Quibble of Sanguinity

Daniel Craig continues to rejuvenate James Bond with Quantum of Solace, which is a direct sequel to his debut in the role, Casino Royale. That was, in turn, based on the first novel Ian Fleming wrote, so it makes sense to see Craig’s Bond as a new beginning for the long-running franchise.

In Casino Royale Craig-Bond was just getting his “licence to kill”, so in a way these two films are prequels to the rest.
That is to say, Craig-Bond will mature into Sean Connery, develop some irony (and drop some muscle), before ageing into Roger Moore’s Bond-as-superannuated-Saint, dyed hair and all, with a brief reincarnation as Pierce Brosnan in the distant future (though Brosnan is more Bond Street than 007). We can regard the short-tenure Bonds, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, not to mention the host of spoof Bonds in the 1967 joke version of Casino Royale, as mere phantoms.

Casino Royale was based on Fleming’s first fiction, while Quantum of Solace is taken from what must be absolutely the last bit of Fleming prose left in the vault. It was a short story originally published in Cosmopolitan magazine, apparently—a forecast of Bond’s new appeal to women, perhaps? At any rate, the film bears as little resemblance to the story as The Spy Who Loved Me bore to its source novel, so the link back to Fleming is there only in the title.

And what a title it is. There were massive complaints when it was announced: Xan Brooks in The Guardian, for instance, denounced it as “blancmange”, with “too many soft consonants, not enough sharp edges”. That may be so. But I think it’s a brilliant title. (All it lacks is the indefinite article at its head, though that might have been an elegance too far for a Bond film.) It means, in case you’re wondering, a minimal amount of comfort, which Bond is seeking after the death of his beloved, Vesper Lynd, at the end of the previous film. It will hopefully teach some viewers up to two new words. And it sends one’s mind off in a spiral of echoing names—Quintessence of Solipsism, anyone?

Never mind. Craig’s unprecedentedly muscular and dirty-blond Bond powers his way relentlessly through this new movie. He gets grimy and bloodstained, making this escapade feel a bit more realistic than those of previous Bonds, who barely scuffed their tuxedos while parachuting off skyscrapers with a babe in one hand and a Walther PPK in the other.

Craig-Bond is not overshadowed by silly pseudo-technology, and he barely even stops to shag a chick. Instead, he does a lot of fast driving, running and hand-to-hand fighting—there are three superb chase/fight sequences here. The filmmakers have clearly learned their lesson from Bond’s closest new competitor, Bourne, in how to jam a film together with a sense of edgy verisimilitude.

If the chick-shagging has been downgraded, what has been upgraded is Bond’s relationship with his chief, M (Judi Dench). This is his most important male-female relationship now; perhaps his most important relationship full stop. It’s about trust, she says, but she also offers a Quiver of Solicitude, and it’s not too farfetched to see the famous initial M as no longer standing for code-name Mailedfist, as it used to, but for Mother. We’re in prequel-land, and Bond has yet to cut the apron strings.

Quiddity of Sentience has one of those semi-intelligible plots about a criminal mastermind (Mathieu Almaric) trying to take over the world or at least hold it to ransom; it has the traditional “Bond girl” (Olga Kurlyenko) who is ambiguously located in the space between the villain and the hero. At least she has a realistic name (Camille), as opposed to Pussy Galore, Honeychile Rider or the like. Also contrary to tradition, there is no closing moment with her in Bond’s arms, about to perform the wrap-up shag. She has vanished by the movie’s end and the coda is played out with Bond and the most important woman in his life—M.

M’s new centrality is all to the good, partly because it gives Craig another real actor to spark off. This is Dench Lite, of course, but Dench Lite still has more gravitas than most people doing Heavy. There is some psychology here, and she and Craig trade on it skilfully. Unlike Brosnan-Bond, Craig-Bond actually has an inner life; he’s not just a clothes horse silhouetted against a few explosions. It’s a stroke of genius to give Bond a discernible personality (never mind issues), and then to locate that inner life in a powerful physicality; he has what you might call a Quality of Solidity or a Question of Sensibility.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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