Quantum of Solace (2008)

February 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

I first saw Daniel Craig in a film called Some Voices (2000), a thoughtful and sincere film about a man who hallucinated while trying to maintain a life, and while I can’t say how accurate a portrayal of mental illness it was, I remember thinking Craig was excellent as a fairly lost character who considers cooking a decent breakfast a victory. Needless to say, the idea that he’d play James Bond didn’t occur to me, but it was a crazy little miracle and an inspired choice to make Craig the new Bond in Casino Royale (2006), a film that wisely re-started the franchise in a tough new mold, after twenty previous films.

But here’s the thing: the Bond films have always been swinging back and forth like a pendulum, in terms of approach. Sean Connery fought a nasty international organization called Spectre before that whole approach was abandoned, never to be mentioned again, and Roger Moore films fluctuated between underwater cars and giants with steel teeth (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977) to much tougher and grittier films free of gadgets (For Your Eyes Only, 1981). Timothy Dalton finished off the eighties with two films that took a more serious approach (he actually requested fewer lines, and hissed comments like “If he fires me I’ll thank him for it”), and while people appreciate them now in hindsight, audiences didn’t at the time, after so many years of giants with steel teeth.

Next, Pierce Brosnan made five films, and as much as I suspect Brosnan is a decent man (and an environmentalist, apparently) I’m afraid I find them all too formula, and his Bond a bit creepy, though they’re at least notable for trying to occupy some kind of middle ground between far-fetched stuff that approaches parody and something more serious.  But certain elements were re-introduced that should have been left alone — it somehow worked in the sixties for Connery to meet characters like Pussy Galore and say “I must be dreaming,” but thirty years later, for Brosnan to be meeting Russian agents named Onatopp (just to he can raise an eyebrow and say “Onatopp?”) simply no longer worked. The scriptwriters in the nineties may have been under the impression Bond seemed sophisticated making those kinds of jokes, but actually he just seemed like a teenager. And if Moore was charming without being believable as a tough agent, Brosnan was the other way around, tough while forgetting to be someone we’d really give a damn about.

There are a few things thankfully different about the Daniel Craig films: they’ve restarted things, with no suggestion he’s a guy that’s been running around since the sixties without aging, and Casino Royale was such a success that for the first time ever a Bond film has more than a passing reference to a previous one. The gadgets, and the scene where he’s introduced to them by Q (one of the more routine elements of the formula) are still gone in Quantum of Solace, and Craig is still outstanding as a Bond that is both tough and human.  Remarkably enough, he still seems human even as he survives wildly unbelievable action sequences, and I really couldn’t tell you how Craig does that except to say again he was an inspired choice for the role, and the best Bond since Connery. Somehow, his Bond seems real enough as a fairly intelligent thug, a kind of human pit-bull with great instincts, huge amounts of loyalty, and the faint hope he’ll figure out how to be happy.

The plot finds Bond investigating a nasty international organization called Spectre — er, sorry, Quantum, in a somewhat muddled plot that has a lot of creepy dudes exchanging briefcases of money and getting pissy with waitresses. Unfortunately, the action sequences are a bit muddled too, with editing so fast I found them a bit of a chore to follow. A friend of mine suggested they at least mirror how out of control those situations would feel, but I still think I’d prefer to know what’s happening every step of the way. On the positive side, there are some great stunts here (particularly in a sequence near the beginning) and it’s an entertaining and engaging film even if it doesn’t match up to Casino Royale. Maybe the villains in this one are a little underwhelming if they seem like nothing more than creepy businessmen, but I’ll take them over cartoonish giants with steel teeth any day, and so will most of the audience today, it seems.

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