By Shaun Poust
James Bond, that testosterone-mad, gadget-hording, reckless, chauvinistic, super-violent super spy, was only ever likable if you understood him as a caricature. View Bond seriously and he, the ultimate male fantasy, looks pretty monstrous. That said, I’ve been puzzled with the new direction of the 007 franchise, of which Quantum of Solace is the latest, for it seems determined to view the character through the most objective of lenses–doesn’t it thereby self-defeat?
Daniel Craig’s must be the least fun of all the Bonds. Don’t let me be misunderstood: Craig is a fine actor. He makes a wonderful statue. That’s what the quintessential secret agent has been reduced to, by the way: a man so crushed by the death of his true love, Vesper in Casino Royale, that he is cold and humorless and kills unnecessarily. Ah, I remember when Bond used to kill unnecessarily because it was funny–those were the days. Now he’s grumpy, tortured and real. And don’t expect Craig to deliver jokes like Sean Connery or Roger Moore did so well; Craig’s few jokes take the form of bitter sarcasm, like Hamlet’s.
In Quantum of Solace, the most cumbersome title of any 007 movie, Bond must investigate the mysterious criminal organization, Quantum. Quantum has agents everywhere, including within MI6, and the unknown size and nature of the group makes it all the more threatening. Of immediate concern is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), Quantum agent and chairman of ecological organization Greene Planet. He is behind a coup in Bolivia aimed at installing current-General Medrano as dictator. In exchange, he will get a small piece of desert land–for oil, or for something else? Bond is also trying to avenge Vesper’s murder and regain the trust of MI6 and M (Judi Dench), who think the grief-stricken Bond is out of control. In addition, Bond forms a partnership with Russian-Bolivian agent Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), who hopes to avenge the death of her family by killing General Medrano.
It’s a more complicated plot than that of, say, Goldfinger. Things are different now. Instead of megalomaniacs, we have corrupt officials. Instead of world domination, there’s natural resource-speculating. Instead of black and white, there’s lots of gray. Quantum of Solace might have taken its premise from a story I might have watched on CNN–except that story would have been so complicated, and probably so poorly covered, that I wouldn’t have paid attention.
Quantum of Solace seems more conscious of its cinematography than previous installments in the franchise, and the results are varied. One interesting scene takes place during an opera: several members of Quantum are watching Puccini’s “Tosca” while communicating via headsets, Bond listens in and makes some snide comments, they sneak out awkwardly. A subsequent shootout, shot with some slow motion and with opera music in the background, was classier than I’d expect from a Bond flick.
But there is also excessive use of “the jostling camera,” in vogue ever since the Bourne movies. It is mostly distracting. I’d argue that it keeps one from appreciating some of the most impressive action sequences. The best example of this is the car chase that opens the movie. We see the chase in flashes: a door, keys, a thigh, Craig’s face, a broken windshield, a wall, a truck, a car, a pedal, a bird, tires–it’s too much to take in. At several points I thought Bond had died. It was when I’d later see a shot of Bond’s forehead or fingernail that I’d realize that the enemies’ cars, not our hero’s, had flipped over, smashed into walls, flown off a cliff, exploded, etc.
There are exciting things–explosions, mainly–in Quantum of Solace, but it’s hard to be more than lukewarm about a movie with a hero who’s an emotionless jerk and a convoluted plot centered on Bolivian politics, which could be going on right now (without me caring). Maybe that’s my fault–compassion fatigue, anyone?