Bond? James Bond?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 19, 2008
What are we to make of this new James Bond? Or, more precisely, this guy who calls himself "James Bond"? He bears almost no resemblance to the charming, sophisticated (lady)killer we'd come to know in almost two dozen films covering the past near-half century, eschewing almost every element of his brand identity in what is either the most daring revisionist or desperately shallow move by a billion-dollar film franchise since ... well ... ever.

Whether daring or desperate, the apparent underlying motive was--as usual--profit. "Quantum of Solace," starring the rugged, appealing and convincing Daniel Craig in his second go as the sixth big-screen version of the British secret service agent, has been breaking box office records around the world--and just bull's-eyed the biggest U.S. opening weekend of any 007 picture, on pace for $70 million as I write this ambivalent consideration.

But what does it mean, if anything, when the biggest James Bond film in history doesn't look, act or feel like a James Bond film? Not only is it the shortest entry ever, it's got the shortest attention span, blazing by audiences in a relentless rage of rapid-fire ADD action scenes and minimal plot, with no time for gadgets (or Q to disperse them), Miss Moneypenny, outdoor sport or indoor gambling, a trace of wit or even the "Bond. James Bond" tagline. There's barely a beauty to bed, for crying out loud, and while 007 opens the movie driving (and demolishing) an Aston Martin, he ends it in a Ford.



Look, I'm no hater. Craig is terrific and the movie is good for what it is, and I'd happily sit through it again, but what it is isn't a James Bond movie. It's the latest amped-up adrenaline ride, highly derivative of other JBs in the post-9/11 espionage game, Jason Bourne and "24"'s Jack Bauer, and their redundant plots of pursuit, pursuit, pursuit, directed with the potentially seizure-inducing style of Michael Bay, in which no camera shot is held for more than three seconds and action sequences are cut so rapidly--like a machine gun crossed with a film splicer--that half the time you can't even tell what the hell is going on. Who's chasing/punching/knifing/shooting who? Maybe going frame-by-frame on the DVD you'll figure it out.

The film isn't dumbed-down, exactly. The plot nods in the direction of corporate corruption and ecological devastation, with the latest villain an international leader of the Green Movement who has diabolical ulterior motives. While the film feints that it's about oil, the script actually shows a canny understanding about what the next precious endangered resource will likely be (no spoilers here).

But all those five minutes of evildoers' exposition are just minor annoyances for the next chase, capture, escape, fight, kill. Pursuit, pursuit, pursuit. It's like every single element that first made Bond distinctive and later iconic--smart, handsome, clever, cultured, international, witty, seductive, comfortable in any situation--has been whittled away to a single core attribute: brutally efficient homicide machine. He's the Terminator in a tux. And while this cold-blooded assassin may be on his way to setting the global cinematic standard for such brutal work, in an admittedly exciting and modern motion picture, he's now just like everybody else. I don't find that daring or desperate. Just depressing.

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