Bond on a Budget: Quantum of Solace is Plenty Cheap

Mark Simpson straps Mr Bond into a rim-chair and aims a knot­ted rope at his nuts

I’d rather stay in a morgue!’

So sniffs Daniel Craig in the latest Bond vehicle Quantum of Solace when presen­ted with less than salu­bri­ous accom­mod­a­tion in La Paz, Bolivia. Instead of check­ing in, he sweeps off to a flash five star Wallpaper magazine hotel even more pre­pos­ter­ous than his new movie’s title.

The audi­ence at my local cinema seemed to mis­take this sniffi­ness for quip­pi­ness and giggled nervously — per­haps out of des­per­a­tion for any gags or relief at all in this morgue-like movie that I for one was very sorry I’d checked into: a couple of deathly hours that felt like a very long dark night of the soul indeed.

I quite enjoyed, in a slutty kind of way, my one-night stand with the new 007 a couple of years ago in Casino Royale, espe­cially the way that Craig’s glisten­ing tits announced that Bond had finally become his own Bond Girl, but this was a rematch that made me want to lose his num­ber big time. In fact, by the end of it I des­per­ately needed his BMW defib­ril­lator from Casino.

So yes, I’m feel­ing a little bit­ter and jaded, not to men­tion used and abused — and not in a good way. So bear with me while I get pedantic on Mr Bond’s perky ass, strap him into a rim-chair and aim a knot­ted rope at his nuts.

For starters, ‘morgue’ is an Americanism, and Bond is meant to be a very British kind of action hero in a very British fran­chise. 007 resort­ing to such lazy transat­lantic tics is tan­tamount to the Queen greet­ing heads of state with WASSSSUP! and a fist-bump. Adding hypo­crisy to inac­cur­acy, this film has some very creaky anti-Americanism in it — tempered, equally creakily/cynically, by a ‘good guy’ CIA man with dark skin who is clearly meant to be Obama in a trenchcoat.

Worse, the ritzy hotel Craig checks into instead of the dowdy down-market one he’d been presen­ted with has a cold, impass­ive, glossy magazine black and white décor that looks much more like a mor­tu­ary than the one he sniffed at. And in fact it ends up one: a dead body is placed on his swanky bed later in the film (dipped in oil, a jar­ring, ill-conceived visual ref­er­ence to a much super­ior, glor­i­ously trashy film from another cen­tury, another civil­isa­tion: Goldfinger - black gold, ged­dit?).

I’d like to think that the deathly boutique hotel was a delib­er­ate com­ment­ary on the mor­bid­ity of con­sumer cul­ture, but given the mur­der­ous lack of wit on evid­ence in this undead movie I sus­pect it was rather unin­ten­tional. Likewise, the way that the can­cel­la­tion of an AWOL Mr Bond’s credit card by his MI6 Sugar Mummy Judi Dench is presen­ted as one of the worst chas­tise­ments pos­sible, almost on a par with los­ing his girl­friend in the last movie.

Perhaps the most unfor­give­able thing about a film as expens­ive as Quantum is its cheapness — a cheapness it thinks is ‘ser­i­ous­ness’. If Quantum is a hotel, then it’s one of those fash­ion­able ones that charges you the earth but doesn’t bother to change the bed­ding. The destruc­tion of the villain’s lair sequence at the end, which should look orgas­mic­ally expens­ive, instead looks like some­thing papier-mâché explod­ing in a sub-par epis­ode of Thunderbirds (come to think of it, Craig does walk like a Thunderbird…). Cheaper still is the use of Sony product place­ment instead of Q’s gad­gets: show us some­thing we can’t buy, please.

Cheapest of all is the quick-cut edit­ing used dur­ing ‘action’ sequences, such as the car chase which opens the film. Instead of extens­ively story­boarded, care­fully cho­reo­graphed and labor­i­ously shot fights and chases presen­ted for your lazy, sco­po­philiac enjoy­ment, you get a blur of bad edit­ing that is lit­er­ally unwatch­able on a big screen unless you enjoy the sen­sa­tion of your eye­balls bleed­ing. An epis­ode of Top Gear is much bet­ter shot than Quantum. Actually, even the made-for-TV ads that appeared before the film, crudely blown up for cinema, are bet­ter edited. Because you can see bug­ger all, this kind of edit­ing could make John Sergeant look like an action hero.

Tellingly, the last Bourne had the same infuri­at­ing jump-cut mania. And while Casino made a super­an­nu­ated Bond fran­chise look like he’d got his mojo back from the less stuffy American Bond rip-offs like Bourne, Quantum just looks like a more tedi­ous, lower budget — more ‘morgue-like’ — Bourne Identity.

At least Craig gets his tits out again — though only once, dur­ing the film’s only sex scene (and of course, this being the new out-and-proud metro-Bond we see much more of his tits than his lady friend’s). But the flash of his tits is almost as curs­ory as his ter­rible seduc­tion line: ‘I can’t find the sta­tion­ery. Perhaps you can help me?’ A chat–down line almost as res­ist­ible as this movie.

Though maybe he was being ser­i­ous. Maybe Craig, who can act when given the chance, had decided — since no one else had bothered - to write him­self some lines and a plot.

By far the best, sex­i­est and most lux­uri­ous scene from Quantum doesn’t appear in the film at all. It’s the Sony HD ad that has been run­ning on heavy rota­tion on telly for the last few weeks which por­trays a well-tailored, well-groomed, cheek-sucked Craig as a kind of CGI Saint Sebastiane, lacer­ated by slo-mo explo­sions. He doesn’t say any­thing, just shares his pale blue mas­ochism with us.

At under a minute and free of charge it’s the bet­ter Bond not by a quantum but by a coun­try mile.

Matt Damon: Sexy or Twaspy?

Matt Damon is the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’, accord­ing to People magazine.

Perhaps it’s time to cruise the graveyard.

I don’t mean to be cruel — hon­est — but Matt is preppy, not sexy. The two things are not neces­sar­ily ant­ag­on­istic, gran­ted. But in Matt they are.

Yes, I know, it’s ‘all a mat­ter of taste’. But my taste is the right one. OK?

It’s true I’ve never quite for­given him for the film that launched his career, the intensely irrit­at­ing ‘Good Will Hunting’ in which Damon, an Ivy League drop-out, plays a maths-genius jan­itor — at an Ivy League col­lege (and makes us sit at the feet of Robin Williams talk­ing through a full beard for two hours). But then, why should I? He wrote it.

So here’s a list of entirely object­ive reas­ons why he isn’t the Sexiest Man Alive:

  • He has too many teeth for a human and reminds me of ‘American Werewolf in London’ when he smiles, and not in a good way
  • His nose is much too big, espe­cially in pro­file when it takes up most of the widescreen
  • His chin is big­ger than Jay Leno’s
  • His body is just there, like a trick you scored at the end of the night before the lights came on
  • He has mildly, wryly inter­est­ing lips, but they look like they have been trans­planted from someone else’s mouth; pos­sibly a house­wife from Knots Landing
  • He has nice blue eyes, but they look like they’re by the same man­u­fac­turer who makes GI Joe’s
  • He has facial time­share going on with Mark Wahlberg — but Wahlberg seems to wear it bet­ter and cuter

When he arrived on the scene all those years ago, Matt’s greatest phys­ical asset was simply that he was bland and young and twinky/WASPy (twaspy, any­one?). Now that he’s no longer so young (he’s 37) his flaws are pre­dom­in­at­ing, as they do (and I should know). But some­how without turn­ing him into an adult or even a ‘char­ac­ter’ — even when he plays a middle-aged father, with lots of latex, as in the later scenes of ‘The Good Shepherd’.

Like most of his gen­er­a­tion of male Hollywood act­ors, includ­ing Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, and his buddy Ben Affleck, Matt’s essen­tially a cruis­ette — a Tom Cruise clone. An All-American nar­ciss­istic male film star that never grows up because a) we don’t know what a man is any more, and b) the brand must go on forever and be forever desir­able. Cruise’s stel­lar and sus­tained suc­cess from the mid 80s onwards meant that the male Hollywood leads that came after him would be fash­ioned in his mini­ature image. (Damon’s actual height, like penis-size on dat­ing sites, is some­thing of a con­tested issue: it seems to be some­where between 5’9″ and 5’11″ — I sup­pose it all depends on where you meas­ure from).

But unlike Tom, cruis­ette Matt doesn’t have blue-collar cred­ib­il­ity, his nar­ciss­ism isn’t aspir­a­tional — and has never quite matched Cruise’s high-wattage on-screen tarti­ness. Perhaps because he didn’t have to strive as much as Cruise, he’s soberly pro­fes­sional. Though of course, this helps make the cruis­ette more pal­at­able to some than the wacky Scientologist original.

As for his act­ing — yes, we finally get to that — it’s true that Matt’s bet­ter than most of his Hollywood con­tem­por­ar­ies, but that doesn’t make him sexy. This is Hollywood, after all. Acting is what you do when all else fails. Besides, Matt’s best at roles like The Talented Mr Ripley and his Mission Impossible/James Bond vehicle The Bourne Identity – play­ing a man who has no iden­tity. That’s far too close to the truth of mod­ern mas­culin­ity to be ‘sexy’. Interesting, yes. Shaggable? I’ll text you later.…

Perhaps what people — or People – find ‘sexy’ about Damon, apart of course from his suc­cess, is his on-screen mas­ochistic streak, as wide as his many-toothed smile. In the Bourne films his char­ac­ter dis­plays an almost insa­ti­able appet­ite to be tor­tured and humi­li­ated and treated like meat — which per­haps stems from his need to find out who he is at any cost, his psycho-reprogramming by his CIA Bad Daddies, or per­haps his need to please us, the audi­ence (Who is Bourne? Why, he’s our punk!).

Admittedly, I too derive some pleas­ure from see­ing preppy Matty, adrift in Europe like some Ivy League Gap Year stu­dent who’s mis­laid his pass­port, get it, both ends. But it’s not very erotic. It’s just revenge.

The re-booting of the James Bond fran­chise last year with Daniel Craig in the lead role was strongly influ­enced by the suc­cess of the Bourne films, which of course were them­selves an updat­ing of the Bond concept. (Craig’s Bond is, in post­mod­ern stylee, a copy of a copy of a copy.)

But Craig’s on-screen mas­ochism is as filthy and sexy as Damon’s is anti­sep­tic­ally, twaspily clean-cut. Bond has a tight fore­skin; Bourne has Wintergreen-flavoured scar tissue.

James Bond Comes Out

The new blond Bond has a sur­pris­ing amount in com­mon with the bru­nette ori­ginal – pre­cisely for the reas­ons he’s been bashed, says Mark Simpson

(Out, November, 2006)

BOND IS BLOND! He’s smooth! He works out! He doesn’t have any eye­brows! He kissed a guy!

Ever since English actor Daniel Craig was cast last year as the U.K.’s most fam­ous spy—and the face of the world’s most suc­cess­ful, longest-running block­buster brand—the British pop­u­lar press and Bond fan­boys have been up in arms, shriek­ing about his unsuit­ab­il­ity for the role.

They com­plain about all sorts of sup­posed fail­ings, includ­ing that he required coach­ing to handle a gun and play poker, and that he snogged another male on film (as Francis Bacon’s lover in Love Is the Devil and also in Infamous). Apparently, you see, he’s “not manly enough” to play cinema’s most fam­ous action hero. Essentially, they’ve got their off-white tighty whit­ies in a twist because Bond has gone metrosexual.

However, there is some­thing that needs to be poin­ted out here, like the pleas­ing bulge of a Walther PKK semi­auto­matic in a Savile Row trouser pocket: The early Bond movies were thrill­ingly per­verse, shock­ingly sexy, and not a little queer. This will trau­mat­ize mil­lions, but the ori­ginal James Bond, by the dingy, stringy-vested, “no sex please it’s bath night” stand­ards of early 1960s Britain was some­thing of a met­ro­sexual, albeit a lat­ent one (he’s a secret agent, after all).

Watching again the very first Bond film, Dr. No—released 44 years ago and played a zil­lion times on TV and cable but nev­er­the­less still some­thing of a revelation—I’m struck by a num­ber of things about the ori­ginal Mr. Bond, sup­posedly the gold stand­ard of authen­tic mas­culin­ity and vir­il­ity in an increas­ingly sis­si­fied world:

(1) His fake tan
(2) His full, glossy, pink lips, much more lus­cious than Ursula Andress’s (or even Tom’s in the Missy Impossible fran­chise)
(3) His worked-out body (Connery rep­res­en­ted Scotland in the Mr. Universe con­test in 1953.)
(4) His fine tail­or­ing, care­ful groom­ing, and man­i­cured hands
(5) His fet­ish for gad­gets and giz­mos
(6) His taste for fussy cock­tails (shaken, not stirred)
(7) His wigs (Connery went bald in his early 20s.)
(8)His over­act­ing in the fam­ous big-hairy-spider-in-bed scene….

Add to this damning list of charges his fond­ness for exotic loc­a­tions, the com­pany of high-fashion mod­els, and all those gor­geous, exquis­ite interi­ors — not to men­tion his incur­able bach­el­or­hood — and Bond is prac­tic­ally a black­mail tar­get (male homo­sexu­al­ity remained illegal in England until 1967).

Perhaps this is why the evil-genius vil­lains always had to be so camp and fussy, with their cats, cigar­ette hold­ers, leather gloves, com­ic­ally butch factot­ums, and makeover plans for the world. And per­haps also why Bond has to be so nasty to the ladies-though his sad­ism merely makes him all the more per­verse and kinky. Even his fero­ciously, fre­quently fatal (for the ladies) hetero promis­cu­ity is devi­ant by the buttoned-up stand­ards of the era: As the trail­ers put it at the time, “He’s licensed to kill-when he likes, whom he likes, where he likes.”

Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 (Connery was one of them) were licensed to marry young, impreg­nate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and lux­ury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a dec­ade before Dr. No was made — although sex-rationing con­tin­ued for dec­ades afterwards.

Connery’s Bond, by con­trast, is a vain single young man jet­ting around the world and lit­er­ally tak­ing his pleas­ures where he pleases, liv­ing a glossy magazine life­style, albeit as an under­cover agent. This life­style was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emer­gence of the met­ro­sexual — a man whose mis­sion was also to save the West, but by shop­ping instead of shooting.

But per­haps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as rav­ish­ing as any of the ladies he rav­ishes, almost as fet­ish­ized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a play­boy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have fam­ously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s nov­els as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the ori­ginal screen Bond, for all his mas­ter­ful­ness, was a voyeur­istic pleas­ure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.

With the pos­sible and very brief excep­tion of George “legs” Lazenby (he made only one Bond movie in 1969; he has spent much of his sub­sequent career play­ing a lothario in a dif­fer­ent franchise-the soft-porn Emmanuelle series), none of the other Bonds that came after have the charge, the sex­i­ness, the per­versity, the proph­ecy of Connery’s ‘60s Bond. Ironically, it has been left to any­one other than Bond to real­ize the lat­ent met­ro­sexu­al­ity of the ori­ginal, or even just main­tain its charge. Bond has gone back­wards toward the wall while the world’s males have leaned over for­wards. Pretty boys Matt Damon and Tom Cruise in their respect­ive Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible Bond knock­off incarn­a­tions are closer to the real spirit of Bond than, well, Bond.

For starters, neither Roger Moore nor Timothy Dalton nor Pierce Brosnan even have bod­ies. They’re clotheshorses embalmed in hair spray - 1950s knit­wear cata­log mod­els. In fact, this is exactly what Roger Moore was before his TV career took off. By the time of his last out­ing in Die Another Day, Brosnan looked like a 1950s knit­wear model trapped inside a com­puter game. And as for the sex scenes… well, they look like abuse. Of Brosnan. After Connery’s bit of pol­ished ‘60s rough, James Bond seemed to be frightened of his own sexu­al­ity, of giv­ing away too much.

Yes, post-‘80s, fem­in­ism may have finally been acknow­ledged: Brosnan’s boss is female. And the Bond girls may have become less, well, girly (e.g., Halle Berry in Die Another Day as the high-kicking sidekick), but this just makes Bond’s own mas­culin­ity all the more uncon­vin­cing. Worse, it makes it extremely unappealing.

Paradoxically, we now live in a world where England’s sweaty soc­cer team can be cap­tained by the most met­ro­sexual male alive, but England’s ima­gin­ary spy of the sil­ver screen, who helped make Beckham’s gen­er­a­tion what it is, has to be more retro than metro.

Until now. The makers of the Bond films seem to have finally woken up to the prob­lem. They have not renewed hairy bru­net Brosnan’s con­tract and have instead cast smooth, blond Craig in the role for the next three films-the first Bond actor who was born after Fleming’s death. Underlining this over­due remod­el­ing, the makers have announced that Casino Royale is a “reboot” of the brand that will wipe out the pre­vi­ous cine­matic timeline. Bond is being reborn. Perhaps as what he prom­ised us he could be 44 years ago.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009