Monday, 17 November 2008

How Many More Mistakes?

Film: Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008)

Watched: October 31st 2008
Where: Gaumont Parnasse, Paris

The James Bond films have been changing of late and I don't mean in personnel from Brosnan to Craig. Failure, mistakes and mistrust are at their heart. Not in the Cold War sense, but amongst the so called allies. The villain vs Bond is not the centre stage, instead it is M's decision making. In The World is Not Enough (1999, Michael Apted), it is M that falls for Elektra King's (Sophie Marceau) plan and places herself, the mission and the world in jeopardy. In Die Another Day (2002, Lee Tamahori), it is her that hires Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) to check on Bond when she is working for the bad guys. Not one to learn from these mistakes she is the one who hires Vespa (Eva Green) to look after Bond despite Vespa being blackmailed in Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell). In Quantum of Solace it is her personal body guard that is found to be a member of the secret criminal organisation, Quantum. M's peers and allies are involved with Quantum and at times she mistrusts those who are her true allies. Whilst I remember the odd run in between Bernard Lee's and Robert Brown's M and Bond, the old Ms never called it wrong. Maybe those were different times and now one is allowed to make a mistake, or three. Like we have a Bond for our times perhaps we also have an M for our times to go with him.

The world of Bond is more ordinary than ever before. The villains blend in to their surroundings, they are more like eccentric CEOs and entrepreneurs than Assassins, and utopian dreamers. They are the villains of the cinema of Bush era politics. They are simple blackmailers and bomb makers rather than entertaining side stories. Perhaps this is because the Bond films have always been a slightly late to market mirror on the world. This is why the last two Bond films closely resemble those of Timothy Dalton played out at the end of the economic boom and the start of recession. The '80s ethos, music and fashion and politics of that time of Dalton's Bond very much mirrors the world today. Like Dalton, Craig's Bond is simple, pared down and blunt. Unlike Dalton, Craig's version of Bond is on drink, drugs; a step away from rehab and breakdown, more so than in Licence to Kill (1989, John Glen). I suppose this must be par for the course for secret agents these days, but then that's Bond, he is always the man of our times, it's what keeps him going and us interested in his stories.

Quantum is also the first Bond that is officially a sequel to the previous Bond, as usual James Bond is late to market. Sadly it seemed that few people were prepared to pair up Casino Royale with Quantum so we could watch it as the single four hour bond film that it really is. In the end we ended up with one slightly too long Bond and one slightly too short Bond. There is also something enjoyably Kitanoesque about Craig's Bond. The way he intentionally, bluntly and silently does the ridiculous with every intent to die and take everyone with him. However, unlike Kitano who always dies in a pool of blood, a hail of bullets, explosions or whatever else, Bond being Bond walks away.

Whilst Quantum is nothing new it has some great touches in the way Bond attempts to expose the bad guys. In particular the scene when he intercepts their communications at the opera causing them all to expose themselves as victims of his camera phone. This is a great Bond moment, a huge set piece coupled with a great bit of product placement. Like wise Bond getting smashed on the plane, drink after drink. No terrorists, no bad guys, no jumping out at 40,000 feet, this is our James Bond.

My favourite thing about Quantum is that whilst the story concludes all to nicely where it started at the beginning of Casino Royal, you still feel that the bigger picture is left unresolved and just like the classic Cold War Bonds the enemy is ever present. However, this time that enemy is the next big shot CEO bidding for government contracts, he is advisor to the PM, an American Diplomat for peace, a leading political figure in a friendly government. The enemy is there but so far he has yet to play his full hand, something S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was not the greatest at. My final feeling is that the fate of M is our fate as a viewer. When will there be a consequence for her actions and what will this mean?

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