As the world economy teeters, as anxieties run high, as bloated self-perception leaks putrid reality, Hollywood busily dismantles our dreams. Oh, the profundity! Action heroes with issues. Pyrrhic victories. Questionable motivations. Ah, but there's nothing particularly complex about moral ambiguity alone. Indeed, hand-wringing registers as naturalistic affectation in movies that remain, after all, about caped crusaders and suave international spies. Just because modern audiences prefer our fantasies without all the sis-boom-bah doesn't mean we're all grown up.
I must admit that though I've seen most if not all of the James Bond films, I couldn't describe the plot of a single one. That used to be due to simple frivolity, the exchange of one maniacal magnate bent on world domination for another, but now it has more to do with the movies being so damn thick with conspiracy. Even the super-villains are peons compared to the super-organization. No need to fear the bald guy with a death ray when there's this vast, faceless network of suits waiting to put their sinister plans to work screwing up your love life. That's all well and good, a perfectly valid bugaboo, but I don't want a Bond movie I have to see more than once. On with the explosions!
James Bonds' unflappability once made him the anti-us, a man who dictated events rather than being blown about by history. He's now been humanized, his designer clothing in tatters, made into a man things happen to instead of because of. Somehow Bond's peculiar moral calculus allows him any number of barehanded kills, providing he gets to the bottom of a personal betrayal so murky and replete with WTFs that I'm still not quite clear on what actually went down. One thing I know for certain is that it's about sex.
Is this what happens when Bond reacts the way a normal man does to a so-called Bond girl? Eva Green, no less? Philip Marlowe used to prove his manhood by fending off innumerable buxom women. James Bond has always done it by taking them up and tossing them off like so many disposable thingamajigs. Until now. “Quantum of Solace” amounts to two hours of Daniel Craig's Bond getting over the literally climactic breakup of the previous film. He doesn't even sleep with this entry's official Bond babe! The endless psychologizing looms in the shadows of the usual shoot-'em-up, coloring every thudding hand-to-hand and squalling car chase.
Part of the weirdness comes from this being a prequel of sorts. Mind, not a prequel of events, but a prequel to Bond's having achieved a certain state-of-mind. This chaos and pain, we are to believe, is where volition comes from. Here is how Bond learned to be Bond, to stop simply reacting to events and start standing clear of them, to properly employ a license to kill. The film's strange effect is to infect the oeuvre with this sickness, and now Roger Moore and Sean Connery and all the rest seem impassive bastards.
Craig himself has given a chilling performance, the most powerful revision in the whole dour shebang. Bond's trademark charm here appears entirely calculated and even sinister. He goes about his goings-about with the meticulousness of a serial killer. His shark eyes and cold demeanor render the nominal antagonist a shame-faced bore. Sniveling and quaky, the great Mathieu Amalric plays his froggy foil, but he fails to conjure the world-dominating glimmer of past Bond villains, mostly as a result of his ultimate inconsequence. On a global scale, he's a mere foot soldier.
Sound boring? Certainly not, because Bond inhabits a world where psychic unrest can be made physical, and why toss and turn at night when you can just kill a few dozen of the people responsible for your mental anguish? What a show!
Sidenote: Why can't the Bond people produce a quality theme song? Neutering the inventive Jack White with the aggressively boring Alicia Keyes must have been a corporate decision. Let's all try to forget about Chris Cornell. Angsty picks for an angsty world. Why? The credits remain overblown and spectacular. How about a glittery host(ess)? I can think of any number of better picks. Rihanna, Robyn, Goldfrapp, Of Montreal. Hell, given the franchise's penchant for third world exoticism, even M.I.A. should make the shortlist.