First, it’s got a great title. Quantum of Solace is worthy of the best Bond movie labels (From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, Octopussy) because it transfers the series’ familiar sexual innuendo into droll morality. When we last left Daniel Craig’s hostile, spiteful 007 in 2006’s Casino Royale, he was expected to exact extreme vengeance for the murder of the women he loved. Representing the world’s most popular and longest-running movie serial, Bond must also be scrupulous (his legendary “license to kill” should be used judiciously). We expect adherence to a personal moral code that matches political expediency. At stake in Quantum of Solace is whether or not the series can grow up.
Bond’s pursuit of nefarious industrialist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) uncovers the usual international subterfuge—Greene’s plan for world domination involves an ecological crisis. But this topical angle is merely embellishment, like director Marc Forster’s studied attempt at thrill-ride filmmaking. He seems to have studied only the Bourne movies. Quantum’s action-scene overture is Bourne-blurry with none of the visual elegance and physical wit of the parkour fight sequence that opened Casino Royale.
No matter, the series’ growth happens more subtly. Toward the end of the globe-trotting escapades (each new locale is announced with distinctive eye-catching graphics), it’s possible to assess Bond’s personalized course of action. Paired with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a questionable enemy/ally with her own motives for pursuing Greene, Bond’s vendetta comes into clearer focus. And here’s where Daniel Craig’s acting prowess makes a difference.
In movies, physiognomy is often character. Craig has a flat, round English face like Ringo Starr or Thom Yorke but with a fighter’s toughness. Even when he wears a tuxedo he doesn’t have Sean Connery’s elegance. Casino Royale may have made Craig an S&M pin-up of the new male-model era but Craig’s on-screen power is as working class as his strong performances in Infamous, Munich and Love is the Devil proved. Through old-school international film-industry apparatus Connery was groomed to cross British imperialism with Playboy magazine upward mobility, but Craig’s Bond represents the Empire’s undisguised crudeness. One minute into Quantum, behind the wheel of his Aston-Martin, he’s already scratched. When he’s shirtless, scars decorate his muscled torso like tattoos. It’s instructive to see this rough-trade Bond prioritize privilege, telling a budget-conscious M1 operative “I’d rather die” then hide in a flophouse—he registers at Bolivia’s Andean Grand Hotel instead. Killing has been the source of Bond’s class advancement and refined taste. Because he’s a soldier and not an etiolated British noble, his guttersnipe aspect gives the series a sociological back story. It’s now a socially and emotionally resonant myth.
When Bond fights a guy on a balcony and coldly watches him die—with his hands still on him—it’s imperative that Quantum take Bond absolutely seriously. Nodding toward environmentalism is less significant than this personalized study of vengeance. Quantum forces us to consider what revenge will do for Bond—and for us. In Dr. No Ursula Andress gasped at a man’s death as Connery looked the other way. The 1960s Bond didn’t need to ponder moral rectitude because his political battles were clear-cut—we knew what espionage meant. But when Quantum gets politically explicit it’s as morally confused as most contemporary political films. (Jeffrey Wright’s CIA agent asks “What would South America be like without coke or Communism?”—rather disingenuous for a global brand-name serial that trafficks in mayhem.)
These complications confound the series, which may explain why Quantum evokes the great Shirley Eaton icon from Goldfinger in a mortifying way. Reworking the Bond imagery keeps the franchise going, but it must be meaningful. Recent action pictures like Luc Besson’s Hitman have already stolen the series’ chic, just as the Indiana Jones films have usurped its fun. Craig takes Bond beyond fun. Quantum offers the in-process restructuring of a pop myth.
Quantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster, Running Time: 106 min.
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