"The dollar isn't doing so well," says a general who demands to be paid in euros near the end of the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. The violent follow-up to Casino Royale is the first action film of the recession, and one of the film's shadowy villains is America, whose place in the film is corrupt enabler at best, and malevolent evil at worst. The fast and fabulous Solace has already satisfied audiences overseas, but with its North American premiere this Friday, we're about to find out if audiences here are ready to root against America.In Marc Forster's follow-up to Casino Royale (the new film picks up an hour after the first one ended), death is given no particular extravagance - from when you wake up, wherever you wake up, it's a straight line to the grave, and Bond leaves them where they die in his arms. The muscled bullet of a secret agent tracks the movements of the shadowy Quantum organization, with help and harm from his American friends along the way.
The Bond films routinely have high death counts, but few films in history rank with the frequency and impact of death in Quantum of Solace. More like a Bruce Lee movie than a Michael Bay one, other action films aren't like Quantum: they toy with death, characters threaten each other with it, and near-miss encounters rule the day. In this new world, people really die, and don't come back. Instead of making a joke out of an action film, this Bond turns other action films into jokes by comparison. There's barely a laugh line in the movie, characters rarely smile, and Bond only has sex once. Once! The film's American contingent is led by the returning Jeffrey Wright, reprising the longtime Bond character of CIA agent Felix Leiter. American agents willingly consort with the film's enemy, Dominic Greene, played by Mathieu Amalric, but they're not all bad, and their motives in the film's conflict are largely unknown until the end.
Tellingly, Leiter gives all the evidence that Bond is his ally — yet he always wisely brings a cavalry of men to run off the harbinger of destruction. It's clear where the Quantum group stands, but whether the events of the film are exactly good or bad for the United States, we're purposefully never told. We just see SWAT teams move in and out of locations, looking for the weapon even they wouldn't know what to do with. Bond might serve the U.S.'s desires, he might not. And just try getting a straight explanation out of him. Out of multiple shifting alliances and betrayals, Forster makes sense of how difficult that weapon is to control. Quantum of Solace surrounds Bonds with action so fast and furious, you can barely remember where in the world you were last. You're never in America, but the U.S. is with you the whole time, more shadowy and indistinct than any secret organization. If you just pay attention to the action, there's enough to cheer about as Bond commits murder after murder on his way to the truth. But when you look behind the veneer of violence, there's something very sad there indeed.