Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I know what the Quantum of Solace is and I AM going to tell you

In his review of Quantum of Solace on At the Movies, Ben Lyons wrapped up by looking at Ben Mankiewicz and saying "We understand what the Quantum of Solace is and we’re not going to give it away."

It turns out that the name was actually the title of a short story by Ian Fleming in For Your Eyes Only, although I still contend that it is not a Fleming-worthy title.

But what does this have to do with the movie? It turns out that Quantum is the name of the organization that Bond fights in this new film and is in fact the name of the secretive organization he was up against in Casino Royale.

Now, before you go and complained that I have released some top secret spoiler without a warning, don't worry. I haven't. Quantum is not a secret in any meaningful way. Even if you haven't seen the far superior Casino Royale, there is nothing about this piece of information that spoils anything.

In fact, taking this title for the movie and then naming the organization "Quantum" is a bit of slight-of-hand by the filmmakers that offers great promises to the audience but then, like the movie itself, falls completely flat. Even though the title seems oddly unFleming-ish, at least it seemed to refer to the lonely, bitter Bond that we rediscovered in the last movie. This was not the same Bond we have seen in any of the past movies. Other Bonds would ask for a martini, "shaken, not stirred," and we would think "Wow, that guy's cool." When Daniel Craig's Bond asked for a martini and the bartender asked him how we wanted it, he replied, "Do I look like I give damn?"

This was a new Bond, a real killer who had to live with the choices he made in his life. As we learned in Ian Fleming's book, the "00" ranking, the license to kill, is not given out for looking cool or sleeping with a lot of women. It is given to those who have shown an ability to commit an act of cold blooded murder. This Bond isn't having fun, he's doing a dirty job and suffering the consequences. Maybe a little boozing and womanizing will just make it a bit easier.

Quantum of Solace seems like it is attempting to portray this Bond once again, but it is far too confused and inconsistent. The discussion about Bond's bitterness and search for revenge for the events of Casino seem tacked on and arbitrary, not a fundamental part of his character and motivations. And when somebody asks what kind of martini he is drinking this time, the bartender describes a drink so elaborate that it makes "shaken, not stirred" sound like a Bud Light.

After recreating a new Bond in the last movie, this film doesn't seem to know what to do with him in this one any more. "Maybe the dark, brooding Bond worked one time," they seem to say, "but can we make a series out of him?" Probably not, at least not easily. So rather than chart a new, more interesting course, the Bond movies are likely going to fall back on old habits.

It is worth remembering that the original Bond--in the novels and on screen--was defined before the feminist upheaval of the 1960s. Goldfinger, the third and generally considered the best of the Bonds, was released in 1964. Few (although certainly some) batted an eye at the gratuitous "Pussy Galore" character who existed solely to attempt to kill and then sleep with Bond. This is not a caricature of the 007 series but intrinsic to the character--when Mike Myers introduced the character "Ivana Humpalot" in the Austin Powers series, Fleming didn't role over in his grave. He sat up and said, "Why didn't I think of that?"

It just doesn't seem feasible to continue to make Bond films in this vain. They may be able to gain some traction, but too many people will be turned off by the overt sexism. Between this and the end of the Cold War--and the utter hostility by most people to Bush's War on Terror--it is not clear who Bond should be fighting and how we can root for him. Even Felix Leiter, Bond's CIA buddy, is uncomfortable in Quantum with overthrowing Latin American governments in order to control the petroleum market. That is a reflection much more of current attitudes toward US foreign policy than than the actual workings of the CIA. This is also true of the villain in Quantum, an environmentalist with a hydrogen-powered resort in the Bolivian desert--who wants to control the Bolivian oil supply. How this character was cobbled together--and what we are supposed to think about him--is not only confusing to the audience but also reflects the utter confusion of the writers.

Where Bond goes from here is unclear, but unless the writers of the next film find their way out of this mess, Bond is likely to turn back into a caricature and not the brooding killer in Casino Royale.


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