Saturday, December 20, 2008

"James Bond Will Return"

Those are the last words we see as the credits to Quantum of Solace roll to an end. It begs the question: Where has he gone? Or perhaps, more appropriately: Where is he going? With this latest movie, the world's most famous spy seems to be at a particular crossroads.

With Daniel Craig as the new Bond, the makers of the series have turned him into a more violent hero. The action is more visceral, the energy more kinetic, and it's as if these two movies--Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace--are playing catch up with the Matt Damon and the Bourne films. Bond is grittier, sloppier. Roger Moore he ain't.

Bond was always cooler than those around him. Not just in a smooth, debonair way (although that too). But he was always above the action, possessing an aplomb and nonchalance that gave him a sort of ease. Here he is still figuring things out. In Casino Royale, it was acceptable. That first movie was almost like an origin story. They were playing with house money, so to speak. They could reinvent the wheel if they chose to. And in a way they did.

But Quantum of Solace isn't so much a sequel to Casino Royale as it is a tacked on, overlong epilogue to it. And rather than fleshing out the underbelly of Bond's character laid out in that initial film, Solace is hampered by it. The dead weight of the earlier film leans on the entire proceedings of this one. [Casino Royale spoilers...] Here, rather than Bond being haunted by the spectre of Vesper's death, he is overwhelmingly driven by it. But the vengeance pulsating through his veins has barely a tangential relationship with the story in front of us.

Another problem with Solace, as well as with Casino Royale, is that neither possess any real narrative drive. What's weird is that each movie accomplishes this misstep in completely opposite ways. In Casino Royale, while Bond was in a sense leaner and more stripped down as a character, the film itself was bloated and too tightly-packed. This was highlighted by one of the most boring poker sequences in recent memory, effectively halting the movie in its tracks.

Quantum of Solace, however, is one of the shortest Bond movies. And it feels rushed and empty. I hope that by the next installment, Bond and his makers figure things out.