Bond, Bland Bond

As 2008 comes to a close, another James Bond movie has come and gone. Quantum of Solace made plenty of money, but no one seems to care. A few weeks after it opened, the film is all but forgotten. Why? There’s no one answer but it could be because of a missing ingredient, the spark that made Bond movies so special in the first place.

Growing up in the early 80s, I found plenty of action movies in the theaters. Most were exciting, and some were top-notch films. Bond movies may not have always been better, but they were always different. James Bond had a certain style and flair that the others lacked. He looked good, dispatched the bad guy and got the girl all without breaking a sweat. While he was often in danger, he never risked losing his cool. Most importantly, Bond enjoyed being Bond, and that sense of fun spread to the audience. No, the stories weren’t realistic, but that’s the point. Bond movies were fantasy.

When Casino Royale debuted in 2006, I was disappointed that it lacked some of the Bond staples. But I could cut it some slack because it was an origin story. If the film was going to show how Bond became Bond, then of course he was not going to have all the hallmarks of the finished product. With that understanding, I was free to enjoy Casino Royale’s tight storytelling and sterling action scenes.

With the second Daniel Craig Bond movie, I hoped that the story would start to move Bond to the mythic figure we all know and love. Instead, it went in the opposite direction. Bond was angry and sullen. He certainly did not enjoy being Bond. Few of the touchstones appeared. No Q. No Moneypenny. No “Bond, James, Bond.” No formidable villain. Worst of all – no style, no grace, no joy and no fun.

The Bond producers have attributed some of this shift to “modernizing” Bond. Many critics have cited the influence of the Bourne movies. Jason Bourne is a man struggling with his identity and trying to come to terms with what he does. This character works fine for those films. Many other action heroes are dark, brooding and fighting their own demons. Witness Christian Bale’s Batman or Jack Bauer from TV’s “24.” But that has never been what Bond was about. He is perfectly comfortable with who he is and what he does. What’s more, he likes it. You take that away, and you have got just another “modern” action hero.

Quantum of Solace also tries to lift another Bourne staple: the rapid camera movement and frenetic editing. Directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass got this type of filmmaking down to a science in the Bourne trilogy – enough to draw the audience in but stopping just sort of chaos. Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster goes too far with much less skill than Liman or Greengrass. He moves so fast without establishing where the characters are in relation to each other. In some of the action scenes, I had great difficulty determining who was where or exactly what was going on.

Certainly Bond films can change to reflect the times. For instance, having Judi Dench play M opened up a new dimension to the M-Bond relationship. But these changes should not alter who Bond is and how he operates. It’s not too late to bring the real Bond back. After, all if the series can survive Timothy Dalton it can come back from anything. James Bond has escaped death so many times and now he must escape something even worse – becoming ordinary.

Adam Spector
January 1, 2009

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