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December 17, 2008

The reviewers are wrong, Quantum of Solace works well as a Bond film, argues Jeremy Black: The Quantum of Solace - Marc Forster

Posted by Jeremy Black

The Quantum of Solace
Directed by Marc Forster
certificate 12A, 2008

Until this film appeared, it had been a bad year for Bond. He had been cast as a limp dated marionette in a misconceived adventure by Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care, 2008, see my review), and the hundredth anniversary of his creator's birth had been the occasion for some strikingly unoriginal media coverage, not least a weak radio documentary.

To cap it all, the film was not treated kindly by reviewers. They said it required too great an understanding of the previous venture Casino Royale (2006, see my review), and were cool.

Indeed, I must confess that I was so jaded by the Bondiana mentioned above, depressed by the excessive violence and jumbled plot of Casino Royale, and overworked, that I did not see the film as soon as it came out, despite the fact that the lectures I give on the Bond corpus ensure that I need to stay up to date.

Well, the reviewers were wrong, as indeed they were for Brideshead, a film that turned out to be far more dynamic than the overly languorous television series of many of the reviewers' youth.

Quantum of Solace of course had its flaws, in particular the lacklustre credits and the theme song. Indeed, can anyone remember the lyrics of the latter? Yet, the film as a whole worked and worked well.

There are plot flaws - would M really turn up in Russia?, and unnecessarily so, as she does at the close; but pushing M to the fore is an aspect of Bond as a Buddy Movie. The buddy now is M, not Felix (Leiter, not cat-food), and, although this relationship is organisationally silly, it works emotionally.

The criticism of needing to know the previous film well is unwarranted, as the dead Vesper is more a plot device that provides a cause for the action, a cause that drives Bond, than an issue throughout the film. The puzzle, instead, is the nature and goals of the malign organisation that Bond uncovers. Here the plot is reasonably coherent, with a "baddy" who is more convincing than that in Casino Royale and a challenge that is not that of the seconds to human destruction type. The account of sinister Bolivian generals linked to an international conspiracy hiding behind the cover of environmentalism, works reasonably well. Control over water supplies is modish yet convincing as an issue. There are fewer disjointed chases and less fighting than in Casino Royale.

Of course, there is the criticism that Craig is not Connery, that specifically his Bond is not a figure of wit, but, just as Faulks got it wrong by taking Bond back into the 1960s, so film critics need to consider that it is not terribly helpful to judge the Bond of the 2000s as if he should be in a 1960s film. There might be a little too much Bourne in the new film, and its quota of action might be too high, but that reflects the global audience today. Within these constraints, Quantum is highly successful.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author - amongst much else - of The Slave Trade (2007), A Short History of Britain (2007), The Holocaust (2008), The Curse of History (2008), and What If?: Counterfactualism and the Problem of History (2008).

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