Quantum Of Solace will mark the second straight movie without Q.
What does that tell us about the future of gadgets in the franchise?
Well, for me, it confirms that we are living in the future, right now.
Seriously. Think about it. The level of gadgetry available to us, right now, even on the consumer level, would make Q's head explode in 1964. He was so impressed with the tracking device in Goldfinger? Hell, today every phone, every car has embedded GPS...we even inject tracking microchips into our children and pets!! Our cell phones outstrip anything Star Trek's communicators could do. We can instantaneously communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, and remotely control every electronic device in our home from continents away. We can carry gigabytes of data on our flipping keychains (doubtless soon to be terabytes).
My point is, it's much harder to impress us with technology these days. Bond does use gadgets in Casino Royale (2006)--but it's all gadgets we viewers could already have, albeit a little more robust. Using GPS on his phone to track down coordinates? We can do that ourselves!! Tracking down who sent a particular text message? Even if humble consumers can't necessarily do that, it's no problem for the telecommunications companies or the government. Granted, Bond's equipment is doubtless more sophisticated than ours, but it's nothing that requires a suspension of disbelief. The audience accepts it, but isn't impressed by it.
And so, to impress us with a Q scene these days, you have to do what Die Another Day did, and go completely sci-fi. Hey, an invisible car!! Hey, a solar-satellite-controlling exoskeleton!! Hey, "gene therapy" that completely transforms you physically into another person!! But being so technologically sophisticated these days, the audience snickers at the ridiculousness.
It's as if we've reached a tipping point--the real world is advanced enough now that when a Bond movie shows us some tech, we're either going to say, "Already have that!" or "Dude, that's so not possible!"
What does that mean for the future of Q and gadgets?
Well, it's not the end, despite what I've just written. It's just going to require harder work and more creativity on the part of the writers. It is possible to come up with things that are cool, but not impossible, yet not available at Radio Shack. CR06 gave us one such example: the little sensor injected into Bond's arm, that when hooked to a cell phone can not only transmit his vitals to MI-6 HQ, but also give us a complete chemical analysis of what drugs are in his bloodstream!! There's a gadget for you!! But it succeeds for two reasons. First, it doesn't call too much attention to itself--we're not slowing the movie down and shouting, "Look how cool we are!! Gadget!!" Secondly, with this one, unlike DAD, they've managed to find the cusp of what's possible and what's believable, between 5 minutes into the future and science-fiction. It's advanced, but not too far advanced.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of most of the "gadgetless" Bond movies...but that doesn't mean I'm against gadgets or Q. Hell, I love Q. But it's the 21st century, and an approach to spy tech that worked in 1967 might not work cinematically in 2008. Unsubtle scenes of Q saying "here's a gadget that does X, 007," followed much later in the movie by one (and only) one scene where that exact gadget comes in handy might be a relic of the pre-24 era. (A friend of mine calls that Q's Law Of Conservation Of Gadgets: If Q gives Bond a gadget in the first act, it will be used in act 3 once and only once)
So when we get to The Hildebrandt Rarity, I'm rooting for Q to return (and Moneypenny, of course). The series does need him. But just as Casino Royale (2006) reworked the rules for what Bond is and how he does it, Bond 23 will need to become more creative and innovative in how it uses Q branch.