Another holiday-time pint of view movie critique of “Quantum of Solace”, the latest James Bond turkey.
The clumsy and ostentatious title refers to our hero’s hard-won emotional release, fought out in a special digital effects studio. This is James “Another time, another place” Bond? Yes, and he’s worse than George Lazenby. He is seriously disturbed.
On the plus side, the opening title sequence is surprisingly stunning, with a dynamic Mercator map motif and, mercifully, a few female figures whose design recalls 1950s era European art photography—not surprising from a middle-aged Swiss director. This is a welcome relief from the direction of the playing card royalty featured in “Casino Royale”. The hip-hop song is infectious but not memorable. This Bond is based, for better and mostly worse, on scenery and special effects.
Another plus are the female leads. Unlike “Casino Royale”, where, unbelievably, the women were less interesting than the men, “Quantum of Solace” sports a wonderful pair of ladies: a sweetheart “girl next door” in Gemma Arterton and the high wattage bombshell, Olga Kurlyenko. Arterton’s so charming that her dalliance with the sour Daniel Craig fails to convince. Otherwise, she etches a distinct portrait in her couple minutes on screen, a good film actress. Olga’s character possesses a tragic background, a bit of nuance and much enjoyable screen time. An alpha female, she looks like a cross between Isabelle Adjani and former Bond vamp Sophie Marceau. In the laughably fake fight scenes, she manages to project real toughness, a bit like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. South America does indeed have a lot of green-eyed Russian beauties, so it’s inspired casting. The remaining actors are either retreads from “Casino Royale” or insipid new characters. “Quantum of Solace” hasn’t even a tiny fraction of the interest and sweep of “From Russia With Love” or “Thunderball”. (For a refreshing contrast, watch 2006′s “Miami Vice”.)
What inspired the creators to change Bond from an intelligent and glamorous hero to a sullen, bitter, whining bore? It’s startling. Better to ask how it beat previous Bond opening box office records. Yet it makes no sense: Daniel Craig wears a new Turnbull & Asser wardrobe every few hours, but shows no sign of being a unique or special person. Now he’s “human” and “normal”—like he’s in psychotherapy. We’re supposed to relate to him as a “construct”. Such tedium. So, why then the flawless clothes tricks? Can’t have it both ways; Sean Connery never did.
By these new personality-driven standards, Felix Leiter, played nicely by Jeffrey Wright, comes across as fascinating compared to Bond. One wishes to know more about him. Truly weird. It occurred to me, while viewing, that Bond might be the true villain here, in an unconscious slip by the filmmakers. Maybe Olga is the next Bond. Maybe Felix?
The water shortage plot device is shallow. Latin American military officers exploit helpless peasants. The fake ecologist bad guy is played weakly and his role has none of the crazed brilliance given to magnificent actors like Michael Lonsdale, Lotte Lenya and Gert Frobe. He isn’t even neurotic (maybe he’s the next Bond). Strangely, too, they take a serious villain from “Casino Royale”—Giancarlo Giannini—and make him not just a good guy, but a bit of a punk. What a waste of a great actor. The Bolivian peasants are treated in a shockingly superficial way, as if they were in a Swissair travelogue. The minimalist eco-resort in the climax is dull. The bad guys have neither ideas nor imagination—they’re just mean; killing them doesn’t matter. Speaking of devices, there are no gadgets. “Anti-tech” means that the hero “moves more sleekly”, as one reviewer praised it. It means also “anti-good”.
Has the Bond franchise left the male fantasy playing field to Marvel and DC? It seems so. Unless you’re 10 years old, costumed super heroes have no credibility, much less interest. They are completely unreal, which is their point. The traditional Bond fan dislikes them—look at the ridiculous “Iron Man”. Is the Bond fan now a young woman, dragged into the theater by Daniel Craig’s damaged allure? Is the great 60s British spy hero—the “anti-Quixote”—all played out? Perhaps Sean Connery was the exception to the rule—a pure man of action. Yet, nowadays, one would think that after 9/11, in a world with a freakishly tall, cave dwelling terrorist, and hi-tech Somali pirates grabbing gigantic freighters, the Bond team would do better than a severely depressed sprinter in a beautiful suit chasing a short nature freak.
Perhaps it’s the running. Men are running now. Running away from the New Jerusalem (some of them) or toward it (a rare few) or just in circles, like around a track. It’s the twilight of the baby boomers. “Boomerdammerung”. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, James Bond isn’t dead, he just smells funny.