You mean they haven’t even heard of James Bond?

Remember when, as a child, you’d sud­denly see things from a new per­spect­ive? I must have been about nine, or per­haps eight, when it struck me that there were people in the world who had not heard of James Bond. That thought held me in a tight­er grip than the notion that some people had no access to drink­ing water, or the Bible…but no James Bond? What kind of ali­en exist­ence would that be?

The Bond jug­ger­naut has driv­en through our cul­ture so many times that the track is littered with the flattened roadkill of less­er spy thrillers. And it con­tin­ues to be a huge event. The film’s open­ing car­ried its own slot on the BBC News. I guess there are few­er and few­er guys and gals out there who have not heard of James Bond.

So, Quantum of Solace. What a title. It’s drawn from a 1960 short story in which Bond has to listen to a bor­ing story related by a (male) din­ner com­pan­ion. The recent film, how­ever, jet­tis­ons that plot and replaces it with a story that revolves around envir­on­ment­al­ism dreamed up by one of the pro­du­cers, Michael G. Wilson. The coin­cid­ence of the plot and the title is quite strained. As the title was decided upon only a few days before being announced, you might be cor­rect in think­ing that the con­nec­tion is almost entirely super­fi­cial. Yes, the vil­lains belong to an organ­isa­tion called ‘quantum’ (men­tioned just once, in a sexy French accent, at the close of the film). Why not SPECTRE? One sus­pects the leg­al wrangles around the rights to Fleming’s Thunderball (cf. Connery’s Never Say Never Again) might have some­thing to do with it.

As you’ll see from this art­icle, I hated Casino Royale. It was a poor imit­a­tion of the Bourne Identity fran­chise; cer­tainly shot with some flair, but it needed to step even fur­ther away from the clas­sic Bond tropes towards the Bourne uni­verse to be suc­cess­ful as a film (artist­ic­ally suc­cess­ful, I mean). Every time I think of Casino Royale the half decent scenes (Bond intro­du­cing him­self with the icon­ic ‘Bond, James Bond’ to the Quantum oper­at­ive; the rope-about-the-nuts tor­ture set-piece) pale in com­par­is­on to the hor­rendously ill-judged defib­ril­lat­or scene.

Quantum of Solace is a huge improve­ment over Casino Royale. There are a num­ber of reas­ons for this. First, the dir­ect­or, Marc Foster, has a sharp under­stand­ing of what dir­ect­ors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass were doing in the Bourne fran­chise. There is a sense of cinema ver­ité to the visu­al style that makes Bond’s exper­i­ences much more vis­cer­al; it’s dif­fi­cult not to feel vicari­ous pain at all the bumps and scrapes. This is heightened some­what by the choice of the second unit dir­ect­or, Dan Bradley, who served as second unit dir­ect­or for the second and third films in the Bourne fran­chise. (A second unit will often shot estab­lish­ing shots, cut­aways, and chase sequences. As an example of how import­ant the second unit can be, take anoth­er look at the ‘ark chase’ scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark — shot entirely by the second unit.)

Second, there are few­er gad­gets. I’ve got noth­ing against gad­gets per se, but they should nev­er be used in lieu of the character’s wits. A gad­get should nev­er be a ‘get out of jail’ card. A more appro­pri­ate use of a gad­get is the Doctor’s son­ic screw­driver. I’ve heard Russell T. Davies say that the son­ic screw­driver is there for one reas­on only: While mon­sters, fear, giant space­ships and oth­er things should stand between the Doctor and goals, he should nev­er be stopped by some­thing as mundane as a locked door.

Third, the vil­lain isn’t dis­figured. Seriously. I hate the idea that a facial dis­fig­ure­ment (a la Blofeld) means that a per­son is evil. Grow up. Bond, of course, was described by Fleming as car­ry­ing a prom­in­ent facial scar.

Fourth, and most import­antly, the story here is stronger. I’ve heard sev­er­al respec­ted crit­ics say that the film is too com­plex to fol­low, but this I can only say, ‘Pay more atten­tion’. The reply to this is, ‘I don’t care enough to pay atten­tion,’ and this is an inter­est­ing response. Interesting because very few stor­ies in Western lit­er­at­ure (par­tic­u­larly the Hollywood paradigm) centre on a prot­ag­on­ist who does not change much. Bond does change a little (in terms of his rela­tion­ship to Vesper Lynd, which is neatly sym­bol­ised at the end of the film), but the char­ac­ters who learn the most in this film are Bond’s Russian/Bolivian com­pan­ion and his boss, M, both of whom come to deep real­isa­tions in the film. This flies in the face of con­ven­tion some­what, because Hollywood films tend to equate the prot­ag­on­ist with the char­ac­ter who learns the most. In The Quantum of Solace, this is not Bond (if you’re in any doubt, remem­ber his last line; it is as much a state­ment as ‘I nev­er changed’). If the view­point char­ac­ter is not the one who learns the most, then the film can become less enga­ging due to a per­ceived lack of devel­op­ment. I, per­son­ally, didn’t find this to be the case in this film, but I can under­stand if some were left cold by the nar­rat­ive.

Fifth, Daniel Craig’s excel­lent per­form­ance. He rivals Connery for Bond. His stoicism is so com­plete that when he moves an eye­brow the effect is like anoth­er Bond act­or chew­ing on the dash­board of his Aston Martin.

So ende­th my thoughts on the Quantum of Solace. Far super­i­or to Casino Royale; learn­ing the les­sons of the Bourne fran­chise; tak­ing us away from the some­what inces­tu­ous, trope-rid­den Bond films of the 1990s. There is life in the old spy yet.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “You mean they haven’t even heard of James Bond?”

  1. Ahhh..a Bond Purist.…

    Cut the RHETORIC and cut to the chase…

    Rosa Kreb’s shoes.. !!!

    Jaws..!!!.(those den­tures made the poor guy feel naus­eous)..

    Top Hat..!!!

    And the little guy!!

    .Name escapes..

    Ursula rising from the waves like Aphrodite…

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