Over the years, I’ve been awfully hard on 007. The legacy films were not a part of my formative experience (my parents objected to the sexual overtones), so I evolved without a knowledgeable appreciation of the world’s favorite super-spy.
What I did have, however, were vivid imaginations of what the James Bond movies might be, absorbed by osmosis and embellished by my own adolescent fetishes, and these were sultry fantasies indeed. In my young mind, James Bond existed in a cosmopolitan noir, darting through the shadows of exotic locales, trading barbs with diabolical villains and long, loaded gazes with treacherous sirens. There were secret codes, mysterious passageways, and underground hideouts. There were rogue operatives, false identities and double-double-crosses; a seamy, smoke-filled world of furtive glances, surreptitious signals and clandestine rendezvous, all simmering just beneath the glossy facade of tailored tuxedos and expensive drinks. It was rich stuff.
Here, then, is a partial list of things that did not exist in my imagined Bond universe: invisible cars, space-lasers, x-ray sunglasses, robots, jet packs, hovercrafts, and flamethrowing bagpipes. Therefore, it was a rather cruel surprise when I reached an age of independence and started sampling the actual 007 films for myself. I’ll admit, the crushing disappointment was a result of my own misguided preconceptions, but there it was. After a brief sampling, I washed my hands of 007 and his big, cartoony, pseudo-sci-fi world.
But then came Casino Royale. I had no interest in seeing it, of course, but enthusiastic friends badgered me into a reluctant rental, and that night a small part of me was born again. Many praises have been rendered in honor of Martin Campbell’s reboot, so I’ll simply say this was the Bond film for which I had always pined. It was smart, tense, sexy, and believable. It was populated with dangerous characters who knew they were playing with the highest stakes, and acted accordingly. They didn’t seem to realize they were in a spy movie. Daniel Craig imbued Bond with personality instead of a persona, and he made 007 someone we could root for, rather than marvel (or worse, laugh) at. In the space of three hours, I became a convert.
My love for this new incarnation of Bond gave me further incentive to jeer at the rest of the canon. The perfection of Casino Royale drew the absurdities of the old films into even sharper relief, making them that much easier to dismiss. For me, Casino Royale was more than just a good film, it was vindication. This, at last, was what I always knew James Bond movies were supposed to look like.
And so it was, with the fanaticism of a new convert, I found myself purchasing advance tickets for Quantum of Solace. I was there on opening night, ready to experience what was sure to be a riveting new chapter in the saga of Bond reborn.
I’ll bet it was pretty good, too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see about 70% of what happened in the film, because director Marc Forster and his editors were so busy trying to punch me in the retinas that they forgot to actually show what was going on. There are no reserves left in my well of forgiveness for directors who shoot action scenes as if the whole point were to disorient the audience. It doesn’t create tension or momentum. It’s disassociative, in fact, and it’s lazy filmmaking. This was a loud, mindless, action movie, so poorly shot and cut that I resented it before the end of act one. Quantum of Solace is every bit as raucous and dumb as Casino Royale was subtle and smart.
I’m pretty sure there were a few lines of dialogue in this movie, but they served mostly as respite between beats of the Chase Scene, which started in a car, then continued on foot, over rooftops, on motorcycles, in boats, and finally (why not?) in airplanes. Ask yourself this: when you stage that many action sequences, plus the obligatory seduction scene and explosive finale, in a 100-minute film, how much time is left for drawing characters, constructing plot, creating ambience, and building tension? I’ll answer for you: not much. It’s a matter of simple mathematics.
In a Herculean feat, Daniel Craig single-handedly saves the film from being unwatchable. Despite the headache-inducing foolishness around him, his Bond always remains believable and engaging. Mathieu Amalric shows promise as the snaky villain Dominic Greene, but he’s ultimately defeated by the weak material.
I will give Quantum of Solace two terrific moments. First is the virtuoso opera house sequence, in which Forster goes a bit over the top, but succeeds in creating an echo of the tension and bad-assery that characterized Casino Royale. Second is the climactic throw-down between Bond and Greene, which was as visceral and brutal as they come.
So, if this was such a rotten movie, why do I owe James Bond an apology? Over the last few nights, the cable channel Spike has been showing some of the older flicks, and since I had Bond on the brain, I sat through a couple. You know what I noticed? I was able to follow every moment of Pierce Brosnan crashing his invisible car through a palace made of ice while a laser melted it from outer space. I always knew who was getting speared as Sean Connery did battle with a platoon of underwater assailants. Those old Bond flicks, yeah, okay, maybe they were silly, and maybe they weren’t what I wanted them to be, but they were shot by people who knew how to tell a story in a visual medium, and they had distinct personalities. Quantum of Solace made me realize, hey, maybe I wasn’t giving those legacy films enough credit.