Friday, December 25, 2015

There Are Sentences I Should Just Keep Away From (The World Is Not Enough)

fig. 1: Look, the name wouldn't even be a problem if you didn't have the overwhelming sense it was kept in some writer's back pocket just so's he can one day make an off-color Pussy Galore-level joke.
What makes a good Bond Girl?

Much hay was made last year when Monica Bellucci was cast as one of two Bond Girls in the then-upcoming film Spectre. Morning talk shows were abuzz. They talked as though this were some progressive milestone, as though casting one of the most beautiful women in the world was somehow not obvious, simply because she was fifty years old. At four years older than lead Daniel Craig, Bellucci has the distinction of being the only Bond Girl--and, beyond that, a positive rarity in mainstream cinema--to actually be older than the male lead. Of course, those morning news programs didn't focus nearly as much on the casting of Lea Seydoux, a French actress and the second part of this double bill. Clocking in at seventeen years younger than Craig, she is what the James Bond franchise, and Hollywood cinema in general, is more used to. For those of us who have seen the James Bond films (and I've seen them all), the pattern is obvious. You know which of that pair the film is going to focus on.

fig. 2: Just the idea of the press roll-out of "Here are the people he's going to fuck in this movie" is pretty strange.
True to form, Bellucci plays what I like to call the Act Two Girl, the girl that James Bond interacts with and beds before the close of the second act. Frequently, this lady is murdered, sometimes quite theatrically, by the lead bad guy or one of his lackeys. See also: Strawberry Fields, Tilly Masterton, Plenty O'Toole, etc. Seydoux, on the other hand, plays the Act Three Girl, the lady who might show up earlier, but her romance with James Bond is a sort of simmering thing eventually consummated at the close of the film's final act. So it is with Seydoux, with Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, and with every Act Three Girl of the Brosnan era like clock work. Sometimes this formula is played with. In the Brosnan films, however, it's pretty rote. It happens with Isabella Scorupco's Natalya in GoldenEye, with Michelle Yeoh's Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies, and with Halle Berry's Jinx in Die Another Day.

And boy oh boy does it happen here, in 1999's The World is Not Enough.

fig. 3: Ugh.

The World Is Not Enough is infamous for its casting of Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones, the Act Three Girl. This is the era of Peak Denise Richards. After starring in 1997's Starship Troopers and 1998's Wild Things, she was a hot commodity, guaranteed to put asses in seats. She is not, however, ever going to be considered among the bright lights of the modern thespian tradition. She delivers the scientific technobabble with which Jones is burdened with such vapid lack of conviction it's though she's learning English for the first time. But enough about Richards. Picking on her lack of technical expertise, or on the franchise for hopping on a hot property when they had the chance, is like shooting particularly dead-eyed fish in a barrel. Instead, for the moment, let's focus on Act Two's Girl, and curiously the only Bond Girl to also be a level antagonist: Elektra King.

There have been others, sure. Lady assassins, mainly, variations on that other Bond Film Trope, the Bad Guy's Girlfriend. The Bond franchise is in the position of having to negotiate between its fifty-year history and the audience expectations as a result of that history, and the changing landscape of culture surrounding it. This is probably no more better exemplified in these films than in The World Is Not Enough. Elektra King, played by French actress Sophie Marceau (herself a hot ticket after 1995's Braveheart) is a much more fully realized character than Richards' Jones, capable of standing toe-to-toe with Bond and of hatching her own ludicrously violent scheme to grab hold of a precious resource and make just tons of money in the process.

fig. 4: Remind you of anyone?
The closest the franchise gets to this sort of lady supervillainy elsewhere is Octopussy's eponymous Act Three Girl, though Bond soon sets her to rights and we find that the bad guy all along was Louis Jordan's Kamal Khan. The agency and mystique with which she begins the film is repeatedly undercut until she shares that closing love scene with our title hero. A few things changed between 1983 and 1999.

King has no such scruples, or constraints. She manipulates her captors when rescue seems impossible, hops in to bed with Bond at the earliest opportunity, and masterminds a scheme to control the distribution of oil to Eastern Europe. She also, of course, uses sex as a weapon. (See above.) The franchise can't help being a bit retrograde even when it is being progressive.

Although, it's not as though Bond himself is above using sex to get what he wants (though, typically, that's, well, sex). He handily seduces this film's Act One Girl, the preposterously-named Dr Molly Warmflash, in order to secure his position (ahem) on the active duty roster once again. He's positively reluctant to sleep with King at first (as reluctant as someone, particularly someone as Tex Avery-ish as the Brosnan Bond can be about hopping in to bed with Sophie Marceau), and the romantic tension (such as it is) between Bond and Jones is an artifact of how these action-adventure films are constructed. There's always a guy, there's always a girl, they usually kiss by the end. Indeed, the idea of the "Bond Girl" partly exists simply because he's been at this such a long time that what to other films would simply be trappings of the genre become this accretion disc of lipstick and high heels, whirling about through the franchise's fifty-year gravity.

The World Is Not Enough gets well-deserved flak for the bland casting of and sub-par acting by Denise Richards, which is a shame because that eclipses a great performance by someone who manages to be one of the best Bond Girls of the series as well as its only true female mastermind.

fig. 5: Plus she swans about the place in all these amazing caftans

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: Dec 23, 2015

Rupert stared out across the marshes at the blackhead. "This just isn't fair," he complained. "How did the commission even let him in with an entry like that?" The whole thing had to be too high-concept to even be considered. Didn't it?

His wife, Liao, merely nodded. Humoring him. Of course she always had a thing for Aamir and those high-concept shenanigans. This, though, seeding an Earth-type planet with nanites, growing these geometric shapes, blackheads, blemishes on an otherwise pristine planet, it didn't land. Like when he took a century to painstakingly laser a city's worth of buildings out of the surface of a moon, then turned off the shields and let the meteorites take their course.  Or that time he electrified a Venus-type's atmosphere to resemble Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Where Rupert designed intricate clockwork architecture out of moons and gas clouds and dead stars, testaments to humanity's place at the zenith of nature, Aamir was content to fiddle around at the edges, playing his art as some kind of long con. Rupert despised it.

They were standing in the marsh, the planet's native microbial life sloshing around their boots, invading their lungs. Their very being here was against any number of cultural taboos. From a distance, Aamir waved at them. Not smugly, Rupert thought, which infuriated him more. He would have preferred the man be smug about it all, lording it over him. As it was, Rupert felt as inconsequential as the bacteria playing about his feet.

"Do you suppose it's a perfect sphere?" Liao asked, trying to change the subject.

"Who gives a shit?" Rupert snapped, and trudged toward where Aamir was standing with the rest of the Arts Committee, admiring his handiwork. He wondered how long the blackheads were meant to last. Would future generations of these microbes, when they quickened into intelligent life a billion years from now, look on them in awe and wonder? How would Aamir's little art project deform and shape the mythology of an entire world?

More likely they'd just turn into slush in a few hundred thousand years, after he'd made his point.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mad Scientist Journal

Hello, America, and points beyond;

I have a short story out this month published by the great folks at Mad Scientist Journal. Feel free to check it out over at Amazon, Goodreads, and Smashwords. It's pre-release now, the actual thing will be available New Year's Eve.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The World's Going Up in Flames and They're Still Playing at Toy Soldiers! (Die Another Day)

fig. 1: "I don't want to spoil it, but I'm straight-up the best thing about this movie."
You know when the film starts with your main character being tortured over months and months in a North Korean prison and you're totally in to it, you have a complicated relationship with that character.

I have fond memories of Die Another Day even though I know it is a piece of shit. I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the summer of 2002, and didn't really know anybody. I had a room mate, a friend from High School who knew a whole scrum of interesting people. Her friends gradually became my friends, down entirely to their generosity of spirit. Die Another Day was one of the first outings I went to with them, and the first I think where my room mate didn't make it. I think she has the same issue with James Bond films as my wife does. But that's later.

Die Another Day opens with what's become de rigueur for the franchise, a cold open in which the perpetually smarmy Bond quips and explodes his way through some major international incident, all without breaking a sweat. Then he's caught. Then he's captured, and tortured, and poisoned. I  vividly remember watching this sequence in the theater thinking "Oh yeah. This is so James Bond didn't stop 9/11," which, as the tenuous relationship these films have with realpolitik, isn't totally out of the question. When Bond gets out, M tells him that while he was gone the world changed. Unfortunately for the Brosnan era, James Bond didn't.

There's a glimmer of the movie that could have been in that first half hour. The hovercraft chase is surely overblown, and a little silly, but Will Yun Lee is a charming, charismatic presence, and the North Korean setting allows James Bond to go after real-world bad guys for a change. Then Bond is caught, and tortured, and effectively disavowed before going on the lam to try and crack this thing on his own.

Shortly after this, the film loses its way. Nothing in the Brosnan era was ever going to approach the flavor of verisimilitude the Craig films would later attempt, but there's a tug-of-war between realism and outright camp in Die Another Day that realism soundly loses, and if it's not when Bond shows up at a swanky Hong Kong hotel looking like Aquaman than it must be right about when Bond and Jinx stumble on the DNA machine.

fig. 2: Jinx

Jinx. It wasn't until researching this film for the rewatch that I learned the reason Halle Berry was cast was to spin her off in to her own film series. It makes sense. Coming fresh off her Oscar win for Monster's Ball, she's just a bit too A-list to be another of Bond's flings, and it helps explain the jarring presence of Michael Madsen in this film, who acts as if he's already starring in this other franchise. Some time I'll get around to checking off all the Americans in these films and what that might say about a British film franchise whose primary demographic seems to be American men. Maybe when we get to Joe Don Baker.

Had this whole gambit payed off, who knows? Maybe we'd be seeing Alexandra Shipp playing the new Jinx. Maybe it would have deformed the franchise's later attempt at changing course. Maybe it would have sailed away into stranger waters. None of this happened, of course, because Die Another Day was largely terrible, and Jinx wasn't any help.

Indeed, the film is crammed with so many elements, the idea that it could somehow serve as a back-door pilot for a Jinx film franchise (effectively launching a "James Bond Cinematic Universe" a full decade before every movie studio in Hollywood went gaga for the idea) is completely ludicrous. At a glance, we have: (A) A North Korean Colonel turned English Aristocrat through (B) Some kind of Star Trek-level DNA re-sequencing machine, who (C) is laundering conflict diamonds through a front in Iceland, leading to (D) an entire set-piece involving a collapsing ice palace, whose collapse is caused by (E) an orbital space laser composed of and funded by those diamonds, and leading to (F) a supercar fight, where (G) one of the belligerents has a straight-up cloaking device, the whole Orbital Doom Laser possibly? made possible by (H) a mole in MI6 who seduces and betrays James Bond--as one does--the same mole that gave up Bond (I) way back in North Korea, before the (J) torture and disavowment.

None of it hangs together. Any two or three of these elements, given time to breathe, might have made a more compelling film. Even the racebending, by far the most questionable element in this film, could have worked if given some semblance of thematic heft. Colonel Moon is one of the few bad guys to pose a threat not to Bond's life, but in the beginning of the film at least to Bond's position as the point of the spear of Western Paternalism. Turning up all rebuilt, giving smug whiteness better than the guy who's made it his brand for forty years.

To be clear, I am not of the opinion that any of these movies have to be weighty, brooding tomes, or even that Bond himself needs to question his place in the world. But the Brosnan era suffers from a dearth of things to say, and in light of the eye-opening tragedy a little over a year previous, this silly ramble through face-changing and diamond lasers seems almost crass. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this film is in less bad taste than it seems looking back with a decade plus of hindsight. Maybe, a year after a bunch of assholes thought the best way to talk to God was to use a bunch of airplanes to commit mass murder, we needed a light and fluffy spy adventure about DNA machines, laser satellites, diamond-encrusted bad guys, and Halle Berry. Maybe this was how the Western World heals.

In any event, if not caught up by real-world events, James Bond is definitely caught up by those in cinema. Not only the aforementioned Mr Bourne, but also by the shift in movies and particularly on television toward more complex, less straightforwardly-heroic characters. Though everything about James Bond speaks to that nuance--he is even here, for what I believe is the first time, explicitly referred to as an assassin--he is never played or written as anything other than straightforwardly heroic. You get the sense, particularly with non-James Bond films in which Brosnan appears that he is keen to subvert that image. Here, in his fourth outing as the character, Brosnan seems largely checked out. His Bond films always veer between the winking entendres of the Roger Moore era and a simmering anger that hearkens back to Dalton and Connery. Brosnan is very, very good at playing that seething rage, but can't overcome the kind of crap writing that delivers such lame quips as "I missed your sparkling personality" to the guy with the diamond shrapnel in his face and the MRA entitlement that substitutes for seduction when he tries to neg a fellow MI6 agent into bed by telling her she must prefer this palace of ice since she doesn't immediately want to fuck him after knowing him all of five minutes. Not quite the "men want to be him, women want to be with him" dynamic. Next thing you know, he'll be peacocking.

Though Die Another Day would go on to be financially successful, it couldn't dodge both the shifting landscape of popular culture and the general feeling that it came off a damp squib of a movie. Pierce Brosnan would continue to play subversions and iterations of the title character (as he did in 1999's sublime The Thomas Crown Affair remake), particularly in The Matador where he is just a delight. His entire era, which in hindsight feels like an era in transition, would give way to something else. Something new.

fig. 3: Off into the sunset

Saturday, December 12, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, 11/30/15

Though he generally preferred the term "interlocutor," D'Augustine knew he was lying to himself. Three years of law school, four of post-graduate studies in the history and language of Atlantis, and he was a goddamn shark lawyer. Not just that, he was a lawyer for the most hated shark on Earth. Where did he go wrong?

He watched Whunruuuyuu pace ceaselessly back and forth. He knew the fish hated it here. And why wouldn't he? It was the perfect prison, nowhere to go. But beyond that: they'd stuck his cage in a low and rolling plain, a place absolutely lousy with horizon, that sharp boundary between land and air an almost perfect breeding ground for constant existential crisis in any fish.

D'Augustine had come to discuss Whunruuuyuu's appeal to the International Tribunal. With time served he could get off for good behavior. Back under the waves again, maybe this time in the Pacific, away from his victims. There was a dead fish head on D'Augustine's porch this morning. Again. At least it wasn't thrown through his window this time, strung to a brick.

They had a long conversation in Old High Sharkese that Whunruuuyuu tried not to broadcast to the other prisoners crammed in the little zoo with him. The focus of D'Augustine's appeal was the general condition of the prison, so full of other inmates. Afterward, he went to the booth to make the necessary calls.

He would do his job, to the best of his ability, and if that meant more fish heads, well, it meant more fish heads.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, 12/11/15

You sort of imagine the monoliths being these massive, imposing things, like in the movies. Something the primitive apes would look up at in awe. Origin and purpose still a mystery, all that. At least, that's what you think for the first few seconds it takes for someone to tell you about the monoliths, because the next thing they tell you is that these black constructs are microscopic. Atomic. That they have been infiltrating the Earth for billions of years, but nobody saw them.

Then that someone tells you that they bleed.

Then someone else tells you that it's not blood, at least that's not what Dr Contreras says it is. Contreras has collected over a hundred billion of the things in a tiny sea of liquid xenon under the Black Hills in South Dakota. He says it's a byproduct of the gravitational lensing they produce. He calls it the Red Milk.

There are people down there in that cloistered lake who drink the Red Milk and speak to God. Jamal has been collecting their reminiscences into poetry as the Milk decays in their brains and forms electron bonds on its way out, normalizing. He wishes he had the guts to take the stuff, but the Red Milk terrifies him.

There are the typical calls Upstairs. They say Contreras is a cult leader, a fifth columnist. Congress threatens to cut off their funding every day. There are protestors lining out the gates of the lab, because God has been speaking and the things It is saying are not what the world is ready to hear.

Friday, December 11, 2015

You've Regenerated (Casino Royale)

fig. 1: Not Hannibal Lecter
When Die Another Day premiered in November of 2002, it was already dated. An overblown fantasy of a film, its conceits were undermined not only by the real-world events that overtook it, but also the arrival a few months prior of an identically-monogrammed action hero: Jason Bourne.

Plenty of ink both real and digital has been spilled in the thirteen years since The Bourne Identity premiered about the effect it had on the James Bond franchise--as well as action movies in general--and it would be boring for me to rehash it all here. Suffice it to say it was seismic. James Bond had to adapt. He did this by using one of the franchise's longest-used tricks: the appropriation of whatever was popular at the year of the film's release. 2006 was a big year for parkour, Texas Hold 'Em poker, and, of particular note to this film: reboots, and prequels.

fig 2: I can't tell you how many rounds of Texas Hold 'Em I played during 2006.
Just the year before, Batman rode the proverbial reboot train (in his instance surely heavily self-branded) to the rejuvenation of his entire franchise. Battlestar Galactica returned after twenty-five years away all grim and politically aware. Even King Arthur got a gritty reboot, in 2004. While on some level the Bond franchise reboots every time a new actor is cast, they are nominally playing a character on the same trajectory. Sean Connery is tracking Blofeld at the opening of Diamonds Are Forever to avenge the death of Tracy Bond, who married George Lazenby the film previous before getting unceremoniously fridged. Eighteen years later, Timothy Dalton would visit Tracy Bond's grave.

The rules were different for Casino Royale, thanks in part to a fortuitous freeing-up of the rights to adapt the book, the first in Fleming's series of novels about the character. (British copyright law is weird. I'm looking in to it. Definitely for Never Say Never Again.) With the original novel to play with, the producers could claim "back to basics" in a way no other outing could claim to.

Indeed, gone are most of the bells and whistles which so defined the franchise and its numerous descendants. The film's main villain, Le Chiffre, though recognizable as a Bond antagonist through his single moniker and his creepy bleeding eye, is not some would-be world conqueror. He's an embezzler. His stakes are decidedly and in that harrowing torture scene he injects a bit of realpolitik back in to the proceedings. "Even after I slaughtered you and your little girlfriend, your people would still welcome me with open arms," he tells Bond. "Because they need. What I know."

And then Le Chiffre is killed, in a bit of franchise-building to set up the next sequel. In that moment before, however, all this low-fi storytelling pays off. It's hard to imagine James Bond failing when it's a megalomaniac threatening to blow up South Korea, but when it's him alone in a room with a bad guy and a chair and a lenght of rope, where the stakes are only a couple hundred million dollars and whether or not one terrorist goes free, you get the sense that he might actually lose.

This is, to me, the essence of Craig's appeal. Though most of the rough edges of that original interpretation of the character remain, he's fallible and vulnerable in a way that none of his predecessors managed. This is, again, the franchise playing catch-up, this time with a modern storytelling that emphasizes the kind of interiority that James Bond, in his cinematic incarnations at least, never possessed.

When I was growing up, I was sort of aware that James Bond was around and that he'd been played by these different actors. The Roger Moore films were a staple of basic-cable outlets like TBS and the like. Same with Connery. I've seen snippets of both Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only and Never Say Never Again several times out of context. Somehow, Moonraker shook out as the film most likely to be seen randomly about three-quarters of the way through its run, at any given time of day. The first James Bond film I saw in the theater was a Brosnan entry, but not his first. It was Tomorrow Never Dies, which I saw with my brother. So Brosnan was already the incumbent when I saw him on the big screen, and his transformation into a new actor was something that, to date, I had not witnessed.

What a brutal, assured transformation that was. The black-and-white noirish opening, the quick-cut editing, the subversion of the classic gun barrel sequence. For these essays I rewatch a Bond film a week, but for Casino Royale I felt compelled to rewatch the debuts of each of the other actors to play the part. In GoldenEye, you see Brosnan in glimpses: from afar: hair, then eyes, then full-face and a lame quip. In The Living Daylights, a group of mountain climbers, of false leads, a pair of guys who are meant to look more like Bond than Timothy Dalton, red herrings if Dalton's face wasn't all over Daylights' promotional material. Live and Let Die eschews Bond for the entirety of the cold open before cutting to the title song, then a soft-focus shot of a sleeping lady and a pull back to Roger Moore. On Her Majesty's Secret Service delivers that famous fourth-wall-breaking quip. This never happened to the other fella. That said, even with those films, their in-film debut comes after a full-on shot in the opening gun barrel sequence. What's the point in building up your lead in fits and starts if everyone's already seen him take that shot in his tux? The gun barrel subversion, coming at the end of a brutal, violent sequence, is one of the first of Casino Royale's great statements of purpose.

fig. 3: Funny that Campbell would go on to direct this piece of shit.
That physicality permeates the film. Craig smashes through a wall, he gets beaten and bloodied. The camera follows the havoc he wreaks, the consequences of it. He emerges from the water in a scene that deserves to be as iconic as Ursula Andress' first appearance in Doctor No. Combine this with a villain not interested in something as fanciful as taking over the world but rather in staying one step ahead of MI6 and his own terrorist empolyers and the message is clear: James Bond has come down to Earth.

As a series of spy films set at least nominally in the real world, the James Bond franchise has to constantly negotiate that balance between the concerns of the real world and the franchise's own drive to break left and do something completely strange. Bond himself is a fictional character bound by fictional rules and conceits. He works for a real-world organization and a real-world country, based out of a real-world building that, in Spectre, will be demolished because of the actions of a fictional terrorist. More than any other era, the Craig films are about that negotiation between the world of realpolitik and the world of monologuing supervillians and esoteric death traps. These four films represent a long negotiation between James Bond and the world. But to see where they might go next, it is perhaps necessary to keep looking back.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Some Utterly Comfortless Place Where You and I Can Suffer Together (Quantum of Solace)

fig. 1: The first Google image hit for the word "quantum."

Let's start with that title, shall we? Everyone else did. "Quantum of Solace," as a title, makes no damn sense. Which, as director Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig took pains to point out on the press circuit preceding the film, isn't exactly a deal breaker with James Bond films. A View to a Kill? Antiquated and strange. Thunderball? What the hell is a "thunderball?" Octopussy? Bizarre and only just coherent based on an in-film mention, which, to me, is what sinks Forster and Craig's rationalizations.

"Quantum of Solace," as really any trivia page concerning the film will tell you, is the title of a James Bond short story as well as a phrase within that story, concerning the bare minimum of good feeling that must be present between two people for love to exist. Except, unlike Octopussy or GoldenEye or Thunderball, this phrase is not only not mentioned, it is undermined by the name of the latest ersatz SPECTRE, an international crime syndicate composed of government-toppling fixers. You can argue that the aforementioned "quantum of solace" is what James Bond achieves by the climax of this film, coming to terms with the death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, though, again, the vibe Fleming was going for was meant to exist between couples. To say nothing of the fact that the term is beyond obscure. "Solace" is a word most people probably know, sure, but "quantum," at least as Fleming used it in 1960, to refer to "a tiny little bit of something" is far from in common use today. Mostly when used these days, "quantum" refers to "sci-fi hokum." Moviegoers were more confused than intrigued.

What they got upon arriving in theaters in 2008 was a direct sequel to 2006's Casino Royale, something that had until now (and, so far, since) not been done in a James Bond film. Already we're out of sorts, disoriented by a frenetic car chase that reveals the hero only in glimpses, and dropped square into the memory of a film from two years ago. It's been said, by the guys at the excellent James Bonding Podcast, that Quantum of Solace improves considerably as the second-half of a four-hour epic, but that's not how they were released, or how the films were planned. Q of S was hobbled by the 2007's Writer's Strike and much of the direct-sequel elements were added hastily to a barely-finished script. As a result, James Bond accidented into modernity.

The popular conceit is that this present Golden Age of Television and its focus on serialization and character complexity began with The Sopranos in 1999. (Nerds will tell you heavy serialization actually started with Babylon 5 in 1994, but, come on, it's not like anyone was actually watching Babylon 5.)  By the time Quantum of Solace premiered nearly ten years later, television was awash with intricately woven tales of complicated anti-heroes. This moral complexity bled into the rebooted 007, and the focus on serialization followed. Even though the subsequent films are less direct sequels, Spectre takes pains to connect all the disparate dots in the Craig era, from Le Chiffre to Mr. White to Skyfall's Silva. After decades of being handed files by M and going out to wreak havoc and screw, James Bond is caught up in a different type of story than the one to which he's become accustomed.

In fact, remove Bond from the equation altogether and what you're left with is a political thriller tied to Bolivia's recent water crisis, complete with a nebulous geology report, coup-happy general, and a sleazily corrupt CIA bureaucrat with his morally compromised partner. Drop James Bond in the mix and watch the situation warp. All of a sudden lowly MI6 filing clerks are showing up to the airport in nothing but a trench coat, before being theatrically murdered. Slickly ultramodern hotels run on hydrogen and sit out in the middle of the desert, and eventually explode.

There is a tension, then, to this film, as there is to all the films of the Craig era, between the franchise doing what it's used to doing and the demands of a new century. Quantum of Solace occupies an interesting position in the Daniel Craig films in that it is the least interested in responding to other James Bond films. Where Spectre and Skyfall are at least in part about reestablishing classic elements of the mythology, and Casino Royale is about showing this character we've followed for decades before he was as we knew him, Quantum of Solace is about James Bond the character, and how he might survive in the media landscape of the twenty-first century. Results were, at the time, to say the least, mixed.

Quantum of Solace represents a limit case, of sorts. Its political gamesmanship, its dour take on the series' main character, its frenetic action editing, they all seemed to add to the general bad vibe about this film, and would largely go unrepeated. Stack this against any film of, say, the Roger Moore era, and feel the whiplash ensue. This movie, then, represents a sort of limit case, the furthest out point the Craig era will reach from the consensus reality of James Bond pictures.

It is worth wondering, as a thought experiment if nothing else, what lies beyond those limits. James Bond is never going to fight Batman, for instance, or Cthulu, though I'd pay good money to see either. While he might be fallible, and human--especially in this age's focus on conflicted antiheroes, he's never going to be wrong. Not in a deep, intrinsic sense. He's never going to be something other than an escapist figure. To the extent that it gets anything wrong about James Bond, Quantum of Solace gets this wrong. James Bond is meant to be a figure of escape, for a man penning these stories to put off thinking about his impending marriage, for an empire crumbling into irrelevance, for people looking to visit exotic places, for "men wanting to be him and women wanting to be with him," James Bond is meant as a way out. If nothing else, that's why he's kept it up all this time.