With Quantum of Solace, released in the US on November 14, Daniel Craig has solidified his position as the James Bond for the post-9/11 world and the best on-screen Bond since Sean Connery.
In this sequel to 2006’s Casino Royale, which picks up literally minutes after the last film, Bond tracks the leadership apparatus of a nefarious global syndicate bent on world domination. But he’s also figuring out how to be a double-O while working out his tangled feelings for Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) who was his lover but also a traitor but also someone who sacrificed herself for him. Bond is placed in a position of emotional vulnerability not seen in any of the previous films, and Quantum of Solace benefits from this sense of humanity that had been wedged into the Pierce Brosnan films and all but absent from the franchise as a whole.
The action is a little convoluted, one of the downsides of Bond moving towards the Bourne model, and the plot sometimes meandering, but what is of far greater interest is how Craig’s Bond fits into the 007 canon. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are supposed to be prequels in the sense that we’re seeing the beginning of Bond. But they’re not prequels in the sense that The Phantom Menace comes before A New Hope. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace don’t take place in the 1950s, before the events of Dr. No, for example. They exist firmly in the now, and with Judi Dench returning to portray M, as she did in Brosnan’s four films, there is an established connection to previous adventures while occurring after them, chronologically.
Craig’s Bond isn’t a precursor to Connery’s or anybody else. He’s a new Bond, the sixth one we’ve seen cinematically. James Bond isn’t a person, he’s a fabrication. “James Bond” and “007” are covers that six people, who we’ve seen, have carried. How else to explain that over the course of 46 years, since Dr. No, the world changed, M changed, gadget-master Q changed, but Bond didn’t? And, really, what kind of spy goes jetting around the world for nearly 50 years using his real name to bed women and confront enemies? It’s the elephant in the room when discussing the Bond franchise, and it’s something that fans seem hesitant to embrace and the producers reject almost out-of-hand. But in the two Craig Bond films, it seems as if the latter’s position is thawing.
In Casino Royale there are hints that Craig’s Bond is, indeed, a different James Bond. He playfully throws his name around, for example, having fun with calling himself James Bond as in the scene when he checks into the hotel before the big card game. But it’s Dench’s M that opens the door the widest for this speculation.
Near the beginning of the movie, a woman that is tied to a bad guy and who had a dalliance with Bond turns up dead. As M and Bond watch the body being put on a stretcher, M says to Bond, “I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached, but that’s not your problem, is it, Bond?” He replies, “No.” To Craig’s Bond, there is only the mission. Women will come and go over the course of that mission, but they aren’t the objective. And neither is cracking wise. Craig’s Bond is deathly serious, a far cry from the entangled in emotional attachment of the Bond portrayed by Roger Moore and, to a lesser degree, Brosnan.
Later on in the movie, M says to Bond something along the lines of she knew she could trust him when she “knew you were you.” At the end, she says the same thing, that Vesper knew how to save Bond because, “She knew you were you.” As opposed to that guy, her, that thing over there, it. Who else would he be if not himself? The only logical conclusion is that Craig’s Bond is being compared to the lineage of Bonds and what they stood for. Despite the manifestation differences between Connery, George Lazenby, Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Brosan, their James Bonds all stand for more or less the same things: honor, justice, Queen and country, loyalty, honesty. Craig is just the next person in that line.
There is a precedent for considering Bond in this way, as less a person named James Bond and more as a cover that multiple people have used. In Lazenby’s only outing as Bond, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the pre-title sequence of Bond rescuing some woman from the clutches of bad guys on a beach only to see her rush off and drive away is punctuated by Lazenby, as Bond, looking into the camera and saying, “This never happened to the other fella.” At the time, this was meant to placate an audience that was used to Connery and now, all of a sudden, being confronted by a new guy being called “James Bond.” So the producers took the unbelievable step of actually calling attention to the difference. This was the only such overt moment in the Bond canon, and when looked at through the prism of the history of the franchise it takes on a different meaning than breaking down the fourth wall with some pithy comment. Today, this concession that there was a Bond before the one you’re currently watching establishes that there are, in the cinematic world of James Bond, physically different people carrying that mantle.
That brings us to Quantum of Solace, which all but begs the audience to address this question. Near the middle of the picture, Bond is in Bolivia trying to get to the bottom of an eco-terrorist plot. The corrupt police pull him over, ask him to open his trunk, and in it is the body of Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). The police demand Bond remove the body, and when he does Mathis moves, the police go to shoot Bond, and instead end up killing Mathis. Bond then dispatches the cops in short order. He cradles Mathis’ body and, as Mathis is dying, Bond asks, “Is Mathis your cover name?” Mathis answers that it is.
In both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Mathis is called Mathis by everyone. He is Rene Mathis, yet he isn’t. Rene Mathis doesn’t exist -- there is a person carrying around that name, a spy, and as a spy is using this fake name, Rene Mathis. And as this Rene Mathis dies, the cover might dies with him but he might be replaced with another “Rene Mathis.”
So if this is the approach to Mathis, a spy, we must confront Bond, a spy, the same way. He’s a character, yes, but that character isn’t a person as much as a code name. When considering Bond in this light, the Bond universe becomes much more interesting. There would be at least five other former Bonds running around in that world, not to mention the others we might not have seen that were given the 007 designation between, say, Connery and Moore or Dalton and Brosnan. And this would go a ways to explaining discrepancies in the Bond series, like Connery stepping aside before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service then returning to it again after that movie. Perhaps Lazenby’s Bond retired or worse and MI6 drafted Connery’s Bond back into service. (In 1967, the Bond spoof Casino Royale posited just this theory in a madcap mod caper that was less than inspired.)
As the producers of the Bond films proceed making Bond more and more human and somewhat b elievable, an approach that has made Bond relevant again by stripping away the nonsense that older fans can’t seem to let go of, they need to address this question of the Bond lineage outright. They’ve already made great strides in remaking the character and pulling him into the 21st century. The last hurdle is to just come out and say it: This really is a new James Bond, and he’s in no way like any of the other James Bonds. And not just because he’s blond.