(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Not long ago I watched Quantum of Solace for the second time. When I first saw it I thought what Marc Forster (no relation) had done with the series gave it extremely high potential, so I tried to moderate my expectations. But it wasn’t enough; I couldn’t place the film any higher than “Passable” on the rubric of my unified field theorem of Bond movies.
Well, the second time I liked it better. Not a lot better – all my basic criticisms still stand – but I think I get more clearly now what they were going for, and I see some more subtle ways in which some parts of the movie work better than I thought.
Some of the subtlety I missed before is in the action sequences, whose poor handling in the editing room did so much to kill this movie’s potential. For example, in the foot chace through the Italian city early in the movie, they reverse the foot chase in Africa that took place early in Casino Royale. Then, the bad guy (a nobody bomb-maker) was stronger and more agile than Bond, and Bond had to beat him by being smarter and trickier. This time, the bad guy is working for the shadowy super-conspiracy, so he’s actually trickier than Bond; Bond beats him by being stronger and more agile.
Also, throughout the movie – in both action and non-action sequences – when the camera is showing us Bond’s perspective it frequently mimics the perspective of a head turning the way Bond’s head is really turning. It works well.
I said before that the movie had lots of fine moments. Well, I can appreciate them more now that the movie’s flaws aren’t hitting me in the face (because I’m ready for them). And there are actually a lot of them.
One other subtlety I missed is that the movie implicitly emphasizes, as Casino Royale did more explicitly, that Bond really doesn’t mind killing people to save the world. Yes, they emphasize the emotional price he pays to be what he is; that’s part of the main subject of QoS. But it’s very clear that the price is worth paying. If you really do need to kill people to save the world, then killing people to save the world is right and you shouldn’t feel bad about doing it, and we should be thankful that there are people willing to pay the price Bond pays to be what Bond is.
I see now much more clearly what the movie is really about – Bond needs to learn to forgive, but forgiveness isn’t in his nature because of the kind of man he is (and needs to be to do his job). The main tension of the movie is supposed to be the suspense created by the ambiguity of Bond’s motivation. Is he saving the world, or is he on a vengeance trip, and if that happens to involve saving the world that’s a nice bonus?
I missed this (well, I didn’t fully appreciate it) because I was looking for the movie’s substance in the wrong place – in the villains and their plot and Bond’s quest to foil them, all of which was flubbed so badly by the filmmakers. And part of the flubbing of the plot involved making the action sequences far too long, leaving less time for the filmmakers to develop what was really the movie’s core – Bond’s motivation.
In fact, it didn’t feel at all like there was any ambiguity about Bond’s motives. It was clear he was on a vengeance trip. I think the filmmakers wrongly assumed that “saving the world” would be our default assumption for Bond’s motivation, and we would need to be pushed to see that he’s out for vengeance. But the opposite is the case – Casino Royale set up the vengeance plot so brilliantly that that was our default.
The ambiguity, in fact, comes at the very end – where it was supposed to be resolved. I believe that Bond’s final act just before the credits roll, which is so shocking and stunning, was meant to demonstrate that he was saving the world all along, that the vengeance trip was just a temptation he was struggling with but was never his real motivation. Unfortunately, because they’d been pushing us in the vengeance direction the whole movie, the final act actually has the effect of introducing ambiguity. He says he “never left” MI6’s service – did he really? Was he only holding on to the necklace and the photo of Vesper’s boyfriend just because they were the evidence he needed to bring the boyfriend down, thus saving the world? I think the final image was meant to resolve these questions (with a “yes”) but in fact what it did was raise them for the first time.