Eon productions are running extremely low on genuine Ian Fleming titles to attach to their gritty Bond reboot, and the name of the latest 007 outing is unlikely to be much more meaningful to you by the end credits (where you’ll find a rather more cynically-titled piece of music called ‘End Crawl’) than it was in the underwhelming desert-themed opening title-sequence.
But titles were never the strong suit of this franchise, which thrives instead on delivering ‘predictable surprises’ within an established formula. Having given Bond-James-Bond the hardest re-boot up the arse he has ever had (in 2006’s Casino Royale), the producers’ commitment seems to be wavering…
Is the legacy of Bond an embarrassment or an advantage? The film-makers don’t seem to know: we had to wait two hours for Monty Norman’s classic signature theme in Casino Royale, and it now seems that the classic ‘sniper-shot’ intro has been permanently demoted to the end-credits, whereas the usual Bond musical cues only emerge late in QoS. We get ‘M’, but no ‘Q’; girls, but no gadgets; sophistry, but no sophistication. For this is new Bond; hard Bond (breaks heads); soft Bond (falls in love); blonde Bond; rogue Bond; a Bond for all seasons.
Have some sympathy – the character was always a ‘company man’, but guttering public confidence in government means that our hero spends half of Quantum blazing his own lonely trail (“I don’t have any friends”) while MI6 cancels his credit cards and sends assault teams after him.
The cancer in the upper echelons of government extends far beyond the new mysterious organisation that can infiltrate its operatives into literally any position, but instead is endemic and institutional. Even trusty old war-horse ‘M’ (Judi Dench) gets a lesson in the hard facts of life from superior number Tim Piggott-Smith, but still bets on our James and stays within the sacred circle of the morally unblemished.
If it weren’t for all the torture and rendition she sanctions and personally oversees in front of our eyes.
If ‘London Calling’ by The Clash was a nice choice for Die Another Day, ‘No More Heroes’ by The Stranglers would have been an apposite selection for Quantum Of Solace. It’s hard to make a government man the kind of no-rules crusader that worked for The Dark Knight, and the balancing act between Casino Royale‘s brand of post-Connery pragmatism and maintaining some sense of empathy and emotional investment in a character we trust is proving too precarious a task. The formula for this franchise was struck from a more optimistic view of the world.
But perhaps I am making Quantum Of Solace sound more innovative and interesting than it actually is. In terms of plot, the film is a formulaic Cook’s tour of locations, many of which are either over-familiar from previous Bonds or lacking in cinematic impact. Perhaps the world is not enough.
The sense of déjà vu is not limited to location scouting: now that the concept of the ‘re-hash’ has transformed into the ‘tribute’, director Marc Forster has plenty of latitude to ladle QoS with comforting retro moments from Bond history: jilted Bond fan and MI5 agent Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland in The Man With The Golden Gun) is reborn in Quantum as agent ‘Strawberry Fields’ (Gemma Arterton); Roger Moore’s murder-by-necktie from The Spy Who Loved Me is re-enacted by Craig to the last detail; Jill Masterton’s death-by-gold in Goldfinger is also recreated with equal fidelity (this time using crude oil as the killer substance); and the elevator-fight from Diamonds Are Forever returns in Quantum with two heavies for Bond to bash instead of one.
But even these raids on the family album can’t make Quantum Of Solace any damn fun. It’s dour without any intelligible message to impart; it travels the globe, but with no sense of wonder; it’s lacking in humour and has excised the two regular slots (Bond’s badinage with ‘Q’ and with Moneypenny) that afforded an opportunity for any; and worst of all, it’s terminally picaresque, whereas its predecessor managed to get the blood racing with the high-stakes card-game that lay at the film’s heart.
Daniel Craig continues to be an actor of depth and range in a part that has never demanded that much versatility, whilst acting powerhouse Judi Dench blows everyone else but Craig off the screen. She also admirably eschews the soft-focus lens, allowing the camera to linger on a face full of maturity, experience and thought.
Main ‘Bond girl’ Olga Kurylenko is suitably decorous as the delicately scarred mirror for Bond (like him, she’s out for revenge), and everyone else also acquits themselves creditably in their parts; additionally there are numerous stunts, pyrotechnics and trick-shots, and it’s all terribly well-done.
But it’s heartless in the worst sense of the word. Cynical to the core, Quantum Of Solace lacks the courage to commit to any one segment of a polarised action-film audience; to abandon the Bond die-hards, or to satisfy them; or to commit to the oft-criticised ‘hard line’ that garnered success – but division – for Casino Royale. If Eon don’t find some courage, Craig will be in space for Bond 23.(just barely)
Quantum Of Solace is on general release from Friday.