Smash! Squeal! Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat! Crash! Argh! Kaboom!
So begins Quantum of Solace, the 137th movie in a big-screen saga that stretches back to the year 1524. Such boy-noise largely sums up the middle of the film, as well. And the end. And it’s the way your head feels as you walk to your car afterwards.
Quantum of Solace starts about where the last Bond flick, Casino Royale, left off. Bond, mourning the death of his girlfriend/rogue agent Vesper, is hot on the heels of the evildoers he blames for her demise—claiming, of course, it’s all for the good of Queen and Country. But he’s not fooling anyone, especially not M, his boss. Bond’s vendetta is profoundly personal: His rage spatters like 400-degree bacon grease, concealed only by his tailored tux and marble eyes.
As he cuts across Europe and South America, leaving a sizable swath of dead bodies in his wake, Bond unearths a vast shadowy organization called Quantum. Quantum wants—well, we don’t exactly know what Quantum wants. But it has something to do with bringing the world to its knees. (What else could it be?)
Bond’s self-assigned to-do list? 1) Battle the bad guys—fronted by one Dominic Greene, a lank, cavern-eyed schemer posing as an environmentalist. 2) Fight off the CIA. 3) Deceive and manipulate MI6. 4) Wreck cars, boats and airplanes. 5) Rescue one woman. 6) Seduce one woman. 7) Crack the occasional dry quip.
Mr. Bond is not one to be easily dissuaded from the task at hand. His methods can and should be questioned. But his desire and determination to bring the bad guys to justice is well-honed. Even when his motives are selfish, he’s all about making the world a safer place.
That grit manifests itself in some pretty negative, vengeful ways. But by the end of the film, it appears that 007 understands that revenge doesn’t supply, well, even a quantum of solace. “I don’t think the dead care about vengeance,” he says. And just when you think he can’t help but kill everyone he meets, he decides to leave one very bad dude alive.
In the wake of Bond killing a series of potential witnesses and M scolding him for it, he makes a flippant remark about a man the Americans wanted to question. He says, “If they wanted his soul, they should’ve made a deal with a priest.”
In typical Bond-movie fashion, the opening theme is “illustrated” with nude women cavorting in various degrees of shadow.
Bond, still mourning Vesper, confines his usually boundless sexual energy to one proposition: He brings a British agent named Strawberry Fields into his hotel suite and asks her, “I can’t find the stationary. Will you help me look?” In Bond-speak that means, “Why don’t you come into the bedroom, take off all your clothes and have sex with me.” They do indeed wind up in bed, where we see them chatting afterwards, sheets covering strategic spots.
A nude dead woman is (fully) seen stretched out facedown on a bed. She’s covered in black oil. Quick flashes show audiences another woman screaming as a man begins to sexually assault her. She escapes, but her female rescuer is also handled roughly by their attacker. She bites his face as he presses close and, eventually, shoots him dead. She tells Bond that this assailant “did things” with her mother and older sister before strangling them.
We learn that Camille, the film’s designated “Bond girl,” slept with Greene to get close to her own target of revenge. Their affair is mentioned often, at times augmented by descriptions of how each “performed.” Greene later “gives” Camille to a would-be South American dictator, asking him to “dump her over the side [of the boat] when you’re done.” She wears revealing clothing.
A female character in a swimsuit tells her presumed lover that she wants his hands on her body. Bond makes a sexualized quip about handcuffs. Camille kisses Bond.
Bond uses his license to kill so much here that he might need to get it relaminated. And, presumably because he’s so embittered by Vesper’s death, his actions feel even more cold and callously calculated than usual. Frenetic and exceedingly visceral car chases, plane chases and foot chases set the stage for him to send bad guys hurtling off a cliff, crowd a small plane into the side of a mountain, shoot scores of adversaries and stab a man just to watch him bleed to death.
“If you would avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated,” M tells Bond. To which the only real reply he gives is to kill again.
When Bond doesn’t end someone’s life, he makes them wish they were dead. He shoves someone off a rooftop. (Bad guys then shoot the injured man.) He leaves another guy out in the middle of the desert with only a can of motor oil to drink. (The bad guys finish him off, too—but, we’re told, not before he downs the oil.) Bond dangles folks by their hair. And he puts his fists and feet into their faces. He specializes in creating massive, fiery chaos.
And it’s not just his enemies who suffer. Corrupt cops brutally kill Bond’s only ally as Bond—possibly unintentionally—uses him as a human shield. Then Bond roughly tosses the body into a dumpster, saying that the man wouldn’t care. He treats Camille roughly, rescuing her from a petty dictator by throwing her into a boat, where she’s eventually knocked unconscious. He carries her limp form onto a dock and unceremoniously hands her off to a stray hotel attendant, explaining that she’s seasick.
He and Camille jump from a falling airplane, both of them nearly plunging to their deaths before activating a parachute in the nick of time. Then it’s implied that he considers shooting her in the head to “save” her from burning to death.
Greene shows Camille a dead body floating in the water—his handiwork, apparently. He nearly pushes Camille off a balcony. He threatens a dictator with crude and murderous words. And he orders his henchmen to fill a fellow full of bullets. Trying to decapitate Bond with a fire ax, Greene manages to bury the cold steel in his own foot.
There’s far more crude violence than there is rude language. But there are still two or three s-words. God’s and Jesus’ names are misused at least once each. “A–,” “b–tard,” “h—” and the British interjection “bloody” round out the tally.
Filmmakers give us the recipe for an official James Bond martini—a beverage we’re told Bond drinks six of during an evening flight to Bolivia. Not that this 007 is particularly picky about his alcohol. He drinks whiskey, shares champagne with Fields and sits with CIA agent Felix Leiter as he sips a beer. He’s also offered drugs, if he wants them. Mathis, a Bond bud, says that he has “pills for everything. Some make you taller. Some make you forget.”
Felix puffs on a cigar or two.
Did the British government laminate up a license for Bond to steal, too? He pilfers a tuxedo. A truck. A briefcase. A boat. He breaks into a hotel with a credit card and, of course, lies almost constantly—though he doesn’t seem to much care whether anyone believes him or not.
The good-guy governments, meanwhile, dabble in moral relativism. A CIA agent tells Felix that, if the United States just worked with good guys, they wouldn’t be working with many folks at all. A British official justifies playing ball with Greene by saying, “Right or wrong doesn’t come into it. We’re doing this out of necessity.” It’s said, with a bit of resignation, that these days “the villains and the heroes get all mixed up.”
Going all the way back to 1962 (it wasn’t really 1524, and there aren’t really 137 films—yet), James Bond is pretty much the antithesis of what Plugged In likes to see at the movies. He drinks. He sleeps around. He kills people. And he jokes about it.
So is the Quantum of Solace-Bond just new or is he improved in any way? Well, he doesn’t bed quite so many women, and I guess you could say that’s a good thing. And he definitely doesn’t find a lot of amusement in his work this time around. Indeed, I don’t think we ever see him smile.
This is 007 at his most ruthless, most frightening. In the franchise’s strange chronology, Quantum takes place early in Bond’s career, before he coated himself with a Teflon sheen of invincibility and carefree “professionalism.” Here, the spy is rage dressed in a tux, an assassin who only manages to suppress his desire to kill once—at the very end.
Bond, like Batman before him, has gone dark.
“I’m happy to have done it, but I’m sad that it has turned so violent,” Roger Moore, who played a far breezier Bond in the 1970s and ’80s, told the Daily Mail. “That’s keeping with the times, it’s what cinema-goers seem to want and it’s proved by the box-office figures.”
Previous Bonds made killing look cool. Daniel Craig makes it look cold. So could it be possible that a grimmer Bond is a better Bond? Certainly the consequences of his actions are more visible. Death is more visceral. And Craig’s Bond, so obviously scarred and hardened, is as much an object of pity as he is of admiration. You don’t necessarily want to grow up and be a spy after watching his Bond.
But he’s also flooding the screen with more raw brutality, something that has its own—significant—downside. And it’s not just that it sucks all the “fun” out of the superspy world.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.