Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bond: Skirting the 21st Century

I saw James Bond's latest outing, "Quantum of Solace," at the Magic Johnson Theatre on 125th Street in Harlem. And you know, you had to say the title to get a ticket. Kids stepped up to the plate and said the words with annoyance:
"Quantum of Solace"
"Quantum of Solace"
"Quantum of Solace"
The title is arrogant enough for Bond, high-brow enough to be annoying. My Dad, an anglophile in the middle years of his life, commented to me that Bond was "a bit of a bounder," and of course, he is. A killing machine, however necessary to the British empire, is not part of the culture he fights to preserve.

But that is more or less irrelevant to the action flick that's now unreeling on screens coast to coast. And yes, the Bond franchise has come up with another watchable movie, with a twist of relevance. In trying to appeal to its core audience -- kids between 11 and 17 -- the Bond producers did their best to hit an emotional nerve. If you take your kids to the film, you'll be in a position to evaluate if they were successful or not.

Suffice it to say that Bond's target is again hypocrisy -- this time, a self-promoting eco superstar, Dominic Greene, who pretends to be making the world safe for rainforests while he is really plotting to corner the market on water in Bolivia (shades of the IMF!). Greene, a somewhat swishy and ordinary looking guy with a sadistic streak, doesn't really make the grade as a Bond villain (although he turns into an expert in the martial arts when he has his climactic fight with Bond.) So the Bond producers are telling the kids: don't fall for all that green hype. The same plundering corporations are behind it all.

More to the point, the real villain (or at least the co-villain), for the first time, is us: the United States of America. The CIA has formed an alliance with Greene, unashamedly backing rightist elements in Bolivia (as in fact we are doing), and wants Bond dead. The corrupt CIA station chief's deputy, however, is a black man who helps Bond. This new incarnation of Felix Leiter, Bond's spy buddy, makes you wonder if the producers presciently are giving the nod to Obama: it's the principled Black man who may actually rescue this country from its heedless rush to embrace totalitarianism.

So, the only good American is a Black American (says M, Bond's Chief: "I don't give a shit about the CIA"), and the only good corporation is a blown-up corporation. Bond is everyman for himself, and he kills to memorialize his lost love, who drowned at the hands of the bad guys. Revenge, the film seems to say, is the only redemption. Organizations are wretched and corrupt, love is fleeting, and most everyone you sleep with ends up dead. It's all about survival of the fittest. Head to the gym.