How many children does Lady Macbeth have? That’s the kind of ridiculous question a certain strain of literature teacher will torture students with. The answer, obviously, is: Shakespeare would have told us, had it been important. Nevertheless, there are a few characters who so transcend their storylines that they really do acquire lives of their own; and one of them is James Bond. I think it’s reasonable to ask a question like: How many martinis does 007 have on an off day?
The answer is six, according to Quantum of Solace, which is at least faithful to Ian Fleming in its recipe for 007’s preferred martini (three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, and a half measure of Kina Lillet—much preferable to tasteless vodka bruised with dry vermouth). He manfully drinks those cocktails to dull his grief for Vesper, the woman he lost at the end of Casino Royale.
Quantum opens with a scene that carries on the action of Casino: Bond is speeding through the Italian countryside with Mr. White, who is part of a secret evil organization, in the trunk of his Aston Martin. But White promptly escapes from his interrogation with the help of a mole in MI6. The movie is intent on showing how compromised our post-Cold-War world is. There is no pure good; all organizations and regimes in the movie contain good and wicked elements. The real bad guy has the significant name of Greene, who is in bed with both the British and the American government. Greene runs an environmental agency that is sneakily creating a drought in order to sell water for an exorbitant sum. He’s a fitting bad guy for an age when BP advertises itself as “Beyond Petroleum.”
The critics have, on the whole, been down on Quantum of Solace. (Admittedly, the title, taken from one of Fleming’s short stories, is awful. I guess the name of the secret organization is Quantum; still, why not A Half-Jigger of Solace?) The general complaint about Quantum of Solace is that it doesn’t have an iota of wit or a modicum of sex, which are the gin and vodka of most Bond films. He never says, “Bond, James Bond,” or “shaken not stirred”; the most thrilling of all action-movie music doesn’t play until the credits; the beauties don’t have names like Pussy Galore or Plenty O’Toole; and, worst of all, there are no gadgets.
I love Pussy Galore and ejector seats as much as the next critic. Still, I enjoyed Quantum quite thoroughly. True, it’s not as good as Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale, which shocked and mesmerized us with the story of Bond before he was Bond. When asked in that movie if he preferred his martini shaken or stirred, he growled, “Does it look like I give a damn?” There’s nothing as finely etched as that in Quantum. So, what makes it an enjoyable addition to the most popular movie series ever? For that matter, what makes it a Bond flick?
Well, it’s shot in some beautiful locations and has two lovely women who are also competent actresses. Though some of the action scenes are a bit confusing to watch, there’s a nice sequence that takes place as Tosca is being performed on an Austrian shore, and also a thrilling, old-fashioned airplane fight. More importantly, the movie maintains a crucial element of the Bond myth: he is ruthless on the surface but a good-guy underneath. Bond is possessed by the desire to avenge the death of Vesper, but the movie ends with his refraining from killing the man who corrupted his beloved. He is chastised throughout by MI6 for killing too many people, even though, like a good old cowboy, he never kills anyone who isn’t a bad guy and hasn’t attacked him first. The movie is keen to point out that while the big wigs chastise Bond, they simultaneously are excusing their complicity with evil organizations: “If we don’t do business with bad guys, there would be no one to do business with.”
In short, though the movie isn’t top-notch entertainment (and beyond Dr. No and Casino Royale, how many are?), it’s competent and even interesting in a mild way. The director is Marc Forster, who made Monster’s Ball and The Kite Runner; and one of the writers is Paul Haggis, the writer who adapted Million Dollar Baby and directed Crash. Finally, I’m one of those who thinks it’s indisputable that Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery, for those two alone have possessed that martini-alchemy of suavity and cruelty that sends shivers through men and women, though usually for different reasons.