November 17, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

quantum_of_solace_ver4Despite the rejection of the rumored Quentin Tarantino-directed Casino Royale, complete with Pierce Brosnan, there now appears to be a very real parallel between the current revitalization of the James Bond franchise and the Tarantino filmography. It is a comparison made entirely with the release of Quantum of Solace. This film essentially completes the story that began in Casino Royale, giving them a similar relationship to each other as Tarantino's Kill Bill saga. In the Tarantino pair, the first film (as great as it is) cannot exist on its own without feeling terribly incomplete, whereas the second film is solid and can stand on its own. In this case, it is the second film that has more trouble standing on its own and while it is a solid film, it is not nearly as complete a Bond adventure as its previous outing.

bond2249The plot of Quantum of Solace comes second to the emotional continuance from the first one. This is very much the second half of a single film with the goal of reintroducing Bond to a modern audience. Do not worry, it is still Bond, but not quite the same Bond that you have known and occasionally loved for the past 46-years. This is much more the events that led Bond to become the Bond that we know and love.

I do not claim to be the most knowledgeable source for Bond information, but I have my own ideas about the character, and while Bond has always been suave, cool, and sure of his actions, there has always been a bit of emotional detachment in his interactions with the Bond girls and his steadfast pursuit of the bad guys. However, there have been a couple of times over the years where we have gotten a closer look at the emotional undercurrent of the super spy. The first that I can recall is On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which saw Bond actually get married, it was short-lived, to be sure, but definitely left a mark on the man. The other is the final Timothy Dalton outing, Licence to Kill. In that film, Bond resigns and goes rogue with revenge on his mind for what was done to his close friend and his new wife. Both of these films show the deep feelings that run beneath the surface of the character.

bond2243Now, I know that the films have never really been run together as a series in the strictest sense. Until now, none of the Bond films were directly linked together, but there have always been some themes and moderate character development despite their focus on evil villains, women, cars, and big action. With the pairing of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace we have some very strong seeds for the events that led Bond to become the Bond that we know. In essence, these two movies are not really about the beloved Bond, but the origins of the beloved Bond, and the way the two films play out from start to finish enforces that fact. With these films laying the groundwork for the sociopath good buy Bond and introduction of a new super secret villain group we are all set to move forward with the new era of Bond.

It has been a few days since I have seen the film and I am thankful for the separation. In the intervening period I have gone back and forth from really liking the film and merely liking it. I know, it would seem to be a minor difference, but I feel it was the difference between understanding the film and seeing the film. In the end, I wound up right in the middle. I get the film on what they were seeking to accomplish as well as on a more surface level, at the same time it is not nearly as complete an experience as Casino Royale, but when combined they provide a very satisfying ride.

bond2245Being a sequel, we pick up the story shortly after the end of Casino Royale. Bond has Mr. White, the man he shot in the leg at the end of the prior film. He has intentions of extracting information from him about the people behind the death of Vesper (if you do not know this, you should not be seeing this film). This interrogation, does not go well as a bigger picture begins to emerge, not to mention an assassination attempt on M.

This failed interrogation brings up more questions than it answers, but it also sets Bond on his journey. His travels bring two points together. First, he is definitely on the trail of those behind Vesper's death and M's near-murder, while also putting him in a position to face off with the latest bond villain, the slimy Dominic Greene, who is involved in a little regime changing in South America for some monetary gain. I won't go into exactly what his scheme was, but I will say that it did seem rather silly, but when put into a realistic perspective, combined with shifting loyalties, willingness to deal with bad guys, and the changing world stage it was definitely more intriguing than first glance.

bond2237Everything ties together leading Bond on a globetrotting excursion that brings him ever closer to Vesper's truth, pulls back the corner of the sheet hiding the group called "Quantum" (could this be the new SPECTRE or SMERSH?), and continues to bring Bond back to the Bond we know. Yes, I know I keep saying that, but it is true. This new pair of films go a long way towards establishing the Bond universe and the character.

Quantum of Solace is filled with wall to wall action and is likely the most action packed of the series. There are few moments where one can catch their breath. In less than an hour and fifty minutes you get car chases, shoot outs, fist fights, boat chases, plane chases, plane shoot outs, and more. It is quite jammed up.

Fortunately, even through the action Daniel Craig shines through as our hero. Yes, much of the action comes from the Jason Bourne school of up-close-and-personal combat, but Craig comes through as a decidedly different character. He is cold, determined, yet gentle and understanding, and in the final moments I feel we see James Bond truly for the first time. The next time we see him I am sure it will be the suave super spy that has existed cinematically for decades.

bond2226Joining Craig for the ride is Olga Kurylenko who made memorable appearances in a pair of lame films (Hitman, Max Payne) before this appearance. Here she is memorable as Camille, this Bond girl is damaged and on a path of revenge not unlike Bond. The two are kindred souls and they use each other to get to their own endgames.

The rest of the supporting cast is equally fine. Judi Dench returns for her sixth round as M and this time she is not as in control as she usually is. We see the lengths that she goes to in order to defend her people. Jeffrey Wright also returns as Felix Leiter, continuing to develop a relationship with Bond. And, of course, we have Mathieu Amalric as Greene, slimy, nasty, and a fine bad guy.

Marc Foster directs the film with finesse, taking us in close for the emotionally charged fights and high energy chase sequences, while also staging some intriguing set pieces. The meeting of Quantum members at the opera, in particular, stands out as a wonderfully staged sequence. He works from a script from returning writers Paul Haggis, Neil Purvis, and Robert Wade. While not as strong as the prior film, they still inject enough into this to make it a worthy addition to the Bond franchise.

Bottomline. With the appearance of the gun barrel sequence and the first full blown use of the classic Bond theme, the origin of James Bond has concluded in fine fashion. No, this is not a perfect film, but a highly satisfying one that brings closure to the Casino Royale story. Better than it appears at first glance, and well worth the price of admission. This is action packed and thrill-soaked. Oh yes, don't forget to spy the homage to Goldfinger.



steve said...

Not to pick nits, but James has Mr White in the trunk of his car at the beginning of the movie. He ends up tracking down Mr Greene.

Chris said...

Thanks, Steve. Figured I'd get the colors mixed up. I had the right one in my head. In any case - corrected.

Anonymous said...

Without a doubt, Connery & Brosnan were the gold standard of Bond & my darkest days where during Moore’s farcical portrayal of our favorite 00. So I am pre-disposed not to accept Craig as a bone fide replacement. But even in both movies, Craig is not the problem, the producers & directors are. OK. Perhaps my last comments were really a review of Casino not having seen QoS. Now I have seen it and there are so many problems with it I do not know where to begin. All the chases are herky, jerky, shaky staccato film clips. You can never really see what is going on. This is contrary to the traditional Bond flick replete with detail. And if Craig is gritty, moody, mean & vindictive one can still see a path by which he becomes a cooler if not a cold, uber-professional agent with a dry, sardonic sense of humor. This Bond clearly appeals to a feminine perspective that escapes me. I understood him not becoming 'involved' with the other women in the 2 flicks as having high standards and was at least relieved to see his response to Fields as, what we would term a normal orientation! (The women seem to love that Bond does NOT 'hook up' with the main girl in either film and broods ceaselessly like a forlorn Hamlet for his unrequited lover from Casino). Even the opening chase, usually one of the best, is almost visually incomprehensible. Car chase, rooftop chase, sewer chase, apartment knife fight chase, boat chase, plane chase, Chase-Morgan, certainly they all were purloined from the Bourne genre but somehow Bourne's were more believable.

The opening graphics were not as bad as I feared, but were definitely not 007 quality. Far too much of Craig shooting his Walther PPK .380; (don't make me go into why that is a problem). We have grown accustomed to the sultry, sexual/sensual and awesome graphical intro to the Bond films. This one was not of the same caliber. Ditto on the theme song. It was not a good as past songs but I was fearing worse and it was actually passable relating somewhat to the general theme of the film. The barrel scene was placed at the end of the film. I prefer the beginning but in either case it should be presented with high quality graphics and punctuated with 007 theme song riffs. It was not.

Lots of chases. Most are barely watchable. I actually liked the reference to the traditional 13th century Italian Palio horse race in which the riders can use their longer wooden canes to encourage their steeds or discourage their opponents; and the actual event was supposed to be occurring outside of the chase area.

The knife fight was lame. How did the baddie die anyhow? Please tell me not with the little pair of cuticle scissors Bond had. And if the death blow was to the only wounded area shown, the left jugular, where did all the blood go as Bond let him 'bleed out'. Not to worry the details because we are soon introduced to THE BOND GIRL. Well, a little anti-climatic because she is not quite as attractive as we are used to although she has very pretty lips. The rest of her seems strangely disproportionate for some reason. It's also strange that she would return to the baddie who just tried to have her whacked. That has little probability for success for someone who we later learn is "Bolivian Secret Service". Oh well, not to worry, we are off on another chase, this time with boats. It is perhaps the best done but for the last scene in which the grappling hook is somehow thrown onto the rubber speed boat and flips it from the front of Bond's boat over the top to the rear...... can't quite figure the physics out on that one. Not to worry, we've docked and Bond mysteriously hands the unconscious maiden who he has just rescued over to a dock attendant...what?

Well were off to track this baddie and somehow reconnected with the GIRL in Bolivia where we eventually learn that the baddie, Mr. Greene of the evil Greene corporation in conjunction with the even eviler Quantum Criminal Consortium LLC has concocted a plot wreaking with the venom of true corporate greed, evil capitalism and nefarious financier-ship; to wit, steal all the fresh water in where? Why Bolivia of course and sell it back to them Bolivians at double the price! MUAHHAHAHAHAHA (evil laugh). We learn at a big party that times are tough in Bolivia because it is costing a weeks wages for an average Bolivian to buy a gallon of clean water! As I remember, the average Bolivian earns about $0.25 per day making the water cost about $1.75 a gallon; pretty much on par with market values in Cleveland. Perhaps this is not the best country for our get richer quicker scheme.

No matter, we are off to the evil opera where the evil baddies are meeting to plan, well, evil. This is where we juxtapose a modernistic version of the Tosca operatic bloodshed whilst Bond dabbles in the real thing dispatching the body guards of the evil biggies who, now discovered & uncovered, are making a hasty retreat for the exits faster than attendees at an Al Gore speech.

No matter, while in Bolivia we are matroned by the closest thing to a real Bond girl, agent Fields. Unfortunately we never really figure out what is beneath that trenchcoat although it appears that Bond does. Also unfortunately for Fields and us, she is quickly eliminated by the baddies in what can only be termed as a 'crude' theft of the Goldfinger modus operandi. I would have expected more of a mess but why waste camera time on the slickened Fields when you can spend it on bathroom scenes with....who else....M of course. Perhaps the most difficult what seemed to be15 minutes of the film (as if minutes were hours Mr. Spock) was watching M in her bathrobe apply & remove cold creme. The threat itself would have sent Mr. Greene permanently into pro bono philanthropy. Not finished with us yet, M draws her bath and the tension in the theater built noticeably as we all began to fear that we would be greeted with an au natural scene of her slipping out of the robe into the tub. Fortunately we were spared that experience (wait for the unedited version coming to DVD soon!). However, it just calls into question what fob with a mommy complex of some sort is calling the shots in these films.

M continues to demonstrate why she should not be "M" vacillating from suspecting Bond to needing him back in 00 some 4-5 times during the movie. We did get a glimpse into the possible personality of M's hubby when he meekly announced, "the calls for you dear on your private line". Whatever.

M may welcome Bond back with open arms or have him captured or killed, no matter, the BOND GIRL is rescuing Bond in her getaway car, a 1964 VW Beetle. I guess the Bolivian Secret Service does not get to roll like the 00's in MI6. At least it was a 40HP!

No matter. We are now off to a hotel in the middle of a high plains Bolivian desert. Time to charter a, not the little Beachcraft Bonanza that would actually be faster and more maneuverable. Choose the DC-3 with a load of cargo on board. Watch out though, you'll get shot down by the Bolvian Air Force in a single engine Marchetti SIA1 (which I have been corrected on and is a fast little number) I guess the BAF doesn't get to roll like the 00's at MI6 either.

No matter because they are both jumping out of that crate with the only parachute. Somehow everything turns out ok after wrestling for 10,000 feet with the BOND GIRL & parachute falling at 120 MPH because the chute opens 20 feet off of our LZ, a nice big soft slab of granite. BTW, the BOND GIRL walks for miles on granite stones in her bare feat…she’s a hearty lass.

It’s off the hotel to find the baddies. The hotel, located in the high plains desert of Bolivia, is called the Plaza del Sol. It is completely self-sufficient and powered you idiot, hydrogen fuel cells. In fact, each room appears to have its own hydrogen fuel cell and its accompanying hydrogen supply tank. The maids must make your bed and refill your hydrogen tank when they replace the shampoo in the bath, I guess. Naturally the hotel, located in the high plains Bolivian desert is made substantially of steel & stone. Unfortunately, the steel & stone in Bolivia is not quite as durable as the steel & stone you and I have grown to love as we discover when Bond causes a baddie car to crash through a wall igniting a hydrogen tank. The rest of the hydrogen tanks ignite sequentially. Darn it, I hate when that happens, you just can't get good hydrogen tanks anymore. Again, unfortunately, the Bolivian steel & stone burns more like paper mache. Bond battles the Greene baddie but aborts to rescue the BOND GIRL who is caught up in her own subplot vendetta too trite to be explained here. Mr. Greene escapes into the desert only to meet a cryptic fate induced by other unknown baddies and Bond’s 10W-40 payback for the treatment of luscious Agent Fields.

You would be better off waiting for this to hit DVD. At least then you can slo-mo or replay the chase scenes making sense of them, spend more time with the slick Agent Fields and most importantly, FFW or skip over M's bathroom escapades. You have been warned.

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