Cinema | Casino Realpolitik: James Bond remains dark for a darker world in Quantum of Solace. 

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Once upon a time, in the 20th century, James Bond was a superhero. He went into space; he drove cars that turned into submarines; he fought villains who used lasers and who had henchmen with metal teeth or razor-rimmed bowler hats. In the era of the Cold War, we knew who the bad guys were, and we were content with the fantasy that Bond—between martinis and casual sex partners—was on the side of the good guys. n

In 2006’s Casino Royale, the notion of Bond (Daniel Craig) as a superhero disappeared entirely sometime during the scene in which a villain applied a little gentle coercion to 007’s naked nutsack. As has been true of all kinds of cinematic superheroes in recent years, Bond got darker for a darker time, and Quantum of Solace expands on that idea with an even less tidy moral universe. If James Bond is still a hero, it’s almost by accident.


Quantum of Solace unfolds as a true sequel, picking up right where Casino Royale left off. Bond wants answers about who was responsible for the death of his beloved Vesper Lynd, but the nasty Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) escapes before he can get any. There are at least a few fingerprints to follow, and the trail leads to an international “facilitator of change” named Dominic Greene (Mathiew Amalric). He may be about to finance a coup in Bolivia, but that hardly seems to be a major concern for Bond. If Greene—and his affiliation with the shadowy organization QUANTUM—can bring him the vengeance he seeks, that’s all that matters.


Along for the ride on her own vengeance-seeking mission is a woman named Camille (Olga Kurylenko), and for a change, she’s not Bond’s obvious hot bedmate du jour. Sure, he’ll find time for a quickie—leading to the film’s best sly in-joke, in which a woman’s body winds up draped across a bed in an oil-slicked variation on Goldfinger—but it’s more of a distraction than a seduction. Craig continues to explore Bond as a single-minded brute force who gets his man—and his women—through sheer animal will. The more time he has to grow into the role, the more he scrubs it clean of the playboy double-entendre built into it through the 1980s.


It’s still hard, though, not to cling to a little of the old Bond paradigm, and it’s here that even director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) seems to be having trouble. For much of the first half, he keeps cranking out the action beats and the jumps to exotic locales, whether it’s a boat chase in Italy or a car chase in Haiti. Some of them are terrific, including Bond’s slugfest with a double agent on teetering scaffolding; others, like the opening car chase, are Michael Bay machete-edited to within an inch of comprehensibility. We all know there’s going to be action, but that doesn’t stop a lot of it from seeming gratuitous—as though somebody at the studio glanced at his watch during a rough cut and decided, “Somebody better beat the crap out of somebody here soon.”


What’s most fascinating in Quantum of Solace is the recognition that Bond doesn’t always know whom he’s fighting, or chasing, or being chased by. The script (by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) builds Bond’s grudge-driven pursuit into a world where his theoretical allies don’t always want him to catch the “bad guy.” His CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) contends with a cynical superior who’s just fine with Greene installing a dictator who just might be on our side—and if we score a little oil from the deal, so much the better. Potential traitors lurk around every corner, and it’s easy to understand why: They’re driven by the contemporary principle that a villain isn’t defined by what he’s doing, but by whom he’s doing it for.


If the notions sound highfalutin, the execution decidedly is not. Bond himself doesn’t have time to ponder the vagaries of global realpolitik; he’s too busy trying to get something done. The irony is that Craig’s icy Bond is simply a more individual manifestation of the same idea that politics aren’t just local, but so personal that we generally don’t give a damn who suffers along the way to meeting our needs. In Quantum of Solace, 007 isn’t interested in saving the world. He’ll be lucky if he can save his own soul.



nDaniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathiew Amalric
nRated PG-13

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