November 17, 2008

Quantum of Solace.

The successful renaissance of James Bond has Her Majesty's favourite agent finally facing plausible adversaries and obstacles, with his characteristic cynicism ultimately justified. Bond's contemporary opponents aren't diabolical masterminds who hide out in fanciful lairs, but common capitalists who operate in the open. They're not driven by an inexorable lust to control the world – they don't give a crap about the world – but plain, wanton greed.

Here, in the series' first direct sequel, Bond is out for vengeance, trailing those who may be accountable for the death of his beloved Vesper Lynd, and who may be responsible for attempting to murder his boss, M. Having earned his licence to kill, Bond's not afraid to exercise it: bodies fall left and right, disposed of as brusquely as the implements that caused their demise. His is a quest for solace driven by barely muted rage.

While Ms Lynd's fate acts as justification, it's the bond between Bond and his boss that is most surprising and intriguing. M's central presence (the character finally doing justice to the skills of Judi Dench) almost rivals that of the main protagonist. Her relationship with the headstrong agent is ever more reminiscent of a mother's patience for one of her more reckless offspring. Luckily, Bond's lust for blood also coincides with yet another opportunity to (ostensibly) save the world.

Much to the detriment of older fans – despite many winks and nudges aimed at them throughout the film – it's an irrevocably postmodern world. They will age themselves tremendously by
lamenting the loss of bases in volcanoes and escapades in space, the lack of chauvinist quips and floozies with daft names (while Gemma Arterton's character appears as Ms Strawberry Fields in the credits, in the film itself she's "just Fields"), not to mention the demise of a black and white order easily divided into 'good' and 'bad'.

Daniel Craig's Bond even betrays his working-class roots by carelessly taking on tasks many of his predecessors would have considered too much like work. Presently, Bond has no time for slick playboy antics and less time for seduction. Villains only behave like they belong to a different species; they look like average people (no distinguishing scars, steel jaws, or pesky pets). Damsels kick their own way out of a jam, and only find themselves distressed when out of ammo. Telling friend from foe – 'good' from 'bad' – is increasingly difficult. The humour, contained within a screenplay aimed at a more discerning audience, is many shades darker than before.

Even locales once considered exotic by Westerners now seem a lot less so (owing perhaps to discount holidays) and few of Bond's gadgets (the car, the togs, the watch) remain out of reach for mere mortals – quite a few (the laptop, the phone, the other car) are not only affordable but ubiquitous.

The title has endured much criticism, despite fitting effortlessly among a canon of the absurd (You Only Live Twice), the misleading (Diamonds Are Forever), the lewd (Octopussy), even the ludicrous (Tomorrow Never Dies). Though allegedly selected only a few days before being publicly announced, it had previously been touted prior to the release of Licence to Kill – another realistic entry about vengeance unleashed in an otherwise quite fanciful series of films.

Ian Fleming penned the short story titled Quantum of Solace, published by Cosmopolitan in 1959 and included in the 1960 anthology
For Your Eyes Only, as an attempt at more 'mature' storytelling. With that in mind, the title fits this attempt to portray a more 'mature' James Bond well – despite not being an adaptation of the story itself. An enjoyable action drama with plot holes no bigger than its geographical errors, it's short – the shortest Bond film yet – fast, and to the point. Just like Craig's Bond.

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