Reviews of Reviews: Quantum of Solace

A. O. Scott's decidedly tepid review of Quantum of Solace winds up by considering just how similar the current incarnation of James Bond seems to every other hero now working his (because our heroes are almost always still male) way through the multiplex:
And here, I suppose, the deeper questions bubble up. Is revenge the only possible motive for large-scale movie heroism these days? Does every hero, whether Batman or Jason Bourne, need to be so sad?

I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight’s baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty’s suave, cynical cold war paladin. His wit was part of his — of our — arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.

Are these weapons now off limits for the good guys? Or can moviegoers justify their vicarious enjoyment of on-screen mayhem — and luxury hotels, high-end cocktails and fast cars — only if there are some pseudoserious bad feelings attached? The Sean Connery James Bond movies of the 1960s were smooth, cosmopolitan comedies, which in the Roger Moore era sometimes ascended to the level of farce. With Mr. Craig, James Bond reveals himself to be — sigh — a tragic figure.
Anthony Lane reviews Quantum of Solace for the New Yorker, and he begins his review by writing:
Who wants to be James Bond? Everyone of the male sex, pretty much, in the old days. Schoolboys dreamed of growing up to be 007, and middle-aged men lay awake, in the small hours, and wondered why they had grown into something else—how it was that their wristwatches merely told the time rather than spewing out metal ticker tape or magnetically unzipping the back of a woman’s dress. To sit and watch Bond’s recent adventures, however, is to witness that reverie in decline.
What's interesting is the way in which both men strike this note of regret: Scott, in wishing for a smoother cosmopolitan, Lane's wish to return to an adolescent reverie. I'm also reminded of my response to David Denby and Manohla Dargis' respective reviews of The Dark Knight, where I wrote, largely quoting Denby:
"At times," David Denby writes in The New Yorker, "[The Dark Knight] sounds like two excited mattresses making love in an echo chamber". Faint praise indeed. He continues, "In brief, Warner Bros. has continued to drain the poetry, fantasy, and comedy out of Tim Burton's original conception for "Batman", completing the job of coarsening the material into hyperviolent summer action spectacle." Denby goes on to note, as so many others have done, Heath Ledger's performance, but he cannot call the movie "an outstanding piece of craftsmanship". He ends his review by noting that though the movie "has been made in a time of terror... it's not fighting terror; it's embracing and unleashing it - while making sure, with proper calculation, to set up the next installment of the corporate franchise.
Dargis, more enamored of the movie than Denby, still noted how the gothic poetry of Tim Burton had been drained from these most recent efforts, and it's again interesting how there's this sense of loss: A loss of poetry in The Dark Knight, a loss of the seductive cosmopolitanism of the Connery Bond.

Given more time, I might be able to string something together about cultivating an attitude in the present about a particular past and about this resurgence in the tragic hero, but it's worth leaving off for a moment. I have yet to see the newest Bond, and I wonder - not having ever lived the easy desires of the 1960s, nor ever having known of them to feel keenly their loss - what solace I'll find this time around.


Scott said…
I saw the flick last night and must agree that Mr. Craig's Bond is decidedly less saucy with an extra cup of brooding (as was apparent in the last installment). To the extent that each actor tries to distinguish his portrayal from those of previous Bond "eras", I don't really have a problem with that. I wonder if something could be said about this darker portrayal in the context of the 21st-century evils--often ill-defined (who are terrorists), difficult to target (where are they), or coming from within (our own demons manifest in a weakening of previous hegemonic power). Or it could be nothing, I suppose.

Timur said…
Scott, I think you're on to something - I think several people have written about heroism in a post 9/11 world. As problematic a division as that is, I think there's something at work in our collective perception of power. What, you might call it a postmodern distrust of grand narratives. You might just say we're all angst-ridden. Maybe it's the death of irony. But I do think something is up.

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