Friday, August 6, 2010

Bondage


Upon watching the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (a strange title even for a Bond film), I was both impressed at how completely the worn out old franchise has been overhauled and depressed by how thoroughly it has killed Bond himself. I did not see Casino Royale, the film that introduced Daniel Craig as the new Bond, the sixth actor to play the part. He is the blondest and easily the ugliest of the six, but he can act, which some others could not, and he is the most physical Bond since Sean Connery. When Craig gets into a fight, you believe it when he wins. Only Connery could do that before now.

I have expressed my preference, such as it is, for the original Bond elsewhere. I must admit to having some residual, misplaced affection for the Bond franchise. Partly because it is almost as old as I am, and perhaps because it has not been permitted to grow old. But just like a woman who is getting on in years and who gets one too many facelifts and wears a ton of makeup, James Bond is showing his age in subtler, more disturbing ways.

Some of the old characters are still there, like M, played lately (since 1995) by Judy Dench. But many of the other characters, which managed to keep Bond safely in Movieland, are gone. Ian Fleming, who died in 1964, would probably not recognize the people in Quantum. Having died long before the end of the Cold War, it is easy to see Bond as a relic of that era, even if Fleming's bad guys were usually madmen without a country, wanting to rule the world or destroy it (or both).

One of the film's set pieces takes place in a particularly ugly modern amphitheater during a typically stupid updated staging of Tosca. The killings onstage mirror the killings offstage, as Bond tries to corner the chief bad guy (played smoothly by the accomplished French actor, Mathieu Amalric). The trouble is, it was at times difficult to tell them apart, what with the players in the opera using automatic weapons. It gets even messier when Bond drops an adversary (who is actually an MI6 agent) off the roof just as Tosca is throwing herself off the castle battlements (which are left entirely to our imaginations by the minimalist staging). There is an irony here that the clever Bond script writer (Paul Haggis) overlooked: removed from its context, the opera's director was trusting that Tosca would retain its coherence in a "relevant" new setting, just as the creators of Quantum trust that Bond continues to make sense after fifty years.

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