Friday 22 May 2009

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Friday 22 May 2009
Bland, James Bland

I liked Casino Royale, the reboot of James Bond that introduced us to Daniel Craig's dangerous, rough-edged version of Ian Flemyng's 007, but I didn't love it. It was a decent, nicely-acted, fresh canvas to repaint a beloved icon. Quantum Of Solace is the action-packed follow-up to the revitalizing Royale, and unfortunately it's a hollow exercise that jumps from one set-piece to the next, but forgets to add an involving plot and engaging characters. This is Brosnan-era spectacle over substance, paying so much homage to the Jason Bourne films that it might as well be a reimagining of Robert Ludlum's spook...

It's also a rare sequel in the Bond pantheon, picking up minutes after Casino Royale's climax, with Bond (Craig) evading bad guys in sports cars to deliver his girlfriend's killer, Mr White, to MI5 agents in Italy. White (Jesper Christensen) soon escapes with the help of a double-agent, but not before cryptically alluding to a secret crime cartel -- so, M (Judi Dench) orders Bond to investigate White's clandestine organization, which apparently has operatives deep undercover in the world's intelligence services. Fuelled by a desire to avenge Vesper Lynd's murder, Bond sets off on a globe-trotting vendetta, eventually zoning in on philanthropic environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who's planning to buy "worthless" areas of Bolivian desert that contain underground reservoirs.

It wouldn't be Bond without a Bond Girl, so enter Camille (Olga Kurylenko) as the weakest of 007's harem since Denise Richards' buxom nuclear physicist. Here, Kurylenko's miserable, un-sexy, badly-dressed and has the personality of a plank. What did producers expect from the Euro-hottie who has Hitman and Max Payne on her resume? In fact, Camille's so dislikeable that Bond doesn't even consider sleeping with her, preferring instead to bed MI5's naïve, cockney filing-clerk Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton), who arrives to send Bond back to HQ after he goes "rogue". Doesn't M know better than to send a girl with bee-stung lips?

It also wouldn't be Bond without spectacle, and QOS certainly compensates for the paucity of stunts in the stripped-back Casino Royale. Unfortunately, the abundance of action overshadows everything else, as we lurch from set-piece to set-piece with only a cobweb of plot stitching these moments together. I'm at a loss to explain how or why we get from exploding speedboats to an aerial dogfight over a desert of sinkholes, as the plot fades into insignificance and instead becomes a means to get Bond stuck into tighter and tighter tight spots. And there's more innuendo in that sentence than the whole of Craig's Bond tenure so far.

Also, what a shame that, after Casino Royale's sense of bruising reality (Bond gets hurt, bleeds, fails), the follow-up drags us back to the days of Bond as an indestructible "superhero". Our blue-eyed agent goes through bone-crunching ordeals aplenty, but barely winces or slows his pace. Well, not until he finds it conspicuously difficult to beat-up nerd Greene in his "villain's lair". Small mercy that the gadgets are yet to be introduced to further sandpaper the sense of jeopardy, but I'm already afraid the franchise is back on the slope to Die Another Day-style awfulness.

Odd-choice director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner) isn't known for big-budget action, but Bond films always allow the Second Unit huge creative freedom with the action sequences. Therefore, you'd think Forster was actually attracted to QOS because of what he could bring to the acting and story side of things -- but there are precious few moments for Craig, Dench or Amalric (outstanding in The Diving Bell & The Butterfly) to show their skills. What action there is feels overwrought with Forster's input at the editing machine -- too many extreme close-ups, little sense of spatial orientation, allowing everything to become pretty trailer moments strung together. It's as close to a nonsensical Michael Bay-directed Bond as we've ever come. Only one set-piece impresses with debonair class: Bond locating and identifying cartel members by infiltrating a performance of open-air opera Tosca and dispatching them behind-the-scenes.

Nitpicks and frustrations also rack up: primarily, why is QOS once again reluctant to feel like a true Bond movie? If it wasn't for Judi Dench and the inventive opening credits, you could easily think QOS was the latest Bourne with Craig replacing Matt Damon. Where's the iconic theme tune? It's been reserved for the end credits -- what, again?! The gun barrel sequence doesn't even show up until the final second. Craig doesn't get to make a "Bond, James Bond" introduction, and even the comical full name of Agent Fields is a gag reserved for anal credit readers (Strawberry Fields; er, haha.)

Overall, Quantum Of Solace is wall-to-wall action delivered with all the gloss a $200 million movie can muster, but it's largely tedious besides. Daniel Craig's good enough to keep you engaged, but tolerance for QOS is predicated on affection for Casino Royale. When the dust clears, you're left with a feeling of disappointment that the Bond team are already starting to fall back into old habits.

MGM/Columbia Pictures
Budget: $200 million
106 minutes

Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade

Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Olga Kurylenko (Camille Montes), Judi Dench (M), Mathieu Amalric (Dominic Greene), Gemma Arterton (Agent Fields), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Lieter), Anatole Taubman (Elvis), Joaquin Cosio (General Medrano), Giancarlo Giannini (Rene Mathis), Jesper Christensen (Mr White) & Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner)