I was going to post a full defense of the reasons I love James Bond movies today, but then I ended up seeing Quantum of Solace a day earlier than I expected. So, now I can just review the new one through the lens of the old ones.
It must have been in the late 80's that I saw my first Bond movie. I'm not sure how, I'm not sure when (probably some time between The Living Daylights and License to Kill), and I'm not sure which one it was, but it kicked off what would end up being a number of years of watching all of the movies multiple times with my best childhood friend. We loved how Bond would inevitably triumph over some ridiculous villain, always using the coolest gadget weapons and then cracking wise with some play on words before dashing off with the girl. He was like a funnier version of MacGyver, but with a haircut, a fun accent, and a job (as an undercover agent no less).
I quickly gained a liking for the Bonds of the 60's and 70's. At the time I only knew Sean Connery as the old guy who talked funny, so it was a revelation to see him as a handsome action star (I had a similar discovery when I first saw Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy). I never understood the prevalent sexual innuendo (which is good), but I always knew there was something about James Bond that made him cooler than action heroes like Indiana Jones or John McClane, even if I couldn't put my finger on exactly why that was the case.
Eventually I came to prefer Roger Moore, mostly because he first starred in Live and Let Die, which remains one of my favorite of the series to this day. Although Moore looked more like a news anchor than an awesome secret agent, he brought something new to the character. He could pull of the dashing Bond looks (flirty smirking included), he had a knack for delivering the post-kill jokes (easily the funniest Bond), and he even managed the action scenes admirably. It should be noted, by the way, that Moore was 45 years old in Live and Let Die and 58 years old in his last of the series, A View to a Kill, which despite Christopher Walken's weirdness still remains an underrated Bond movie.
By the mid-90's I was well versed in the older Bonds and simply satisfied with Timothy Dalton's two movies. In fact I was so busy watching the older ones during that period that I didn't even notice a new one hadn't been released in six years. When GoldenEye eventually came out, I was as surprised as I was excited. It wasn't an immediate hit for me when I saw it, but after multiple viewings and what must have amounted to several thousands of hours of playing the N64 game with my friends, I came to include GoldenEye as one of the most watchable of the series. Pierce Brosnan seemed like a great fit, and had it not been for his last three movies in the series, he might have been one of the greats. Of course, it wasn't entirely his fault since by the late 90's Bond had lost his mojo. A new generation wasn't responding to the old tricks, Austin Powers arrived, and Bond became a slick action series instead of a witty spy series. It's no wonder Brosnan's four films each grossed more at the box office than any of the movies all the way back to Moonraker.
If only because I had almost completely lost faith in the franchise after Die Another Day, Casino Royale was a most interesting development. Daniel Craig, whose first starring role was in my favorite movie of all time (The Power of One), did not at all seem like he could do justice to James Bond in my head, but with the help of some solid action and a nod to some of the older Bond movies, I found Casino Royale to be at least as good as anything since GoldenEye, and my enthusiasm returned for the series. Which brings us to Quantum of Solace.
Before addressing the movie, I have to first address my shocking surprise at the amount of Bond backlash I have seen online in the last month, not only among trusted blogger friends of my generation (Fletch and Elgringo, for example), but also in major movie circles. Who knew that so many people disliked James Bond? I'm blinded by my nostalgia for the series, but how can people find not any redeeming quality in a franchise that's lasted four decades? For a character that fights for his country and the world - and makes jokes while doing it (speaking of which, how could you even find anything in Austin Powers funny if you've never seen Thunderball)? For movies that have some of the best stunts and locations of any action movies in history? I don't get it. There are cases to be made against Bond, but I either haven't heard enough of them or I haven't heard any persuasive ones. For the biggest film franchise in history, I dare say it's only fair to judge them on merit according to each other, and not to the popular culture of the day.
When judging Quantum of Solace only in relation to the other Bond movies, then, you find that it's an almost complete reinvention of both the character of James Bond and the style of the Bond movie. You find, unfortunately, that it's quite awful.
Beginning as it should with a frenzied action scene, we confirm that we're watching what amounts to deleted scenes from Casino Royale. This is no surprise, of course, as the movie is meant to be a full-on sequel. Producer Michael Wilson simply made up the plot for Quantum of Solace during the production of Casino Royale, and the same screenwriting team is back, along with Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah). Ian Fleming? His influence is nowhere to be found.
Aside from being too confusingly edited (which continues throughout the movie, I might add), this opening scene is also way too serious - a real harbinger of the mood to come. Bond is all business now, and he's got no time to have fun or crack a joke about the car he sends off a cliff. As the pre-title sequence ends, we're indeed emotionally "shaken, not stirred".
I first heard about the rumors of the new Bond song at Craig Kennedy's Living in Cinema (I just realized it was actually this thread that produced the Bond series idea, Craig). When the artists were finally confirmed as Jack White and Alicia Keys, I was...curious. Turns out I had good reason, as "Another Way to Die" is possibly one of the worst Bond songs to date, hampered even further by a terribly unimaginative, weirdly futuristic title sequence. I couldn't wait for the beginning to end.
Director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner) doesn't seem to add much new to this production either, aside from some unnecessarily artistic location subtitles and a cloak of confused depression over the entire production. As Bond travels from location to location, we rarely get the same jet-setting feeling present in so many older Bond productions, where we knew we were in a different place because of obvious cultural stereotypes (the gypsy fight in From Russia With Love) and an exotic new Bond girl. The best Forster can offer is Bond's brief time in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, where the hotel clerks inexplicably speak with Jamaican accents.
As Quantum of Solace moves into the heart of the production, we begin to recognize a smidge of Casino Royale and a hint of the old Bond spirit. Some of the same characters float in and out, with a boring new Bond girl (Olga Kurylenko) and a completely dispassionate villain (Mathieu Amalric). There is the obligatory grand party scene (an outdoor opera) and the always creepy villain's sidekick. A boat chase is a particularly welcome sight, but while it's better than the one in From Russia With Love, it's not nearly as much fun as those in Live and Let Die or even The World Is Not Enough. Most of the attempts at capturing the Bond spirit either feel lazy (a complete ripoff of Jill's death in Goldfinger) or accidental (the taxi scene and amusing arrival at the hotel in La Paz was pitch perfect). More than anything else, in fact, Quantum of Solace reminded me a lot more of non-Bond movies.
The scene similarities to The Bourne Ultimatum, for example, could hardly be more obvious, including the hotel room hand-to-hand combat, the cobbled rooftop chases, and even the exact same rear view balcony-to-balcony jump stunt. This James Bond has no gadget weaponry, no tricky killing schemes - not even a cool car! Like Jason Bourne, he's just an amazing athlete with a chip on his shoulder who knows how to use a gun, and like The Terminator, he uses the gun with the same amount of emotion that we use operating a calculator. That the piercingly blue-eyed Daniel Craig doesn't smile one time throughout this movie is about all the proof you need that this isn't good ol' Bond.
Good ol' Bond has a witty line after every elaborate kill (silent after the boat chase?). Good ol' Bond is a charming lothario in the bedroom, not a cold-blooded robot awkwardly trying to crack a joke about not being able to find stationery. Good ol' Bond actually seems to like his job, believe it or not. And really, we don't know much more than that about good ol' Bond, because the old Bond movies aren't actually about James Bond, just like the old Batman movies weren't actually about Bruce Wayne. But now we have The Dark Knight and Quantum of Solace, two attempts to breathe new souls into decades-old characters. Both movies also come as sequels to "new" interpretations of a character (Batman Begins is to The Dark Knight as Casino Royale is to Quantum of Solace).
And while both movies are top-notch cinematic productions, The Dark Knight worked well for me because I have no connection to the Batman character of decades past. Tim Burton's Batman was the start for me, just as GoldenEye was the start for many current Bond fans. But for those people who have an appreciation for Ian Fleming's Bond, for Albert Broccoli's Bond, for Sean Connery's and Roger Moore's Bonds, I can only be surprised if they also enjoy Quantum of Solace. I suppose I should expect that many people have been waiting for the dark side of Bond to emerge, but I'm just not one of them.
"007" is simply the model number of this robotic killing machine...
"Bond, I need you back," presses M as Bond walks out into the snowy night at the end of the movie. "I never left," he says as he drops Vesper's pendant in the snow. Um, is there any better proof that you did leave, James? Since when were you driven by vengeance and a broken heart, like Jason Bourne? Well, I suppose since Casino Royale, which is meant to precede all of the other Bonds anyway. It's just that I still have trouble accepting that this Bond becomes the old Bond, because he seems like a completely different person. Hopefully, the dropped pendant is the end of this chapter in Bond's life.
Please move on, because I need you back, too, Bond.
Don't forget to check out these other Bond posts:
- Christian's insightful background on the Bond brand, including a special appreciation of Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights;
- Craig's fondness for the score and scenery of You Only Live Twice; (Day Two); (Three); (Four); (Five);
- Alexander's persuasive defense of Sean Connery in Goldfinger;
- Miranda's musings on the best Bond women, the best Bond villains, and the best Bond cars;
- My love for The Spy Who Loved Me;
- A classic Bond pre-title sequence from Diamonds Are Forever;
- Alexander's thrashing of Quantum of Solace;
- Miranda's review of the original Casino Royale;
- Alexander's review of the 2006 version of Casino Royale;
- Miranda's review of Quantum of Solace;
- Miranda's review of The Living Daylights;
- Christian's take on the original Casino Royale;
- Miranda's review of Moonraker;
- Miranda's review of License to Kill;
- Christian's appreciation of the Bond theme song that never was;