This will probably upset most old-school James Bond fanatics, but I firmly believe that 2006’s “Casino Royale was the best entry in the 46-year-old franchise. Yes, even better than the indubitable classics “Dr No, “Goldfinger and “From Russia with Love.
At the time when Bond first emerged in the early 60s, he was no mere popular film character; Bond was a culture icon, the poster boy of the falling British Empire. Suave, smart, tall, dark, and dangerously handsome with killer double entendre lines and sexual magnetism no woman could resist.
I liked Bond, savored the fantasy-like espionage world, the stunning-looking women, the trendy gadgets and elegant fashion. There was one fundamental missing link: I didn’t give a damn about him.
Bond RebirthSean Connery was faultless; mysterious, excessively charming, dangerous with redeeming wit and aura of lightness. On the other hand, Roger Moore was too campy; Timothy Dalton was too directionless, failing to balance the character’s resurrected darkness with the levity of the films; Pierce Brosnan was too innocuous, a parody of Ian Fleming’s original character. None of the four, or even George Lazenbi, felt like a full-rounded human though. The hardcore fans didn’t mind, the ritual predictability of the Bond films represented the only known, safe bet in a rather unpredictable world.
Daniel Craig was nothing less than a true revelation. The initial rebuff of a “blonde Bond proved unfounded, Craig’s incarnation of the MI6’s finest was brooding, menacing, crude, and yes, as cool as a glacier.
Most imperative of all, Craig added extra dimensions few believed Bond had. Gone was the philandering, ultra-cocky invincible superspy. Craig’s Bond was adept, but not entirely confident, slick but not immune to dangers. Perhaps the most surprising trait Craig and “Casino scribers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis (of “Crash and “Million Dollar Baby ) brought to the table was the lover side.
By the end of “Casino, Bond gives up everything for his one true love Vesper (Eva Green) only to be betrayed by her before she’s murdered. The moment when Craig finally utters his iconic signature catchphrase at the last scene of the film, Bond is transformed into an altogether different creature. The words “My name’s Bond, James Bond no longer felt like an amusing gimmick, this was the moment signaling the demolition of Bond’s humanity and the birth of a cold-blooded murderer.
“Quantum of Solace, the highly-anticipated Bond installment, is a direct sequel to “Casino. If you haven’t seen the first film, you will not entirely comprehend the new one, especially since it skips any exposition to cut literally to the chase. “Quantum is an action-packed thriller, not as great as “Casino but not the major disappointment some critics branded.
Cutting to the ChaseThe film kicks off a few hours after the end of “Casino with a breakneck car chase where Bond’s Aston Martin is hounded by a pack of cars in the middle of a mountain road in Sienna, Italy, and soon into the heart of the city. As usual, Bond disposes of his nemeses in one spectacular stunt after another to reach a hideout where his boss (Judi Dench, in her sixth appearance in the series) expects him.
Bond opens up the trunk to unleash Mr White (Jesper Christensen), “Casino’s villain and one of the men responsible for Vesper’s death. Mr White isn’t the mastermind of the operation; he’s only a small cat of a SPECTRE-like organization called Quantum.
Following a certain money trail relating to the organization leads Bond to Haiti. A case of mistaken identity introduces Bond to Bolivian beauty Camille (Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko), an equally battered young woman seeking revenge from Bolivian dictator General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) for an atrocity revealed later on.
Camille directs Bond to one of Quantum principal forces, Dominic Greene (French star Mathieu Amalric from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ), a ruthless businessman conspiring to control the water reserves of South America.
From Siena, Haiti, London to Austria, Bond haunts down Greene and the rest of the Quantum organization that turns out to have close connection with both the CIA and MI6.
The film is crammed with non-stop multiple car chases, rooftop chases, boat chases, hand-on-hand combat and big explosions executed at a frantic pace courtesy of the “Bourne films (“Quantum’s editor is “The Bourne Supremacy and “United 93 alum Richard Pearson). And that’s exactly why the film falls short of reaching the heights of “Casino.
The comparisonThe action, I have to admit, is superb and unlike previous Bond efforts, “Quantum doesn’t drag (at 106 min, the film is the shortest Bond film to date). One particular sequence where director Mark Forester (“Finding Neverland, “Stranger Than Fiction ) juxtaposes a bloody carnage with Opera Tosca standouts; a seamless blend between artistry and action. The film feels like one quick blood rush, leaving no room for the audience to breathe, flesh out the relationship between Bond and Camille or develop a more coherent plot.
“Quantum also lacks the finesse, focus or tension build-up of its predecessor. The best moments of the film occur when Forester allows Craig to do pretty much nothing, and it’s because of Craig’s entrancing performance that the new film works.
Every last ounce of human emotion Bond previously possessed has vanished. Bond is a misanthropic killing-machine, indifferent to human life. He casually outs his enemies without a hint of concern. At one point, he tosses the corpse of a friend in a dumpster. “I think you’re so blinded by inconsolable rage that you don’t care who you hurt, M tells him.
As he becomes haunted by the MI6, CIA and Quantum, Bond, for the first time in the franchise history goes rogue, launching a one-man crusade driven by personal vendetta. “Quantum has no wisecrack jokes, no moments of relief. Bond, as Greene describes him, is a damaged good.
Like his extreme drinking habits that veer towards alcoholism, sex becomes another distractive tool for Bond in attempting to forget who he is. Craig’s Bond isn’t the most swaggering or smoothest man in the room who can easily get any girl he wants; he’s the lonely sod at the far end of the bar, incapable of reaching out for a single soul. In the few still moments of the film, I felt that he could’ve collapsed at once if someone truly touched him. There’s no redemption for Bond and murder becomes his sole raison d’être.
The world of Bond is no longer the fantastical wonderland of the 60s; it’s bleak, gritty Le Carré-like place where governments beds the bad guys, where all alliances are broken, where callous businessmen race to take over the world’s fading natural resources.
Last year, Matt Damon told the Associated Press; “the Bond character will always be anchored in the 1960s and the values of the 60s. … Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it and drinks martinis and cracks jokes.
That’s not the case with the new Bond, a character that reflects the tumultuous present times of ours. The pundits have dismissed the new-found realism of the new films, insisting that by distorting the already established character, the filmmakers have robbed the series of its spirit, of its Britishness. The Sunday Times went as far as proclaiming Bond “dead.
The old Bond might be dead indeed, and a return to the old one seems highly unlikely at the moment. I can’t say I miss the quips and glamour of the old films, primarily since they swiftly turned into a series of mandatory routines over the years. The new Bond is far more compelling and intriguing than his forbearers and there are endless possibilities for the series to go. I just hope that next time around, the filmmakers would slow down the tempo.