Sunday, November 16, 2008

James Bond vs. America? (the politics of Quantum Of Solace)

Quantum Of Solace spoilers...

For the record, I did see Quantum Of Solace yesterday. Quick verdict - terrific acting, a fine, complicated storyline, and fantastically choreographed action with real stunts and real production values. Of course, thanks to the editing, which resembled Chris Nolan and Paul Greengrass cutting while intoxicated, the action was completely incomprehensible and impossible to enjoy. Which would have been ok had the film not been at least 60% pure action. As for that story, I liked that it resembled acts 4 and 5 of the long story begun in Casino Royale (if it were a play, Casino Royale would be the longer act one and Quantum Of Solace would have been the shorter act two). Had the sequel looked and felt even remotely similar, the two films would have made a wonderful long form story of the shaping of James Bond. Still, it was a pretty good James Bond film on its own merits and it gives a genuine sense of progression to the James Bond character. Overall, a solid B+.

One thing that I did find fascinating, however, was the plot thread that had the CIA and the American government more or less joining forces with the shadowy Quantum organization in order to overthrow a leftist leader and replace him with a tyrant more sympathetic to American interests (basically Quantum was presented partially as an independent contracting firm for coups and regional destablization). Of course, to be fair, no government came off very upright, as James Bond, M, and Felix Leiter seemed to be the only three people in the film with a moral qualm about the sinister goings on (and you could argue that James Bond didn't give a damn about the plight of Bolivia, but simply wanted Greene as a means to work his way up the Quantum food chain).

Point being, this is the first time I can remember such a major studio tent pole action picture being so explicit in accusing America of being an imperialist force for real harm in the various regions of the globe. It's certainly the first for a James Bond picture. Sure, Bond pictures like GoldenEye delt with the 'what are we really fighting for' dilemma, but Alec Trevelyan's beef was with England and with the changing geopolitical map in general. But this time, the Americans are explicitly called out as the quasi-bad guys. As I was watching, I kept waiting for it to be revealed that Felix Leiter and his partner were actually undercover or working in someway to disrupt the evil intentions of Dominic Greene, but obviously that never happened. That Leiter eventually gives Bond game-changing information may or may not render the character as the cliche 'guilt-ridden thus helpful minority', but I digress.

Sure The Bourne Ultimatum had an evil US black ops operation, but it was presented so cartoonishly as to negate any dramatic impact (and the only people they were harming were the ones that Jason Bourne was stupid enough to place in danger). It also had a quasi-feel good ending where virtuous Americans turn the tide and the evil Americans are punished for their transactions. Not so here... although Leiter's boss is sacked and Leiter is promoted, the general feeling is that nothing really has been resolved in the grand scheme of things. James Bond may have had a psychological breakthrough, but Quantum and its evildoing is still as strong as ever, as are the nations that use it to do their bidding.

I'm curious if this reading of the film, also detailed with much historical context here, will be noticed by general moviegoers and whether it will affect the long term box office. Let's see if The Onion picks up on this as well ('New congress quickly calls hearings into Bush administration's ties with shadowy Quantum organization'). Ironically, the whole point of Spectre in the original series was to deal with real-world politics without implicating real nations (other than the USSR I suppose). Spectre was the original private contractor for global tiddly-winks, not associated with any one country and an enemy to all of them in the end. Not so with Quantum. This time, the evil super villain organization is very much in bed with allegedly law abiding countries and shockingly enough, America is apparently one of them. Good thing that James Bond is there to save us from ourselves.

Scott Mendelson

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