Image courtesy of MGM.
“Quantum of Solace” Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric and Judi Dench. Directed by Marc Forster. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Don’t ask a James Bond purist what he thinks of “Quantum of Solace.” He’ll likely curl his lip, let out an exasperated huff and mutter something to the effect, “They’ve ruined 007!”
And well they might. Like many fictional characters who have made the transition from 20th century escapism to 21st century realism, Bond has been transformed. “Quantum of Solace” continues that evolution.
(Warning: Spoilers follow.)
The plot is classic 007. A super-secret organization known only as Quantum angles to depose the current Bolivian government and replace it with a strongman willing to sign over that country’s most precious resource – water. Give the screenwriters credit: They anticipate the ferocious competition predicted by climatologists to result from global warming and its diminishment of potable water supplies.
Despite orders to the contrary from the redoubtable M (Judi Dench), Bond (Daniel Craig) travels to South America to discover exactly why it is ersatz environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) has taken such an interest in an apparently barren desert. Vengeance is a subplot. Bond seeks payback for the death of Vesper Lynd while Bond’s female counterpart, a Bolivian secret service agent, Camille (Olga Kurylenko) aims to kill the appointed strongman who murdered her parents.
The action is hyperkinetic and at times almost unwatchable as exquisitely choreographed fight scenes unfold at a blistering pace, leaving Bond a dirty, bloody shambles who nevertheless prevails over the bad guy de jour.
Almost lost amid Craig’s intensity is the humor – not the campy double entendres of Roger Moore’s Bond or the sly sophistication of a Sean Connery, but actual comedy that launches unexpectedly from the darkness. Upon arriving in Bolivia, Bond is escorted by a sexy British agent to a seedy hotel where they will pose as exchange teachers. Unhappy with the accommodations, Bond takes them to the ritziest hotel in town where he explains to the desk clerk, “We are exchange teachers – and we just won the lottery.”
But much goes missing in “Quantum of Solace,” and this is where purists will hold their noses. Lost is the suave, indefatigable James Bond who emerges from a wet suit wearing a tuxedo, his hair unmussed. Gone are the insane luxuries of the super-rich, the creatively dysfunctional devices of murder (death by laser emasculation) , and the over-the-top malevolence of the ultra-evil.
Worse, we see Bond bleed, and that is not part of the Sean Connery canon of an unreachable and untouchable super man. It is as if Bond has also been tainted by the economic meltdown and would trade his beloved martinis for a can of Miller Lite.
This new Bond is more Serpico than, well, James Bond, and while that may satisfy critics one must wonder if the paying public will believe its escapist dollars have been well spent. So far box office receipts have been excellent so it’s hard to argue with numbers.
Ultimately you must ask yourself: Why do people go to movies? If it is to see a reasonable facsimile of yourself then the new, evolved James Bond may work.
But if it is to see a spectacle that rises above the gritty ordinariness of life, expect a regime change in the James Bond pantheon of superheroes.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.