"James Bond will return." The words scroll up the screen as the last end credits song slowly fades out and the movie is over. I, along with millions of other people around the world had gone to see 'The Quantum of Solace' on opening day yesterday, and the experience left me with a mixture of joy and sadness. I have seen 'Casino Royale', and now 'Quantum of Solace', but I haven't seen James Bond since 'Die Another Day.' All I've seen in these last two films are a man that might some day be James Bond. He has high James Bond potential, but he is not James Bond.
When I was in high school, the cool thing to do was to listen to grunge rock. The point of such 'rock' (and I am using the term very loosely here) was to sound as depressed as possible, sing about how much life sucks, and make the music sound as gritty and dirty as possible. And all the high schoolers in the 90s heard it and said, "Woah, I identify with this because I feel depressed and life is hard!" And the music consequently became very popular. Epitomized by such bands as Nirvana, grunge music proved un-selfsustainable when all of it's contributors commited suicide and there was no one left to play the music.
So the Grunge fad faded from the scene and was replaced by other 'rock' movements, some with a bit more emotional range, some without (see: Emo) but the sole consolation to me was that Rock could become fun again. 'Rock' would never be that uniting force it was in the 70s and 80s, in fact you couldn't even call it 'Rock' anymore, but at least it was more fun to listen to.
Now we arrive at the early 2000s. Just when I thought we had finally seen the end of 'Grunge', the fad suddenly moves to the film world. In 2002, a movie called 'The Bourne Identity' comes out, a film that told an old and cliched story in a new way. It was dirty, it was gritty, and it focused on how much it's hero's life sucked. Hmm, sound familiar to you? Me too. I like to call this style of filmmaking 'Docu-Grunge,' as it seems to utilize the documentary style of filmmaking while applying a grunge ethos to it's visuals and content. Now, I want to pause here and say that I have nothing against this style on principle. I am not trying to make blanket statements and be a 'hater'. But I can't help but cringe when all of a sudden the word 'realistic' is commonly associated with this style, and it is implied that all other styles lack realism. Is it realistic to be depressed ALL the time? I'm not depressed all the time, does that make me unreal, or fake? The trend seems to be that in order for something to be good, it has to be uber-dramatic, dirty, and depressing. But in the long run, I'd rather watch Speed Racer than The Dark Knight.
But back to James Bond. Casino Royale was a 'reboot' of the James Bond franchise, which seems to mean that the producers looked around and said, "what's cool these days?" They found the Bourne films, and decided that in order for James Bond to be cool, he had to be presented in the all new 'Docu-Grunge' style. Gritty. Dirty. Depressed. At least when Martin Campbell directed Casino Royale, he preserved some of the visual flair that is characteristic of James Bond films with his sweeping camera movies and allowing the action scenes (though few and far between) to play out in longer shots and impress the audience with their excellence in execution. But now in Quantum of Solace, the camera has to be shaking and zoomed in as far as it will go and any one shot can't last longer than 1.5 seconds, reducing the film to a series of energetic bursts that force an intensity onto the situation instead of more subtle methods and allowing us to enjoy the scope of the visuals and appreciate the action. In trying so hard to copy the Bourne films, Bond has inherited the problems of the bourne films, and reduced itself to a bunch of camera tricks and gimmicky action scenarios. Ian Flemming intended his books to be a form of escapism, something more fun than realism, and the apple has seemingly fallen far from the tree.
Now, I don't want to sound too pessimistic here. The Quantum of Solace had a lot of things to like about it as a Bond film. Exotic locales, hints of the James Bond theme, plenty of action, and they finally re-introduced the silhouetted dancing ladies during the opening credits. But those things are only part of the combination that made Bond films awesome. Bond has always been different from other action heroes. Characteristically smooth and suave, while still calculating and precise, the way the films have been presented has always reflected this, and Bond has never had to 'compete' with other action heroes, and I don't feel like he should. Now, there are hints here and there that these last two films, since they are prequels about Bond becoming Bond, that they are slowly transitioning back into Bond being the awesomely suave and the coolest action star ever, and I dearly hope that they do, because I want my James bond back. I want the real James Bond. And I am hopeful that someday he WILL return.