007 races across continents, traveling from absurdity to kitsch
Directed by Marc Forster
Water—perhaps the most poetic of the elements. Even as far back as 500 BC, Thales of Miletus crafted an arty doctrine about water, most likely during a haze from smoking a one-hitter. According to Mr. Thales—as noted in Aristotle's immortal Metaphysics—water is the substratum of the world of phenomena. Why it is so remains a mystery, because I was never able to get through Aristotle's Metaphysics. But I now know that, in addition to Thales, Mathieu Amalric in Quantum Of Solace has a high esteem for water, especially the water supply in Bolivia—and not since Thales' doctrine has a man's passion for water captivated audiences everywhere. Granted, the film doesn't significantly contribute to my understanding of pre-Socratic Greek philosophy; but Quantum Of Solace does provide more than, say, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which doesn't provide any insights whatsoever into the cosmological views of ancient Greeks.
It’s fair to say, then, that Quantum Of Solace has something to do with water. Or rather the film suggests that even more compelling than regular water is Bolivian water. At the risk of marginalizing the importance of air, Amalric's shady environmentalist Dominic Greene, the latest in the pantheon of Bondian villains, proclaims that “this is the world’s most precious resource.” It’s a line of dialogue that takes us to his actual scheme in an otherwise murky story. But how it all comes together is expressed in a sizable quantum of rubbish. For the new Bond film is, ultimately, a tale about a director named Marc Forster and an actor named Daniel Craig, and how they’re not very good. The supporting players are producer Barbara Broccoli, her servant Michael G. Wilson, and lead screenwriter Paul Haggis; and they too (I’m sorry to say) are not very good. In 106 minutes, they drag us through sudden shifts in locales—Italy, Haiti, Austria, Bolivia, Russia, with occasional stops in London—and forget to probe the significance of the title as Craig’s Bond shoots more stuff, kicks more stuff, and jumps out of the way of more stuff that explodes, all the while beating and killing somebody about every 5 minutes or so.
Frankly, it’s a boon to the filmmakers that this Bond is so action-oriented as to tolerate the rapid changes in locales. Had he been a lethargic chap with interest in, say, model airplane-building, the film would be set primarily in a library basement with Bond surrounded by sniveling nerds intoxicated by Testors glue. But even more important, the character’s propensity for non-stop action signals the strategy of the filmmakers: with Craig’s lack of any semblance whatsoever to Fleming’s James Bond, the wisest course is to turn toward the light, to Carl Weathers’ action hero, Jericho “Action” Jackson, an individual who just happens to be so action-oriented that the world is forced to acknowledge this trait through his nick-name. Henceforth, Craig’s Bond shall be referred to as “Action Bondson” in this essay because it is only fitting that proper homage is given to the character’s inspiration. For behind the mask of a glossy $230 million production, Quantum Of Solace is about as intelligent as the Carl Weathers classic and certainly no different in caliber from a typical direct-to-DVD effort by your Van Dammes and your Dolph Lundgrens. It is a spasmodic jumble of action scenes, this Quantum Of Solace, and completely unpleasant in its incoherence. Even worse: it expects us to forego logic but unfolds with a pretentious tone to assert itself as a serious thriller. In this approach, Quantum Of Solace moves consistently from the outrageous to the ridiculous, from absurdity to kitsch.
Principal photography spanned from January to June 2008. The outcome: a barrage of explosions, fight scenes, rooftop chases, speedboat chases, motorcycle chases, fight scenes, car chases, airplane crashes, explosions, fight scenes, and explosions, all packaged in dizzying camera work and frantic changes in locale. According to the publicists, this is suppose to be a “high octane thriller” that will leave everyone in frightful suspense. I can report that from the very first frame (a sweeping aerial shot of a cliff by the sea) I was overcome with fright—and all because the odorous fat guy seated next to me was unaware that his massive buttery forearm was oozing on the armrest. On screen Vladimir Putin, or rather Action Bondson, is driving some sort of vehicle, and there are flashes of winding roads that lead into mountain tunnels. We are, so the publicists have explained, witnessing the aftermath of Casino Royale. By my estimate the event is about one hour after the previous film, although the exact number of hours depends on your time zone.
I believe this opening scene is all part of a massive car chase. There are gun barrels protruding from car windows, blazing machine guns, screeching tires, and rapid glimpses and close-up shots of Action Bondson behind the steering wheel and the bad guys in their respective vehicles. The effect is so claustrophobic, with the entire sequence lacking any spatial sense, and it ends before one can fully discern what has happened. It’s symptomatic of the entire film, this ushered restless style of narrative, and you’ve got to hand it to director Forster for pulling off a clever trick: with the absence of a solid script, he cobbled together action scenes haphazardly, dispensing with any need for coherence. With the actors and events concealed by the utter confusion of choppy rapid-fire editing, Forster was actually free not to tell any kind of story or create anything engaging with the characters—simply because no one could see anything but a blur of fast-paced action! He must be saluted for that, if for nothing else than his ability to continue making stupid movies.1
Indeed, I would attempt to summarize the garbled story, but to do so would be as difficult for me, and as beneficial for you, as giving you an explanation of the vision I had as a child when I saw cats, during a snow blizzard, riding snow machines in a squadron formation. I did grasp that Quantum Of Solace has something to do with a shadowy omnipresent organization called Quantum. They consist of effeminate guys in tuxedos, and who obviously think so little of themselves that they allow Mathieu Amalric to boss them around. Moreover, it is never explained why this organization is called Quantum, or why this organization is of the solace kind. Are there other kinds of Quantum organizations, such as Quantum Of Loudness, or Quantum of Annoyance? Sad to say, we never learn. All I know is that Amalric’s Dominic Greene attempts to be a menacing villain—a futile endeavor because he has an uncanny resemblance to a lemur.
He is an idiotic creation, this Dominic Greene, with the level of irritation that rivals that of Mr. Furley of Three’s Company or that big-headed Martian in The Flintstones, the Great Kazoo or whatever he is called. Dominic Greene mumbles, he saunters about in floral shirts, bugs his eyes and throws lingering glances at Action Bondson. He progressively conveys, much like his bodyguards, the persona of a greasy, gay foreigner with a vague accent. It’s unclear what the filmmakers intended for the character but early in the film we learn that Greene has a girl toy, Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), so some sort of pansexual persona seems to be at work.2 Nevertheless, he concocts traps and assassination plots, scheming like Iago, or the troublesome twins in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, to pursue his evil plan. Unfortunately, he unveils the plan far too late in the film, which has something to do with restoring a despot to power in exchange for control of the water service in Bolivia.
There’s brilliant vision for you: Greene is in cahoots with the most powerful terrorist syndicate in the world, an organization that could infiltrate governments and control powerful global industries—oil companies, munitions manufacturing, take your pick. But not for him, thank you very much. He’s quite content to run the water service in Bolivia. His final duel with Action Bondson is laughable and over far too quickly: in the midst of explosions, the lemur-like Greene picks up an axe and screams like a girl every time he swings it. I found the entire performance difficult to watch. Amalric is forced to find something in his character to fill the void, to be doing something to evoke a strong sense of conflict with Action Bondson—which is sorely lacking in the story. It’s camp and purge acting, but altogether an uphill battle. For even more disturbing than this villain is to wonder what Amalric attempted to do—grasping desperately the essence of the character without knowing what to find.
What Quantum Of Solace needs, the one thing needful to make it all bearable, is every drop of the magnetism of a leading man. Instead, we’re back to the problem we faced in Casino Royale: at the center of the nonsense, we find the one and only Daniel Craig. The man whose almost mythic ability of capturing the screen charisma of Corey Feldman stretches himself even further. Perhaps it’s the disheveled bowl haircut or the pained expression of knowing he’s been utterly miscast, but Craig doesn’t so much look like a dangerous secret agent as he does a geriatric hairdresser gadding about in tight-fitted shirts and shiny white pants. The sartorial indignity that Craig suffers is unmerciful. Craig should always wear loose-fitting clothes to cover up his diminutive appearance. This would lessen the filmmakers’s need to show off the actor as a muscle-bound 007 to compensate for his short stature. Unfortunately, that approach would only mitigate one of his problems; the bigger problem is that Craig continues to devolve into a bizarre craggy worn state. It is impossible, we must admit, to deny the idiocy, the kitsch, in the characterization: we have a narrative time unfolding just after the end of Casino Royale but Action Bondson has aged at least 10 years in appearance. Moreover, I’ve never understood why the series had to be rebooted to show the so-called origin of the character and his Double-O status through an actor with an aged scaly mug. At least that is how Madam Barbara Broccoli has envisioned Fleming’s Bond. Personally, I think Giancarlo Giannini (as Mathis) looks even more robust and youthful than Craig. The veteran Italian actor remains dashing and has obviously adhered to a top-notch skin care regimen that must have dazzled Craig’s legion of make-up artists.
Still, the reboot was the mission of the Bond makers: to update the 007 mythology; to make it palatable to younger audiences, in particular to the homeboys wearing baggy pants and the bills of their baseball caps backwards. But does it all have to lead to a guy who reminds us of an aging mesomorphic Vladimir Putin? Alas, it is where we are in the franchise. The notion of a youthful, fledgling 007 at almost age 40, masked by a craggy mug, was not only inconceivable but the main kitschy element of Casino Royale, and in this context Craig excels.
So how does he live up to all the hype for Quantum Of Solace? Well, he’s not bad if you don’t expect much at all, or if you favor a 007 portrayed as a pitiful chunk of muscles from MI6 knocking the living daylights out of someone dumber than himself. The bland delivery of dialogue is ever present, as it was in Casino Royale, only this time his words are even more hollow and flat. There are the awkward moments when he relies on crossing his arms to get through dialogue scenes; and the over-acting in fight scenes is underscored with grunts while his eyes remain lifeless and glazed. It is a personality devoid of any range at all, a piano without keys, so to speak. Dour, detached, and uninvolved, Craig harks back to the nuances of Steven Seagal’s performance in Mercenary For Justice (2006).
Apparently, there’s more to the character, so the gushing press releases tell me. Even Marc Forster babbled about the deep characterization just before filming began, emphasizing an inward psychological exploration: “When Bond began in the Connery days, travel was a luxury not everyone could afford. Today, the world has become smaller.... The only interesting trip remains the journey inwards, deep in to the psyche” (“Bond 22 Starts Filming on Jan. 3”). Quantum Of Solace, then, is a psychological study à la Bergman, only without the actual brooding study. Sad to say, whatever Forster had in mind never made it to the screen; but, hey, he does offer a Bond on a killing rampage, which is the closest we’ll ever get to an intricate meditation on human angst in this celluloid landfill.
Any trace of a character study is relegated to a fleeting backstory (perpetuated by said press releases), appearing in the film as a vague reference to the agent’s emotional struggle against the suicide and betrayal of Casino Royale heroine, Vesper Lynd. To snap out of the misery, Action Bondson realizes the only sensible thing to do is to hunt the sinister group behind her death. Hence, the globe-trotting and mayhem. After all, there are only so many people you can beat up and kill in Siena, where the film essentially begins, before you feel the urge to beat up and kill people in other countries. Through it all, Action Bondson roams the streets, night or day, causing quite a bit of explosions and turning set-pieces into 1s and 0s to have them rendered as shoddy CGI effects.
The producers are still adamant that Craig is the ideal Bond according to Fleming’s vision. This underscores their use of a Fleming title (regardless of how obscure a short story it derives from) as well as their eagerness to base the new film as an extension of Casino Royale to link the actor to the Fleming novel. Unfortunately, their approach is far from Fleming as they could be. Although it is accurate that Bond, in Fleming’s novel, is tormented over the death of Vesper, he has no intention of seeking those who caused her death through a personal vendetta. At the end of the novel, Fleming’s Bond understands the circumstances of Vesper’s death and has a clear vision of himself as the destroyer of SMERSH:
It is this threat behind the spying, a powerful force of dread, that destroyed Vesper. For Bond, it takes on a sinister shape, a monolithic system under the guise of SMERSH. It is clear to him what he needs to pursue and destroy. This state of mind is in contrast to his earlier state, and his transformation takes us to the dramatic centerpiece of the novel. Earlier, as Bond recovers in hospital from the torture of Le Chiffre, he tells Rene Mathis that he no longer has a clear vision of himself as a secret agent, that his role as hero is uncertain because good and evil are transitory, interchangeable:
These are the words of a disillusioned man. In the books, Bond is closer to a Sartrean existentialist than to a pulp action hero: he is an individual in dread over uncertainty. Put another way, if the opposites of good and evil are interchangeable, if the role of the hero can be quickly transformed into the role of the villain, then life (human existence) loses its dimensions and becomes empty, like a cave. Fleming’s Bond discerns that nothing is concrete or absolute. He is troubled by the lack of meaning or substance in the world, or at least in his world. By no longer finding value in what he does, he tells Mathis that he wants to resign and, secretly, intends to marry Vesper. He is in love with her, or perhaps he thinks he is in love with her; and without anything to structure his world, he retreats inward, to his love for Vesper, as the foundation in his life. Sure, it’s a straightforward method, quite human and poignant, but fails to take into account complications such as betrayal and suicide. In the final scene of the novel, Vesper is revealed as a double agent and, torn between duty and her love for Bond, overdoses on sleeping-pills. Bond discovers her lying in bed, “straight and moulded like a stone effigy on a tomb” (174), and he is shattered emotionally. His world again crumbles but he hardens himself, vowing to hunt down SMERSH and this business about the threat behind all the vicious spying. So again, he finds something as a foundation to his life, he has something to act upon and seek a meaning to his life, to struggle for a cause.
None of this is adapted for the screen. If anything, by discarding a sincere adaptation of Casino Royale and throwing Craig’s Action Bondson into a hunt for those who caused Vesper’s suicide, the filmmakers override Fleming’s concept of the agent. The crucial dialogue in the novel—the notion of the uncertainty of good and evil—also loses its impact on screen: it is Mathis who, in Quantum Of Solace, says the haunting bits about the heroes and villains getting mixed up, rather than Craig’s Bond—a profound flaw because, by switching the dialogue over to Mathis, the filmmakers lose Bond’s dramatic transformation—his self-realization—which, as we have seen, is fundamental to Fleming’s depiction of the character.
There are other aspects of Craig’s Bond that make the character even more remote from Fleming’s intentions. For example, why does Action Bondson dump Mathis’ body in a dumpster in an alley? The scene is ludicrous. In the Fleming books, the theme of friendship abounds, and Bond has deep value for his allies. He would never throw a loyal friend such as Mathis into a dumpster. Gone also is the connoisseurship of the character. This Bond is rather dismissive about what he drinks. On a plane to Bolivia, we find him drinking at the bar but is unable to tell Mathis what precisely he is drinking. It is the bartender who explains the ingredients of the drink, essentially repeating a line of dialogue from CASINO ROYALE, as uttered by the literary Bond but obviously denied from the screen character: “‘Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel’” (45). Fleming's 007 is a man of very personal tastes in epicurean delights. “‘I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink,’” he tells Vesper in that first novel. “‘It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details’” (54). Bond’s hard drinking, hard smoking, his penchant for the finer things in life suggest an act of celebration—the celebration of his being. Note how the agent, shocked from the explosion that occurs near the beginning of the novel, sits by the window in his hotel room “and enjoyed being alive” (39). He savors a glass of whisky and takes delight in his lunch (pate de foi gras and cold langouste) and reminds himself “to tip the waiter doubly for this particular meal” (40). In the face of death, Bond cherishes life in the here-and-now. It’s a variation of carpe diem mixed with a bit of dry existentialism: life is everything, Fleming seems to say; death is nothing. This is the basis for Bond’s devotion to the gratification of sensual desires.
Forster edited Quantum Of Solace in a nondescript building in London’s Soho. He was given an aggressive deadline: a mere two weeks to deliver the first cut to the producers, and a total of “five or six weeks to edit the whole movie” (Calhoun). Supposedly, he accepted the project (“a commercial film,” as he calls it) based on the producers promise that they would “fight for my creative vision.” Presumably, the jumble of chaos on screen fulfills that creative vision. If long joyous sessions of beery shenanigans were celebrated by Forster and his editors, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. This would also explain why a great deal of the dialogue is unintelligible, with a scattering of sub-titles in many scenes, and the sound mix in disarray.
Forster goes straight to the problem of the crammed post-production schedule. “I wish we would have more time to craft the film properly. For instance, with The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan had a year to cut his movie, to work on the visual effects, to reflect. I don't have that time and so compromises have to be made” (Calhoun). Ah, compromises! And this sentiment from Herr Forster harks back to the comments he made while shooting in Chile several months earlier when he announced, rather prematurely, that he would not be involved in the next Bond film. At the time, the beleaguered director proclaimed that “If I would ever do a big movie again in that size, it has to be my own franchise, which I would create from scratch, which I would cast, create the look and really create the franchise on my own” (“Next Bond movie underway in Chile”). Clearly, this is a director who felt he lost his grip on his creative vision.
The brevity of the film (the shortest entry in the series) not only indicates that all sorts of compromises were made but that many scenes were dropped—which begs the question, Why? Were the scenes utterly bad, so bad that they just wouldn’t work? The flow of the film certainly points to missing sections of exposition because so many moments in the story lack clarity. For example, Action Bondson meets Camille in Haiti where she suddenly appears and orders him to get into her car. It’s unclear why she needs to make contact with him because they’ve never met before. As the car speeds down a narrow street, Action Bondson notices in the rear mirror that they are being followed by an enemy agent on a motorbike. Why are they being followed? The entire sequence is completely meaningless.
The car scene does provide them with a few moments of stilted dialogue. They discuss matters of, well, nothing because the topic of conversation is completely unclear:
It doesn’t occur to Action Bondson that Camille is the vamp from those mindless videogame-based action films, certainly fresh from her Shakespearean performance in The Hitman (2007) but whose hotness has since fizzled into blandness. Nevertheless, as often happens in Haiti, she grabs the gun to emphasize their pleasant conversation. Action Bondson (ever so action-oriented) fails to recognize her gesture of protection—an I-will-protect-you-from-the-bad-guys kind of thing. He therefore grabs her wrist, the gun goes off through the open window, and he leaps out of the car. Understandably, Camille drives away, embarrassed that she showed up at all. At the same time, Action Bondson is visibly upset and beats up the goon tailing them on the motorbike. It’s a big misunderstanding that could have easily been rectified had neither of them overreacted.
Cut to the scene on the docks: here we see what director Forster has been shaping in Action Bondson’s encounter with Camille. She meets Dominic Greene and General Medrano (a South American despot as hairy as Robin Williams). Action Bondson watches them from a distance on the motorbike, paying careful attention to Camille. Again, as often happens in Haiti, beautiful women are captured by South American despots in daylight in a busy harbor, and so Medrano and his armed guards usher Camille to a speedboat. Fortunately, due to his action-oriented nature, Action Bondson springs into action—and we realize the character motivation that just occurred: director Forster is depicting Action Bondson’s tactic for wooing women! It is a unique approach that breaks the conventions of the romantic hero. Let us call it the “Surveillance Camera” technique. Its first rule is never risk contact with the woman in question. Your method should be that of a surveillance camera, observing from the distance quietly, remaining unnoticed as you track the subject who is completely unaware that a surveillance camera has amorous feelings for her. This technique emphasizes that it’s best to keep at least a minimum of 250 yards from the woman to avoid any conversation that could lead to embarrassing disaster.
There’s just one problem with this technique: it’s difficult to learn the woman’s name, let alone ask her out on a date, when you never make any actual contact. Sure, Action Bondson had that scuffle in the car with Camille; but the encounter, as we’ve seen, led to complications. This is why it’s best to have an action-oriented spirit, which is an effective way to connect with the woman. Action Bondson therefore revs up the motorbike and speeds into the film’s boat chase. The illogical nature of the scene—why should Action Bondson rescue Camille after she attempts to shoot him in the car?—is cleverly erased by Forster as he shifts our attention to the amorous tactic of our hero.
I cannot help making a comment on Action Bondson’s propensity for action: in his constant need for action, he (along with the filmmakers) sacrifice another main trait of Fleming’s Bond. In Quantum Of Solace, gone is the wicked virile playboy: Action Bondson seems to be impotent, never truly expressing a strong appetite for women. Yes, the bed-hoppings are absent, erasing the notion of the James Bond films as escapist fare for warm-blooded heterosexuals. One can argue that Action Bondson is not in the mood for sexual frivolity because he's still in grief over the loss of his beloved Vesper. To which I say, "Nah!", even a "Bah!" This approach makes Quantum Of Solace even more remote from the Fleming novels; for the literary character is a virile male specimen who longs for women to love, or at least to seek them for comfort. In YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, we find him seated on a bench in Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regent's Park, just eight months since his wife Tracy di Vincenzo had died, and his brooding ruminations reveal that he had delved into sensual desires to contend with the loss:
And Craig's Action Bondson? Well, he's in dire need of regaining his manhood. I dislike following him along this tame monastic path, a path that started in Casino Royale: he does not object to gadding about in tight-fitted shirts and shiny white pants, and seems to draw more attention from the effeminate villains than from the aforementioned heroine Camille, who remains essentially distant, never once expressing any attraction to him. The only romantic scene occurs in a hotel suite with the young government girl, consul officer Fields (Gemma Arterton).3 In what seems like pressure from MI6, Action Bondson relents and agrees to give sex a try. It is, shall we say, disastrous, even laughable. Action Bondson doesn’t so much sizzle in flirtation with Fields as he does parboil in awkwardness. Abandoning the Surveillance Camera technique, the character relies on a dorky pick-up line: “I can’t find my stationery,” he tells her. “Will you come and help me look for it?” It is a seduction technique worthy of Screech Powers in Saved By The Bell. Mercifully, the entire love scene is brief; for the sight of Grandpa Craig-Bond hovering over the naked back of young agent Fields is ghastly. At the same time, the brevity does weaken the scene, because their tryst essentially occurs off screen, thus making the climax—much like Agent Fields’, we can only assume—rather anti-climactic.
Now if only Forster had other schemes, such as the Surveillance Camera technique, in which to hide his lousy storytelling! Unfortunately, he resorts to lesser unimaginative methods. There are remakes of previous Bondian scenes, most notably the passing of said Agent Fields. She and Action Bondson, now relieved from any further trysts, easily agree that he can leave the suite for a while to blow up more set-pieces. When he returns, he’s stunned to see that she’s in bed, covered entirely in melted chocolate. Fortunately, M appears to explain that Agent Fields is actually dead, and the killer was thoughtful enough to drag a barrel of oil into the suite and, with delicate precision, poured the gooey dark liquid onto her body without any of it dripping from the sides of the bed. An obvious wink to Shirley Eaton’s gold-painted Jill Masterson, the scene is a useless homage to Goldfinger.
There are also remakes of action set-pieces from the Bourne series (the roof-top chase in Siena, a knife fight, the close-quarters disarming of government agents) but they lack the coherence of a Paul Greengrass action composition. Forster’s approach, ushered along by second-unit director Dan Bradley (fresh from his towering work in The Bourne Ultimatum) is nothing more than a cheap knock-off: as previously mentioned, it consists of extreme close-ups and abrupt editing that obscure the action, making it difficult for us to discern what is happening. As a result, there is no suspense and we stop caring about the characters. Meanwhile, Judi Dench (who should have known better) pops in and out of the story in something of a deus ex-machina role (only without the Greek chorus) to attempt to explain certain events. But the notion of the MI6 leader tailing Action Bondson around the world is ridiculous and unrealistic. Earlier in the film, her reaction to the moles within British Intelligence is equally ridiculous. She seems to be so astounded that treachery exists in the world of espionage: “What the hell is this organization?” she asks. “How can they be everywhere and we know nothing about them?” The delivery is unintentionally laughable.
Yet somehow it’s all meant to be oh, so serious—thanks in large part to screenwriter Paul Haggis. Known for his Marxist leanings, Haggis inserts leftist propaganda while Forster, with his knack for pretentiousness, falls for the crap—and the result is a film that regresses deeper into kitsch with its bits of preachy polemics against geo-political corruption and the evil American Imperialism that exploits poor countries. Yes, we’re back to this business about water. You see the bad guys are stealing the water in Bolivia, and we’re treated to the occasional shot of poor farmers in a dusty village gathered by a dripping faucet, a stern reminder from Haggis and Forster that this is all part of the sinister schemes of international thieves and their dealings with South American despots and shady US government officials. Why any one thought that a Marxist wack-job and the director of The Kite Runner would make a wonderful duo was either blindly stupid, vigorously seeking the death of rational thought, or in drastic need of clinical help.
There are also moments when the film bogs down in its own self-consciousness. The Tosca opera scene is Forster at his finest, flaunting his ego: the audio track contains music only; and the images, lacking sound effects, switch between Bond’s gunplay and the violence occurring in the opera to evoke a trance-like silent montage. It’s the type of sequence that an eager film student would assemble but completely pointless in a Bond movie where action is not the medium for visual metaphors; rather, its sole purpose is to deliver suspense for a thriller.
For all the hype on shooting Puccini’s opera on the floating stage at the Bregenz Festival House in Austria, not much of it is clearly visible in the darkly lit scenes. The other major set-pieces are also underused. The Palio di Siena horse race, in particular, received much attention during the two weeks of on-location filming in Siena. Yet the grandeur of the event is hardly seen in the movie. Likewise, the finale is flat with the death of the lemur, Dominic Greene, occurring off screen. Forster must have run out of film stock from spending too much time filming desert landscapes and explosions. In a desperate attempt to add suspense in the final act, he presents Action Bondson confronting the villain in the desert. It is, we must admit, the weakest showdown between hero and villain in the series: Action Bondson decides to let the lemur walk into the hot desert horizon with a can of oil to quench his thirst. Sure enough, the lemur does die in the desert—as summarized by M in, of all places, Russia (another shift in locale occurs at the very end). It’s a dramatic conclusion to the life of the lemur, although M fails to take into account that the rest of Greene’s lemur clan in Madagascar are left with disturbing questions. Why? they ask. Why our lemur? Why not a scorpion or a meerkat? Surely there are many meerkats in the desert from which to choose? What has our quiet lemur clan ever done to MI6? It’s a grim reality we face, especially when the world is roamed by an Action Bondson. Try as we might to get such an action-oriented guy to listen, it is a long and difficult struggle, and one lemur clan alone cannot change the way of things.
There are other struggles, one involving the James Bond theme, which hardly registers in the film. It seems composer David Arnold was unsure if he was scoring a Bond film or a Dolph Lundgren action fest and was forced to leave traces of the famous theme in the soundtrack. The rest of his score is serviceable but non-thrilling. The other standard elements of a Bond film—the title song and title credit sequence—are among the worst in the series. The hideous hip-hop tune, masquerading as a Bond song, is a desperate appeal to younger audiences. Unfortunately, your teenyboppers in baggy jeans and loose-fitting hooded sweaters aren't Bond fans. Call me cynical, even elitist, but it seems to me that the homeboy segment of society is anti-establishment and despises the class and elegance that Bond represents. I highly doubt this group appreciates Bollinger champagne and longs to wear Brioni suits. Then again, Craig’s Action Bondson carries an aspect of the homeboy type. Aside from parading about in metrosexual attire, he does exude an uncouth essence, which points once again to the intention behind the rebooted series: to present a Bond for the Beavis and Butt-head generation; to appeal to college frat boys guzzling Coronas and thinking that Ludacris is a true poet laureate. Meanwhile, as the song unfolds, we are treated to a lack lustre title sequence by MK12. Consisting primarily of sand and desert imagery, with silhouette figures of Craig, it emphasizes that the filmmakers are devoid of fresh ideas. To make matters worse, the credits are infused with cheap fonts akin to those produced from 1970s Letraset sheets. Bond fans throughout the world surely cringed in embarrassment during this sequence.
Quantum Of Solace is the worst Bond film to date and certainly one of the dumbest movies made in the last five years. The story is completely muddled—a profound, disjointed, meaningless uninvolving narrative—and the entire approach to the film is schizophrenic. From the outset, as reports uncovered the troubled script development,4 the filmmakers never truly had a focused idea. The final outcome is a voice struggling to be heard, drowned in the loud voices of disparate styles and intentions. The film attempts to continue the story of Casino Royale by presenting a Bond in grief over the death of Vesper Lynd; but as if the filmmakers hadn’t the strength to pursue that character study and to the furthest limit, another approach hastens to their aid: an onslaught of action and an editing pace that race by without lingering on anything. In this approach, the film becomes self-conscious of its place in the spy genre: it struggles to be accepted as a serious thriller but its story is garbled; it resorts to emulate the Bourne franchise, thereby admitting its inability to stand on its own; and, at the same time, it strips itself of the iconic elements that made the series famous—gone are the gadgets, the humor, the Bond girls galore, baroque villains, Q and Miss Moneypenny, and the line “Bond, James Bond,” as uttered by our hero. Moreover, the gun barrel logo, traditionally appearing at the start of each Bond film, is inexplicably relegated to the end. There are also bizarre hints of pansexuality, even obscenity (witness General Medrano's unnecessary rape of a young woman5), as well as polemics against America and geo-political corruption, although the film is unfocused on what it criticizes. It’s a film that is unsure of what to do, struggles to be a grim realistic story, struggles to distance itself from its own Bondian identity, yet it also rehashes certain scenes from previous 007 films in a frantic attempt to find its own voice. In this respect, the film bounces from absurdity and plunges into the depths of kitsch. Ah, this approach is regrettable, painful to watch.
Even more disturbing: just as in Casino Royale, the Bond in Quantum Of Solace is calculated to draw the widest possible demographics, a Universal Bond if you will, one who abandons the iconic playboy lifestyle of James Bond in favor of an effeminate metrosexual persona—devoid of virility, Action Bondson is, in a sense, emasculated to appease feminists, to accord with political correctness, and, on another level, to appeal to gay audiences; yet as an uncouth thug, he also plays straight into the sentiment of a world that, perhaps more vulgar and crass than ever, can no longer remember the concept of “debonair.” In other words, Quantum Of Solace is a Bond film that shuns the spirit of Fleming’s credo. “I have no message for suffering humanity,” Fleming declared, emphasizing that his books were written for a specific audience, “warm-blooded heterosexuals in railway trains, airplanes or beds” (“How to Write a Thriller” 2). Farewell, then, to Fleming’s Bond. Farewell also to the enigmatic Bond that Terence Young and Richard Maibaum envisioned for Dr. No (1962)—dashing, darkly handsome, ruthless but romantic, that James Bond was the archetypal 007 who somehow reflected Fleming’s vision and spoke to audiences as pure cinema magic. Sadly, under the guise of Craig’s Action Bondson, the character now suffers from an emptiness within, the unbearable lightness of a hollow man, empty like the barren deserts in Quantum Of Solace.
|1||For a discussion of Marc Forster’s films, refer to my essay “On Marc Forster.”|
|2||The ambiguity of the Dominic Greene character, which reflects the incoherent storyline, suggests that the filmmakers were apprehensive and ultimately clueless in their approach to this film. A rumor that surfaced during filming, indicating that Amalric's villain is gay, lends insight into their unclear vision: Marc Forster would not confirm or deny the report; Amalric, on the other hand, advised audiences to “watch for subtext in his interaction with Bond” and also emphasized that “his ruthless businessman baddie has sexual issues” (“Bond Rumor Report: News from the Solace Set”).|
|3||With each new Bond, the producers are forced to play to the strengths of that particular actor. The casting of Craig in the 007 role brings its own set of limitations, one of which is the loss of the virile romantic figure. Unless audiences worldwide are enraptured by a sexy, charismatic 007 in a Vladimir Putin kind-of-way, there is no way Craig would be believable as a dashing secret agent who could bed any woman he wants. Hence, the underlying reason why the producers are forced to downplay the iconic style of the playboy Bond. In turn, this approach plays into the producers eagerness to reach a wider demographic: Craig's Bond, devoid of virility, is metaphorically emasculated and transformed into something of an effeminate, metrosexual spy that appeases feminists, harmonizes with political correctness, and appeals to gay audiences.|
|4||For more information about the chaotic script development, refer to my essay “Consider the Chaos.”|
|5||The rape is a fleeting scene, practically hidden in the rapid editing pace but suggestive enough to be noticeable. It does not advance the plot in any way, nor does it offer any insight into the General Medrano character—we already know he's an evil guy, so this scene is worthless and unnecessary.|