Quantum of Solace: The first Bond tragedy

I have a strange affection for this movie. It’s probably one of the hardest things to boil to a pulp, my strange admiration for this absolutely miles-away-from-Casino-Royale affair. Quantum of Solace is one of the strangest titles, one of the weakest stories and (yet) breaks all of the Bond clichés that Casino rebirthed in order to create a fresh glass of new stylish Bond. It’s a world away from the retrofitted world of Royale and yet manages to deliver (what I feel) is a greater emotional punch to the stomach. It’s lightyears ahead of its predecessors in terms of its morality, its social manifesto and even right into its cinematography. Right into its very lifeblood.

The incredible Twitter fiend that is Ellar Dent (seriously one of the smartest ‘story’ folk around the Twitterblogosphere) wrote a nice neat piece on Quantum and I agree with him on some points. Others, not so much, give the article a read because I feel it’s trying to articulate something I can barely grasp. By no means is the film ‘excellent’ or ‘incredible’ or any kind of beyond ‘good’, but it has this etheral quality to it. Admirable, feared and just a little bit over-edgy of that grit. Casino Royale was gritty but in that neo-urban sense, that real ‘bringing Bond into the 21st Century’, Quantum seems to transform Bond straight into Victorian lamentations on emotion and redemption.

It’s best to see the film as a tragedy, a massive step away from Casino and not at all a step in the right direction. It’s experimental; from its title to its rip on the Bond dichotomy of villain/hero (no longer a simple ‘good vs evil’ affair), its tear into the Bond girl phenomenon and how it rockets itself into some of the most exciting action sequences of the past decade. Quantum fails. Mostly. It tries to mix the character of Bond into a tragedy, a character who is the archetype macho ideal ‘male’ in which the male viewer projects themselves unto and the female viewer submits to.

But the film is clearly a tragedy. A villain with personal ties to the hero, willing him to a downfall, and that downfall happens so quick. M loses her trust and Bond is sent into the wild, lips quivering with insatiable revenge. His villain, Dominic Greene, isn’t a strong villain with a large army or flashy gadgets or quips. He’s a green-eyed serpent who clings to power and invites Bond into his corporate hellhole den. He destroys Bond, turns him inside out, and it’s brilliantly orchestrated that the Bond girl isn’t a loose end to Bond but rather tied up in the plot. Greene meets with Medrano, a man whom the ‘Bond girl’ is out to get.

And suddenly there’s a very clear revelation thrown in the audience’s faces. The ‘Bond girl’ is taking the charge and delivering a prophecy. Her own revenge, after Medrano destroyed her family, is probably one of the most involving and scariest sequences of the entire Bond franchise. As you see Medrano power over her, threaten rape and dominate her completely there’s just an air of wantwantwant from us as an audience. We want this vengeance, this wicked man we don’t like to go away. As Bond battles Greene, merely a figure on his vengeance horizon, we flash-forward to see what Bond will become once he commits his revenge.

We shift from a Bond of swagger and abuse, full of pride about his skills, launching straight into an assault on ‘Mr White’ (lots of colourful surnames) but it’s all hubris. The man falls for Greene’s trap and trips over into a rogue identity; losing trust from MI5 and turning the ‘Bond girl’ now into an image no longer of following the enigmatic spy but the vengeful, wild character. We see in her just what Bond will become, and we’re not sure. As the film shifts from urban sprawls, corporate heights, airports and richspots into deserts, poverty pits, caves and the desert then there’s only one place where the third act can take place.

Bond’s final piece of redemption, his true realization, takes place in a cold place. He’s about to become a cold-blooded killer and the cold-blooded thoughts are circling his thoughts like a Shark to blood. Suddenly, morality is on the cards and with his vengeful pride awashed away, with his mission complete and a final little personal puzzle to finish… he’s left a little empty. He wants to be filled up and, realizes, the only thing that fills him is purpose. He allows Vesper Lynd’s killer to be arrested and leaves her necklace in the snow, a clear image of the ‘passing seasons’ of this Bond film. Rags to riches. Spring to snow… to spring. New beginnings on the horizon.

It’s this emotional gut-punch that makes me think highly of Quantum, but the film’s execution from its set design to screenplay to tight weaving of characters works quite perfectly. Not all works well however, and this is Bond stepping into tragic territory. It feels, at times, too large of a tonal shift away from Casino and the conventions it breaks over its knee sort of loses its own identity. Greene’s character pales at times, appearing both uninvolved and uncharismatic. Bond himself suffers from those moments of reflection just being nothing compared to that final revelation where he drops the necklace. It seems quite rushed if I’m honest.

Yet, it really isn’t as bad as you think it is. It’s good, hell I go back on what I say, it’s actually more than good. It feels more palpable than its predecessor, even more entagnled in its protagonist but perhaps too much. Its step into the tragic form just takes too much away from Bond himself and the Bondfilm is lost for it. It’s a film lost in the wilderness, and I do hope to actually see Skyfall be a marriage of the two. I love the new Bond style, I love Daniel Craig and I love the enigmatic and suavity now given that modern twist. I hope Skyfall is as emotionally fruitful as Quantum yet as reserved, new-age Bondish and stylish as Casino Royale.

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