Bond. James Bond. My friend, what’s become of you? Where once there was a suave, bespoke-suited sadist who battled lisping megalomaniacs by the dozen, now there is only a pale Jason Bourne-imitation, eternally running, jumping, regretting… This man isn’t Bond. Bond is promiscuous, cheeky; he drinks life. He isn’t a guy in his twenties (like Bourne) trying to piece life together. He’s British, for God’s sake. He was born knowing life is rotten and the best revenge is to smirk at it. The new Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, says it’s about revenge, but really it’s about life lessons. Bond learns revenge is bad. Bullshit! Bond doesn’t do ethics.
After an initial car chase, Bond is told not to go on a revenge mission. The bad guys have killed his wife. Let it go, is M’s advice. But he’s Bond, and it’s his movie; he can do what he likes, provided he does it violently and in a scenic location. So he sets about criss-crossing the globe; knife-fighting in Haiti, eves-dropping in Italy, massacring people in Bolivia. Is there a connection between these places? God knows. It’s Bond. If you keep track of why he’s anywhere, you’ve missed the point. The bad guys are there. Bond’s job is to travel to the bad guys and kill them. And sleep with girls. And wear Omega watches. Plot is to Bond what the catwalk is to models; he could just stand there, but he looks better in action.
Daniel Craig is still right as Bond, no matter what the movie gets wrong. Women worship him. Men are jealous of him. He looks cruel and public-schooled, and just nonchalant enough to be dangerous. He’s got Paul Newman eyes, for one thing. And those eyes feel right for Bond. When he looks at people you can practically hear Newman (as Hud) saying “My momma loved me, but she died” – and you know exactly why women love men for being remote, unfeeling bastards. Because vulnerability is sexy when you hide it. Whether Bond should be inwardly anything is another argument. But that’s Craig’s interpretation (even if it is, nakedly, an actor’s interpretation), and he plays a wounded Bond bloody well.
Craig’s co-star in Quantum of Solace is, ostensibly, leggy Bolshevik Olga Kurylenko, but really it’s his Omega watch. There’s scarcely a frame of the movie that doesn’t feature this chunky Swiss time-piece; whether Craig is stripped to the waist or just conveniently rolling up his sleeve, and the watch, it must be said, delivers a dependable performance; dutifully flogging it’s over-priced luxury wrist-fashion for all it’s worth. There’s isn’t a scene to match the bit in Casino Royale where Eva Green shamelessly asks Bond which watch he’s wearing, but fans of product-placement porn won’t go wanting. This time round (besides Omega) Bond finds time to check his Sony Ericsson mobile phone, fly Virgin Atlantic, get a lift in a Ford Ka… and probably stab someone with a sponsored knife.
So much of the movie is either an advertisement or a Bourne rip-off that I think people will feel grateful for the one or two scenes Bond is allowed with M. Daniel Craig and Judy Dench understand the slightly patrician, Margaret Thatcher-and-devout-young-Tory vibe that Bond and M have. It restores the series’ inherent British-ness to see Bond knock out MI5 heavies in an elevator, only to slip back to M (who sent them) like the naughty Head Boy who breaks the rules to get his Headmistress’s attention.
The Bourne Identity might have changed the template for how spy movies should be made, but it’s not the only template, and Bond isn’t Bourne. I can live with frenetic editing and (sigh) maybe even realism in a Bond movie, but to exorcise the gadgets and the quips and the bed-hopping is going too far. Bond should be about escapism. He’s wish-fulfilment. To give him mental scars and a conscience might deepen him, but why bother? Here is a character who wears a Savile Row suit to a gun battle, a spy who spies drunk, a lascivious superhero: he’s not real. Quantum of Solace wants a man to go on Bond’s adventures. I just want James Bond.