Thursday, December 3, 2009

James Bond: An Unsettled Spy

Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, entertains but in departing from the traditions of its predecessors, it fails to be an authentic OO7 spy thriller. After 47 years of moviemaking the Bond film series has ingeniously reinvented itself through its core element, 007 himself. James Bond has been played by 5 different British actors (George Lazenby must not be included in this tally. More on aberrations later in this review). Each time the series seemed to be void of fresh ideas, each of the 5 actors has given the series new energy and had furnished fans with newfound optimism. Quantum of Solace, only Daniel Craig’s second film as Bond, seems to be veering into an ominous direction. Bond’s central character trait, as designed by writer Ian Fleming, is that he is supposed to be a benign lethal spy and assassin who contributes to the world by, first and foremost protecting Pax Americana, and secondly by never loosing sight of the former. In other words, Bond’s mission is simple; plan A is to save the world and plan B is to make sure plane A works. In Quantum of Solace, Craig does not execute plan A, rather he devotes himself to a mission based on a personal vendetta. Craig must look to his predecessors for inspiration.

Sean Connery’s Bond was the consummate Cold War British spy whose chief mission was to keep America safe. Connery’s Bond singlehandedly helped American international interests without relying on armies or weapons of mass destruction. His weapons were his cool demeanor and a sexual charisma; he bravely slept with as many enemy spies as possible and as a result kept the Soviets at bay and hopelessly seduced and eliminated criminal masterminds bent on controlling the world. Connery’s Bond sacrificed his body and soul to save the world; his focus never wavered and “personal vendetta” was simply not part of his vocabulary. When Connery looked like a weary and fatigued show horse, in stepped Roger Moore, who as the longest serving 007 in Bond history, proved to be a real workhorse. (For information on George Lazenby’s, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, see footnote).

Roger Moore reinvented Bond by turning sexual banter into an art-form. However, Moore the practical jokester, proved to be a serious and effective spy when the world needed him most. Like Connery, Moore was also hired by Her Majesty’s government to keep America safe. However unlike Connery, Moore steered away from playing a grim Bond and rather used a humorous and satirical tone to defeat his archenemies.

Upon Moore’s retirement, Timothy Dalton swung the pendulum back to portraying a dark and grim Bond. However, Dalton’s debut was short lived. In License to Kill Dalton played a petty Bond who sojourned the world to avenge an attack on his CIA friend Felix Leiter. It turned out this was Dalton’s last stint as a double O.

After a six year absence on the big screen Pierce Brosnan took the reins at MI6 and revived the Bond series. Brosnan combined Moore’s sexual banter with Connery’s biting wit in four successful Bond films. However, Brosnan played Bond within a tricky context. The Cold War was over, the Soviets were gone and the KGB was now the righteous FSB. Brosnan was charged with the unprecedented task of finding and fighting new enemies; and when he found his new enemies, as his predecessors, the Bond Brosnan played never lost sight that his ultimate mission was rooted in a sacrifice to save the world.

Then we have the 007 played by the talented Daniel Craig. Quantum of Solace depicts a Bond who has lost his way, a Bond who is unsettled by a lost love. Since when is OO7 perturbed by a lost love? In his debut in Casino Royale Craig brilliantly played a Bond who fought, bled, wept, but who nevertheless showed grace and grit under the stress of trying to save the world. Casino Royale humanized Bond, but also depicted the badass, suave and nonchalant double O who Sean Connery originally introduced to the world in 1962’s Dr. No. Casino Royale created a perfect balance between a stoic and strong Bond who nevertheless had vulnerabilities.

Quantum of Solace upset this balance; in the spirit of humanizing OO7 Quantum of Solace depicts a Bond who becomes an emotional wreck; a Bond who looses focus of the mission to save the world and becomes a rogue spy bent on avenging the death of his deceased lover Vesper. This won’t be Craig’s last appearance as Bond, but the script writers must stick to the basics of James Bond.

1 Footnotes: George Lazenby, who were forced to mention, is an anachronism. He showed up in 1969 to save the world in extravagant attire, his signature piece being a ruffled white shirt, which seemed more appropriate for a gentlemen spy protecting America during the revolutionary era. Lazenby not only dropped the baton when Bond fans most needed him, he almost singlehandedly ended the Bond film series before the end of the Cold War. The verdict: in the interest of the long term viability of the Bond franchise, Daniel Craig must not know about Lazenby’s existence.

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