Second Villain With A Surreal Physical Thingy, only one difficult-to-believe seduction. It’s kind of like For Your Eyes Only on steroids — and speed. When Bond slows down to drink five martinis and complain about a lack of sleep, you feel it — the movie is draining and assaultive. The big plus is that the third act does not revolve around a card game, which allows for a much more plausible excuse for a good deal of action.
Daniel Craig continues to be the Best Bond Ever, brutal, efficient and utterly uncaring — but with tiny hints of impish wit and still giddy about the idea of the British government paying him to do all this cool shit. He gets to beat up and kill a lot of people in this movie, and there’s a cool bit of business with each one of them. He goes through more cars, guns, knives, phones and whatnot in this movie than Sean Connery did in his entire career, and tosses each one away when he’s done, treating his Aston Martin like a used kleenex and a treasured keepsake like something he found on the bottom of his shoe. James Bond, The World’s Greatest Detective also shows up late in the movie, when Bond discovers the key to the villain’s nefarious plan through the brilliantly deductive process of, literally, falling into a hole in the ground. Jeffrey Wright is back as Felix Leiter, which is certainly welcome news. Giancarlo Giannini is also back as whoever it is he’s playing, which isn’t such good news because I can’t remember what he did in Casino Royale except run color on the poker game.
The movie’s realism is a good thing — I would say that, in terms of believability, Quantum is to Casino as Dark Knight is to Batman Begins — but it makes the ludicrousness of the ludicrous parts feel that much more ludicrous. It’s not enough that the movie climaxes with dual duels featuring Bond and his leading lady beating up their respective villains — the dual duels must take place in an exploding hotel. It’s not enough the movie begins, sans preamble, with a high-speed, Bourne Supremacy-style car chase — the chase must also take place on the slopes of a marble-mining operation. It’s not enough that the comely assistant die — she must die in an homage to Goldfinger.
(Many have complained about the Bourne Supremacy-style editing, which has been executed by none other than the Bourne Supremacy editor. I don’t have a problem with it, and to me it’s refreshing to see a Bond movie with a editorial point of view — generally, the makers of Bond movies do their best to stay the hell out of the way, to hide any stylistic quirks, which isone of the reasons why Bond movies always seem to be disconnected from the time and the society they’re supposed to spring from, why they seem more closely related to Elvis movies than spy movies — pageants, not narratives.)
(And while we’re here, let me also add that I love the Jack White song under the titles — sorry, not only do I think it’s an excellent Bond song, it’s one of the few Bond songs that I could imagine listening to for its own sake instead of “ironically.” I mean, let’s face it, no one listens to “Goldfinger” or “Live and Let Die” and says “Man, what a great song.” Because they’re not great songs, they’re great Bond Movie songs, which means there’s something patently ridiculous about them. People like the good Bond Movie songs because they remind them of the movies. “Another Way to Die” is the first Bond song that I could imagine having a life outside the movie itself.)
(That said, I’m not crazy about the title sequence itself, but I greatly prefer it to the cringe-inducing “Cartoon Bond Shooting Hearts Out Of His Gun” sequence of Casino.)
As for the women, I like Camille and her revenge plot, but it seems inserted into an already-too-complicated plot. By the time her plot comes into focus, the movie is almost over and it’s hard to care about her fears and desires. One protagonist with one goal is good, two protagonists with one goal is almost as good, two protagonists with two different goals strains viewer sympathy, two protagonists with two different goals that, coincidentally, happen to both be reached at the same time in an exploding hotel pushes the envelope a little too much.
How cool is the bad guy? In Bond Villian terms, he’s not cool at all — he doesn’t even have bleeding eyeballs for heaven’s sake. For that matter, he’s played by the guy from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — how on earth are we supposed to feel threatened by a guy who spent his last movie paralyzed from the eyeballs down? His second-in-command is even less threatening — he has a dorky haircut and looks uncomfortable holding a gun. In fact, I’m beginning to think that coolness is completely off the table in contemporary Bond-movie terms. The bad guy’s evil scheme, being of a piece with the rest of the movie, is a very realistic thing, barely Bond Villianesque at all.