An agent of will
With a license to kill
And a suavity sporting equivalent skill
With word or with fist
And a need to be kissed
Is an asset the British are brandishing still.
Yet even James Bond,
Whether black-haired or blonde,
Has the human weakness to grow overly fond.
Such a passionate path
Leads to rancor and wrath
In the cruel aftermath and the danger beyond.
MPAA rating for both: PG-13
I’ve never been particularly well-versed in the James Bond franchise. Although I didn’t grow up in the ‘80s, I was first introduced to Roger Moore as 007 so he’s always been my preferred Bond. Yet whether he’s played by Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan, what’s there to know? He’s a dashingly handsome British spy with gadgets, who thwarts international villains while bedding international women. With such a simple premise and narrative room for plenty else, the franchise has been content churning out stand-alone features with mainly Bond and his superiors M and Q (and occasionally a villain) as the constants, even if they’ve been recast over the decades.
Thus, when I finally decided to give my attention to Daniel Craig’s now-ended run as Bond, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale, I was surprised to see that the filmmakers went with a more overarching storyline, continuing into Craig’s second film Quantum of Solace. Resurrecting Bond from the campiness of the Moore and Brosnan years, Casino Royale serves as a sort of origin story for the famous agent, even depicting how he obtained his Aston Martin; we still know little of his early years, but witnessing the beginning of his 00 career provides a larger context for Bond himself.
Craig plays the character with grim determination and only a sliver of the charm of past Bonds. He’s certainly skilled at the no-nonsense side of the job, but while his emotions do simmer beneath the spy façade, I still find him rather deadpan, even in the plaintive scenes. The always good Judi Dench as M is the only connection to past Bond films, and her scolding mother-style relationship with Bond provides a pleasant friction to the proceedings, since this less-experienced Bond is prone to rash decisions and unintended force.
Casino Royale sees Bond match wits with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for terrorists who is pushed into holding a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro to satisfy his debts. Tagging along to advise and assist are Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and the beautiful treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a Bond girl whose relationship with Bond starts off with cold barbs but takes them both much further than one would expect from the famous womanizer.
The brisk action, cracking dialogue, and slick intrigue are the strongest elements, especially a thrilling “gotcha” struggle with a bomber at an airport runway, but Casino Royale takes a left turn in showing Bond truly in love rather than the usual lust, even being willing to quit MI6. Once things settle down after the card game, we get an unexpected amount of romantic bliss right before the climax. It certainly shows a different side to Bond, but it also interferes with the pacing that one would expect from a 007 movie. The final scene does make up for it, though, ending with a perfect lead-in for the subsequent film.
Quantum of Solace picks up right there, not with further adventures in the meantime but right after Casino Royale. That makes it the only Bond film I can think of that will leave viewers seriously confused if they haven’t seen its predecessor. For most Bond films, certain characters rather than events are the touchstones, yet here both are equally important. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Quantum of Solace is considered Craig’s weakest outing; by no means is it a bad film, but if one goes into this Bond movie expecting a self-contained plot, they will be disappointed. Yet for someone like me who loves continuity and didn’t have to wait two years between watching the two, I actually found Quantum of Solace better in some regards.
The most notable improvement is the pacing. It feels more like a James Bond outing, just with the action levels ratcheted up to eleven, making Quantum supposedly the most violent of any Bond movie. There are car chases, foot chases, boat chases, plane chases, Bond chasing others, others chasing Bond. The set pieces are thrilling, and Craig’s Bond continues to be a respectable combination of tough and clever, even if he has a problem with killing potential suspects. The character and plot holdovers from Casino Royale add to the story, and as the mysterious Quantum organization and its conspiracies are discovered, the vendettas pile up, both for Bond and for Bolivian companion Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko).
Despite the introduction of the still-enigmatic Quantum, I will admit that the plot is downright convoluted. Even with the early secret agent escapades at the beginning, Casino Royale had a focused plot that can be summed up rather easily. It’s not as easy to recall the main point of Quantum of Solace; there was a double agent and a secret meeting at an opera and an evil general and something about oil and the environment that didn’t cast world governments in the best light. By the end, I couldn’t quite keep up with who had a grudge against whom, particularly in the final semi-redemptive scene where Bond confronts two previously unseen characters. (Maybe I was just too distracted by the surprise at seeing Bakshi from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Beckett from Castle together. I did like the scene’s significance once I understood it, though.)
Neither film is perfect, but as a dual foundation for Craig as the new 007, they’re among the best Bond films I’ve seen. Casino Royale is a uniquely paced debut for the stern-faced Craig and sets up the complex plot and tremendous action of Quantum, which astonishingly leaves at least one female character free of Bond’s sexual charms. I’m still partial to Roger Moore’s incarnation, and A View to a Kill is still my go-to for the series, but Craig’s more solemn version has my respect. I do think it’s laughable that, by the time of Quantum of Solace, some critics were grumbling about the overly serious tone when they used to complain that the old Bonds like Moore were too silly and lighthearted. There’s no pleasing some people, but Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace have convinced me to check out Craig’s further adventures. Skyfall, here I come.
Best line from Casino Royale: (Bond, after losing a lot of money) “Vodka-martini.” (bartender) “Shaken or stirred?” (Bond) “Do I look like I give a damn?”
Best line from Quantum of Solace: (Bond) “They say you’re judged by the strength of your enemies.”
Rank: Both List-Worthy
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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