On Reviewing Quantum of Solace

Rating:  7.5/10

Quantum of Solace

“Bond.  James Bond.”

Is it really that hard to work this immortal line into a script for a movie that lasts two hours?  Or was the history of 20 films through 40 years so forgettable that all ties to the past needed to be cut?

Unlike Batman, which went through a downtur under the rudderless direction of Joel Schumacher, the James Bond franchise successfully built on prior films in the 40 years from “Dr. No” to “Die Another Day.”  The character development was so successful that the franchise navigated through five actors, incalculatable directors, and the end of an era in the Cold War.  For those who question any continuity in the 20 films, ask any die hard Bond fan to identify the subtle reference in 1999’s “The World is Not Enough” to James Bond’s brief marriage in 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Which brings me to the newest James Bond installment, “Quantum of Solace,” the second feature which ignores all that’s happened in the prior 40 years (although Judi Dench inexplicably returns as M).  Putting aside whether James Bond should be blond (no), whether Daniel Craig is convincing as a babe magnet (no), and whether James Bond should be rough and unpolished (an emphatic no), what is most irratable about the last two films is what seems to be the producer and director’s ardent refusal to adopt what was undoubtedly good and cool from the past films.  The gun barrel opening defined the franchise.  “Bond, James Bond” defined the character.  Yet one was absent from the either.

This doesn’t mean that “Quantum of Solace” is a bad film.  To the contrary, it was a very good one.  To ask whether it was a good film, though, largely misses the point, for the proper inquiry is whether it was a good Bond film.  In that regard, the film succeeds more than “Casino Royale” (2006) did.  One of the hallmarks of a Bond film is Bonds’ travel around the world, and in Quantum of Solace, Bond certainly gets around; I counted at least six destinations in Austria, Italy, Haiti, Bolivia, Russia, and Spain.  It also helped that in this film, Bond behaves like he knows what he’s doing, a trait disturbingly missing in “Casino Royale” in which Bond ran around killing villains and blowing up trucks with no sense of direction.  Watching “Quantum of Solace,” it was a relief to feel like I was watching a James Bond film, a sensation lacking in “Casino Royale” (although, in fairness to Daniel Craig, that’s a common problem in the debut film of new James Bond actors, which leaves “Die Another Day” with no excuse for its failure).

Perhaps more importantly, many of the changes initiated with the “reboot” of the franchise in “Casino Royale” works, including the de-emphasis on gadgets, over-the-top action scenes, and unneccesary explosions.  The renewed focus on a tight, intriguing plot works well, and the introduction of the “Quantum,” presumably the “Quantum of Solance,” as an unknown yet omnipotent evil organization brings an anticipation of a recurring plot line not seen in the franchise since the days of SPECTRE in the 1960s.

This, then, brings me back to my original point of “why?,” as in “why depart from what worked?”  The good of the news could have all been kept with the good of the old.  The gun barrel opening was the one constant from the 1960s.  What rational reason was there to abandon it and, worse, place it at the end of the film in “Quantum of Solace”?  What plausible explanation exists to justify intentionally (because it was clearly intentional) writing out the line, “Bond, James Bond”?  How do the producers explain writing out Moneypenny–and all the humerous dialogue she had with Bond–and have M run around the world like a field agent?  And most importantly, why make James Bond unpolished and unsophisticated, unable to tell the difference between a vodka martini and sake and playing Texas Hold’em instead of Chemin de Fer?  The success of the James Bond franchise was in the cool and suave character whom all men wanted to become.  Changing that for the sake of, I can only assume, change doesn’t make the franchise more attractive.  It just makes it indistinguishable from other run-of-the mill, but well-made action films (think Bourne Identity and its surperior sequel, Bourne Ultimatum).

Ultimately, my problem may be that I’m too attached to the James Bond of the past.  But I think it unfair to criticize me for refusing to adopt to the new.  I welcomed the Pierce Brosnan’s modern James Bond in the post-Cold War world in which Bond couldn’t act like he did in the 1960s, or else he’d take down the government with lawsuits for sexual harassment.  I accepted Timothy Dalton’s dark Bond who longed to avenge the tragedy befallen on his CIA friend, Felix Leiter, in “License to Kill” (1989).*  Sure, Brosnan and Dalton played the modern and vengeful Bond, respectively, better than Craig, but I’m not asking him to do better than either.  I’m just asking for a James Bond that I’ll recognize as Bond, even if it’s with a Daniel Craig twist.

“Quantum of Solace,” showing nationwide, has grossed over $100 million in it first two weeks of release.

For the correct way to open “Quantum of Solace,” see this youtube video or this.

*  The continuity in the character of Felix Leiter is another problem with the “new” Bond series, but let’s not go there.


4 Responses to “On Reviewing Quantum of Solace”

  1. 1 Eddie November 25, 2008 at 4:08 am

    Thanks for the review – well done. I look forward to seeing Quantum soon. I’ve not heard great things about it from Bond fans. One in particular said it had a weak plot. I also heard there are no cool gadgets in this Bond film. I think your analysis is right – this one seems to break away from the others a little too much. I’ll have to see and judge for myself.

  2. 2 joesas November 25, 2008 at 4:16 am

    Thanks for reading, Eddie!

    I actually thought the plot was intriguing, although the villain was a bit weak. I had far more trouble accepting Daniel Craig as James Bond.

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