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Quantum of Solace: Big Bang, Little Else

Posted by goldwriting on November 17, 2008

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Why did I park so far away on opening night. I’m gonna miss the previews!

Rating: 5 out of 10

There are characters out there so iconic, so ingrained into the hearts and minds of the viewing public, that when a new chapter in the series emerges we rush out opening weekend, our hands clutching popcorn and our eyes pasted wide. Only a chosen few have made it into this cherished realm of public trust, but none as long and as stylishly as James Bond. This weekend brought his newest episode, Quantum of Solace, and it marked the second in the reign of current Bond persona, Daniel Craig. He broke out the gates with extreme critical and public appeal in the remake of Casino Royale, but now it was time to see if he could keep up the excitement and appeal.

Excitement, yes. Appeal, less so.

Besides being incredibly well dressed at almost all times, Bond is known for action and this chapter goes for the gusto from the moment the cameras roll. The movie opens with an impressive car chase, which inevitably leads our hero from overcrowded roadways into a wonderfully photographed rock quarry. It was a bold choice to jump right into the action without any set up whatsoever, but for those out there who somehow avoided seeing Casino Royale, it definitely helps to understand where this scene fits in (approximately twenty minutes from the ending of the last film). Lots of gunplay, screeching tires and near misses bring the curtain up nicely, but having a strong opening does not guarantee audience support for the rest of the film. We need to be taken on a journey, not just shown an amazingly expensive episode of Fear Factor. There needs to be plot and story behind the action to raise it up, but Quantum had very little in the area of foundation.

The story jumps around incredibly fast, not enough to lose sense of what is going on, but just enough to not give us time to invest. The Bond movies seem almost addicted to making every scene take place in a different foreign country, which makes for some great camera shots, but terrible continuity of scenes. Also, much of this movie was sub-textually about James Bond mourning the loss of his love from the last film and barely controlling his rage while seeking revenge. We fully got the revenge motif, but the mourning was shown only in the thinnest of manners. A nicked photograph and an old necklace were the only links to his emotional center, but they were rarely used in the brief moments between gunfire and roof jumping.

On the adrenalin front, Bond delivers as usual. One of the nice changes I feel to the modern day Bond is the older films used to show him skillfully sliding from one place to another, jumping and landing perfectly on any surface and so forth, but Craig makes every leap seem based solely on guts and gusto, not tact and talent. Throughout the movie, he lands on balconies and terraces by crashing into some random piece of furniture. The only reason the bad guys don’t get away from him is the dogged determination which forms the core of who the Bond character is. I think the rougher, tougher Bond is an obvious reflection on society today and what we want to see in a hero. Not so much a person who can dodge a bullet, but one who can take two shots to the leg, one to the arm and an uppercut, yet still win the fight.

Surrounding Bond as always are a bevy of beautiful women and a cabal of agents, both on his side and against. Gemma Arterton was mentioned a while back, by myself and others, as a “Bond Girl”, yet in this episode she is actually not the top of that food chain. Olga Kurylenko is the alpha female here and is a much more complex character. In the beginning her and Bond are on completely different tracks, but over the course of ninety minutes of insanity their paths intertwine, both strategically and emotionally. While not being a complete knock out performance, she is steadily improving over her turns in the unfortunate back-to-back duo of Hitman and Max Payne. Gemma, definitely worth mentioning, does finally bring a little taste of the classic Bond, just enough for an homage to the old days of Connery and Moore. Her sultry style hearkens back to the female characters of the early films and makes us remember why we love to visit the world of Bond so much. Also, without revealing a blatant spoiler, her role brings up the most direct recall from one of the most well known Bond moments. Feel free to let me know if you see it (it’s hard to miss). Now Bond would be nothing without a dastardly villain to track down and capture and this time it’s provided to us by Mathieu Amalric. A very popular and well rewarded star in the French cinema, this marked the American debut of Mathieu, who played the corrupt CEO with the world’s creepiest stare, Dominic Greene. While I do understand not every Bond villain has to be one who can last a round with him in a fist fight, in fact many of them don’t fit that category, but something about the final confrontation between these two didn’t sit right. So much had to be stacked against Bond to make this even halfway feasible and even then I found myself wondering why it was lasting so long. In cases like this, I find it’s better to give the villain a skilled right hand man, who endures the final fight, and let the boss deliver a final speech before giving up or blowing up.

Orbiting around Bond are some other side characters, but the only ones worth mentioning are Judi Dench who returns to continue her role as M, Jeffery Wright as the CIA agent with a working conscience and Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis, the convict turned trusted friend of Bond. All of these actors did a fine job in their limited screen time, but even they couldn’t hold up the lack of plot or story connectivity.

Recommendation: Quantum of Solace is good for some action, but a lackluster follow-up to Casino Royale, the relaunch of the Bond franchise. The execs are going to have to wipe the drawing board clean once again and see if they can’t relight the spark they just had, because one more like this and the fickle crowd will start murmuring to fix the problem with yet another new actor as Bond, which is not the answer. Plus, in my humble opinion, Daniel Craig was born to play this part. So, catch the afternoon matinee if you are drawn to the tradition, but if not, try re-watching Casino Royale. Homemade popcorn is better anyway.

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