Tuesday, 27 January 2009

2008 Film Reviews # 4: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008)

The title itself solicits derogatory substitutions of the abstract noun 'solace', the best-scanning of which (Quantum of Rubbish, IMO) is, sadly, semantically useless for describing the ineptitude and insensitivity that courses through Daniel Craig's second turn as James Bond. Okay: this is my gripe. There has been a tendency amongst certain film and TV critics over the last few years to automatically celebrate any piece of work which exacts a switch towards a supposed gravity. In some cases (Christopher Nolan's Batman films) this praise is justified, whilst in others (namely QoS and Casino Royale) it isn't. Reboots are invariably risky affairs, but New Bond preserves little to no awareness of the historical and sociological contexts that resulted in the relative light heartedness of all the pre-Craig films, even the pleasingly edgy Timothy Dalton outings Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights. While the old format looked tired while Piers Brosnan was scrapping with the ridiculous Colonel Moon in Die Another Day, the fact remains that Bond was, by that point, painted into a corner that the imitiation of fresher approaches (specifically the Bourne films) would only render more inescapable.

There is now no defining trait or content that can be said to belong wholly to the franchise, with the important exception of QoS's unabashed openness to product placement. As one might expect, this sits awkwardly with the allegedly uncompromising new direction. As Bond drinks himself silly on an overnight transatlantic flight, attempting to purge the guilt that has been brought about by the death of Vesper Lynd, no opportunity is spared to inform the audience that he's on a Virgin plane, or that he's drinking Gordons gin. As in the preceding films, particularly the latter two Brosnan efforts, the placements are given an ironic slant, but - in this context - the attempt at self-reflexive humour shatters the dramatic unity of what is supposed to be a pivotal and poignant scene. Similarly, the death of Gemma Arterton's sprightly foreign office agent, framed as if to add an extra layer of uncompromising brittleness to Old Bond's unwritten rule that the butter-wouldn't-melt Moneypenny types always get out okay, fails to rectify the tacky sexual politics by which virago figures like Grace Jones and Sophie Marceau are dispensed with in earlier films at the same time as leaving a straightforwardly bad taste in the mouth of the viewer. This is New Bond falling victim to a narcissism generated by all those fawning reviews: the characters are not expressive of, but simply expedient to the maintenance of, a narrative hard-mindedness. It doesn't work.

All this, and we still haven't got to the villain. Mathieu Amalric did the rounds in the press before QoS's release, puffing Dominic Greene as a Bond villain for the twenty-first century, a political chameleon whose talent for spin obviates any need to rely on muscle. (Greene, by the way, is an enviro-criminal, planning to hold South American water supplies to ransom. The worthiness of Bond's operations against him is negated somewhat by the extratextual fact that QoS was filmed in six different countries, which suggests to me a carbon footprint well in excess of anything that could be managed by, for example, hollowing out the innards of a Japanese mountain to build a glitzy, Ken Adam-styled rocket launchpad.) Anyway, the promo-pack image of Greene as a Blairite (or Sarkozyist) villain lasts roughly as long as the amount of time it has taken me to type this sentence. Amalric's character makes Robert Carlyle's putatively psychopathic Renard in The World is Not Enough seem like a Sunday school teacher. Goldfinger, Scaramanga, and Max Zorin would all have baulked at this chap's willingness to dispose with henchmen, and all would have been wary of challenging him to a square-go. On top of this incongruity between press self-image and filmic reality, there's the irritating importing of CR's world domination narrative into QoS. Greene is supposed to be patched, at a fairly high level, into the conspiracy by which Bond was foxed in Venice in the preceding film, but I have to confess I had more than a little trouble discerning how this might be the case, other than in the fact of Amalric bearing a passing facial similarity to preceding chief baddie Mads Mikkelsen.

In summary, the 'darkening' of the Bond franchise, allegedly a much-needed injection of political and psychological realism for the post-9/11 consciousness, seems to me much more a marketing reboot based on demographic analysis than a genuine attempt to add diplomatic and emotional thickness to the series. The worst thing is that Craig, by far the most thespy actor to inhabit the role, seems to genuinely believe in the stated motive of the whole enterprise. Hopefully, the third film of the reboot sequence will see the critics take this ersatz worthiness to pieces.

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