While attempting to rein in a 007 operating outside the parameters of “duty,” charting a bloody course toward his own goal of revenge and retribution, Judi Dench’s “M” commands several MI6 operatives to “Get Bond!” No need for concern: In Quantum of Solace, director Marc Forster “gets” Bond and gets him right.
The film is as relentless as Daniel Craig’s Bond, and it pursues and pinpoints all the important elements of the genre while moving beyond that necessary blueprint to create a work of dense and entertaining complexity. The action, the pacing, the reptilian villains, the stunning femme fatale and the cold and brutal efficiency of the agent himself are all part of the film’s accomplishments. But Quantum of Solace also carries on the work initiated in Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale (2006), delivering a plotline that records the more complicated power dispensations of the 21st century and a characterization of a multi-dimensional—yet still enigmatic and ruthless—Bond.
Craig’s performance is at the heart of the film’s success. With none of the über-suave and campy sheen of previous Bond incarnations, Craig’s 007 burns cold with inner demons—he’s in it for more than just the glory of being “on her Majesty’s Secret Service”—and bleeds too. A consummate physical actor, Craig telegraphs Bond’s cold-blooded prowess and his “inconsolable rage” over his betrayal by and loss of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale with the grace and contained fury of a boxer in the ring. The film’s title sequence opens with Bond firing a bullet from his Berretta 418. The bullet spins in sand and fire (two of the most important visually realized motifs of the film), slicing across a background of blue sky and shifting gold sand dunes. Craig’s performance realizes Bond as bullet: blunt, deadly and implacably focused on the target. Bond breaks things and discards them with disdain: a steel handle on a door, a pursuer he dangles over a building and countless other bodies and objects. In a superb bit of business that reveals the craft behind the performance, Craig shifts the disordered limbs of three just-savaged and unconscious MI6 agents into an elevator with a small backward movement of his foot: The elevator doors close, taking the men on another ride, but Bond doesn’t look back—he’s already moved on.
Forster knows his way around the Bond canon and gives the viewer lots of camera work, set design and genre-referential scenes to play with. The death of Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace recalls the death of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger: Both are found naked, dead, and gorgeously and violently covered in the most important precious substance of their respective time period. When Bond interrupts a meeting of the members of the mysterious organization, Quantum, at the Bregenz Opera House, Puccini’s “Tosca” is on the program, its story of sexual suspicion and violent death musically echoing Bond’s own psychic drama. Forster shapes the final scene of Bond’s vendetta around the opening sequence of Casino Royale, replicating the lighting, the framing and even the costuming of Bond in a Navy peacoat that underscores his working-man status.
A film geek’s playground in terms of its cinematic citation, Quantum of Solace is no slouch when it comes to the international politics that form the foundation of the plot. Gone are the Cold War conflicts of yester-Bond. Forster engages the power struggles of eco-capitalism, where the world’s water supply is at stake. There will be no future Austin Powers parody of this theme, with its serious and very real implications for our future.
Anthony Lane’s review in The New Yorker bemoans the new, visibly wounded and psychically troubled Bond variant, arguing that the “human, all too human” dimension puts paid the possibility of earlier forms of masculine identification with 007. He asks, “Who wants to be James Bond?” And answers, “These days. . .Bond gets such a rough ride that you have to ask whether anyone, man or boy, still yearns to get in touch with his inner 007.”
Who wants to be James Bond? With his newly humanized character, which includes recognition of a kind of parity with women—Bond respects female counterpart Camille Montes and her similar motivations and skills—I’d love to be James Bond, licensed to kill in the world of the cinema imaginary. Maybe it’s just me, confusing Ursula Andress coming out of the surf in her white bikini and commando knife in Dr. No with Daniel Craig’s similar beach scene in Casino Royale, but after La Femme Nikita and Tomb Raider, it’s getting hard to keep the Action Hero out of the girl and out of her range of possible cinematic identifications. I’m betting that countless other male viewers who are unhampered by Lane’s romanticizing of the gadget- and smarmy-sex-laden older Bond flicks, are also willing to identify with a 007 who is their contemporary.
Quantum of Solace is currently screening at the Carmike 10.