| by Justin Thomas |
A white room with black curtains leaves no room for gray or the benefit of the doubt. The benefit of the doubt annoys me like nothing else in the world save perhaps producers who continually provide healthy helpings of nasty digested material between slices of white bread and expect you to call it fois gras while stomping on your dreams. But back to the benefit of the doubt... I don’t like it. If I hate something I just want to hate it. Like the Romans. I don’t care about sanitation, medicine, education, roads or the fresh water system. Oh, and peace. I don’t care about any of it. I hate the Romans, that’s that and I don’t want to give them the benefit of the doubt.
So it pains me to know I’m going to have to leave a final verdict on Quantum of Solace until I see whatever film or films finish this particular arc and also go through the rest of the entire Bond series.
The Empire Strikes Back makes the Original Trilogy. If Lucas had simply rehashed the plot of Star Wars the resulting sequel would have done well at the box office, sold lots of toys and been forgotten by time. But Empire breaks the mold and the sequel trap by dumping Luke into a swamp and separating him from the other heroes while working up to a downer ending. In 1979, Lucas knew what he was doing and with that pivotal film he secured his and his creation’s place in film history. Quantum of Solace feels like an Act II that doesn’t match Act I in a three-act series because of how dramatically it veers from Casino Royale.
A lack of Bond knowledge might be working against me because maybe Bond is supposed to be fighting the Doctor Evil Bad Guy with the crazy lair, henchmen and gamma-radiated velociraptors riding rabid monkeys in a pit into which Bond is dumped. Quantum of Solace, with the goal its baddies have, is more crazy, over the top, let’s use a giant umbrella held in the air by trained bats to blot out the sun, drive up energy costs and benefit from the ComEd stock we purchased before the bats took flight. As I understand it, Dominic Greene (helpful surname there, eh) is working for some bad guys to control the water supply of Bolivia and it requires them establishing a friendly dictatorship to sign over the water supply Greene stole, wait for it, through the use of underground dams he built without anyone noticing it. Dude, doesn’t a story idea of that caliber belong in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Or maybe that’s Bond and, if I have a problem with it, I’m going to have a problem with Bond.
Casino Royale didn’t feature that type of Bond. Bond played at a personal level, sitting across the table from Le Chiffre and relying on, wait for it, drama, to carry the day. Bond played at a personal level when he sat in the shower with Vesper to help her deal with seeing firsthand what Bond does. He was no superspy and no superhero and it helped make Casino Royale a good movie while the over-the-top insanity of being Bond detracts from Quantum of Solace. I don’t know whether the Bond in Casino Royale is “James Bond,” the thing everyone has grown to know and love, but I know the Bond in Casino Royale can work and I was disappointed to see it change.
And the movie annoyed me. Look, if you’re going to do the Michael Bay split second cuts, get a damn tripod, put the damn camera on the damn tripod and leave the damn camera on the damn tripod. If you’re going to have a subplot, tie it to the main story better. If you’re going to use Mathis, have a point behind it. If you’re compelled to blow up everything on screen engage me enough in what comes before the explosions so there’s weight to the explosions when they happen.
Maybe the third film in this series will help Quantum of Solace. Maybe all the heavy lifting parts of the global domination thing will make me forget about how well Bond, and Daniel Craig, works when he has to stare at his enemy across a table with nothing but cards between them. If that’s the case then I’ll have to reevaluate Quantum of Solace, but as a film, it should be able to stand on its own. It doesn’t. It feels like it’s the first part of a two-film cycle because it’ll have more in common with its successor than its predecessor or, if it’s standalone, it was built on the idea of “let’s make a good Roger Moore Bond movie.” And if I’d wanted that, I wouldn’t have waited until I was eligible to run for President of the United States to finally watch a James Bond movie.
The Brits are a funny people because they just won’t leave well enough alone, will they? If one of The Doctors gets tired of doing it they just regenerate another one. If Paul McCartney dies they just go to Canada to find another one. If they lose one war against the Americans they just wait a few years and try again. And if they need a new James Bond they see the character as being more important than the actor, find a new one and move along. I have my favorite Doctor (well... that’d be David), my favorite Paul (the one who wasn’t an assclown to George Harrison), my favorite UK/US war (The Revolutionary War, natch) and my favorite Bond.
I’m glad when I finally got into Bond I did so with Daniel Craig and that he showed me something I hadn’t seen from him before. Screen presence. It felt lacking in Road to Perdition, my only pre-Bond exposure to him, and he felt completely overmatched by the other performers in that movie. If I’d used the benefit of the doubt with him in Road, I would have asked the question, “who the Hell is going to work opposite Paul Newman and not look like a schmuck?” but I didn’t.
He commands attention as Bond. The look in the eyes, the way he holds himself, the way he is so driven even when he’s overmatched or in over his head, just everything about the way he stands in front of a camera screams “movie star” the way people in the Golden Age of Hollywood screamed “movie star.” And they let that loose on James Bond.
Craig pulls off the struggles of learning the physical parts of his job, the working through problems that the people in the cold, gray rooms can’t solve, the ability to seduce and be seduced and play emotionally detached, seemingly but not really emotionally detached and everything in between. Craig nails everything they throw at him and his performance either matches the quality of the material or compensates for it.
At this point I’ll be surprised if Craig winds up as something other than my favorite James Bond because Craig’s presence is unique among screen performers not just screen performers who play Bond.
Good luck, Roger Moore. You’re gonna need it.