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Non-Review Review: Quantum of Solace

It seems that the cast and crew took the entirely wrong message out of the hugely successful (commercially and critically) Casino Royale. A brilliant combination of fancy stunts and grittiness that called to mind the series’ recent challengers in the Bourne series, Royale reinvented Bond for the naughties, in much the same way as GoldenEye did for the nineties. Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace seems to be based around the assumption that the reaction to Casino Royale was based solely around the modern aspects of the film, rather than the fusion of the old with new, so Solace ends up being Royale without the knowing grin. And it’s a shame, because the knowing grin is part of what makes Bond Bond (perhaps moreso than gadgets, gizmos and world domination plots). Don’t get me wrong, the action in the sequel is nothing short of fantastic (possibly surpassing even its progenitor in the action sweepsteaks) and the movie is well put together, but it just lacks the firm sense of identity which defines the best of the Bond movies.

Bond admits he might be getting a bit old for these crazy college nights out...

In a way, Quantum of Solace is a Timothy Dalton film in better hands. There’s set pieces and a wonderfully emotionally raw lead, but there’s very little to anchor the film – it feels cold. Dalton was – despite what certain critics would have you believe – a solid Bond, and has clearly been one of the two greatest influences on the his two direct successors. Craig – like Brosnan before him – is able to channel the charm of Connery with the visciousness of Dalton. Craig is Bond. He feels comfortable in the role. Here he’s given more charm and sophistication than in his original outing and though he never utters a Roger-Moore-style one-liner, we can believe that this is some form of the character we’ve seen on the screen over the past four decades.

Unfortunately, he’s the only aspect of the movie which hints at the movie being more than some random spy/revenge flick. Sure, there are allusions to Bond plots in the sheer scale of the ominous evil operation at work here (and acronym QUANTUM clearly revives memories of SPECTRE), but that’s really all. Casino Royale teased us with the possibility that “the blunt instrument” would gradually fashioned into the smooth and sophisticated spy who we loved – there were hints of growth beneath his crude exterior. Here, that’s stagnant. Bond is as blunt and as brutal as ever. There’s no hint of an emerging skill or style, instead he’s as rough-and-ready as he ever will be – ploughing his way through a gigantic and confusing conspiracy involving CIA ineptitude and unchecked capitalism. In short, like just about every spy movie in the past ten years.

Which, to be fair, is grand. Real spies probably are brutal and tough and rough. They probably throw assassins through walls without a hint of finesse. But that’s not Bond. That’s the type of action we see in The Bourne Ultimatum or any number of copycats. It’s disappointing to see that the original grandfather of the genre finds itself attempting to emulate its own successors.

Beyond that, the movie is solid. It’s actually very good, in its defense. Director Marc Forster knows how to put together a fantastic action sequence – I think that the opening car chase, or a brawl in a chapel, or the speedboat chase, or the climactic sequence can stand proud amoung the franchise’s best action moments. There’s a series of clever juxtapositions (Bond to the running of the bulls, the tragedy of an opera to the tragedy of a cold-blooded murder) that work well, but they hint at ideas that aren’t really explored by the script – which is a shame since Paul Haggis also gave us the stunning exploration of the character in Casino Royale.

In fairness, a lot of things tend to get lost in the movie’s frentic pace, but Forster keeps us mostly distracted. Bond’s journey – alluded to at the end of the last film – should be an emotional one and the driving force behind the film. Instead it drops out after the first act only to return for an epilogue. The climax and cliffhanger of the last film are used to veer the movie into traditional spy film territory, which is fine – but it’s disappointing given the potential offered. The villainous plot – while an affectionate homage to times past – is played with too straight a face to really mesh well with the grim-and-grounded world that is presented to us. The sheer scale of the epically evil organisation requires a knowing suspension of disbelief that the audience is more than willing to give, but which the movie still insists on addressing with utmost seriousness. The movie may style itself as a British Bourne movie, but ask yourself if the “we have people everywhere” sequence early in the film would work in that context?

Craig demonstrates that he is certainly able to carry the mantle of 007, and the supporting cast is mostly solid. I’ve always been a big fan of Italian actor Giancarlo Gianni and it’s nice to see him return. Jeffrey Wright is (as ever, it seems) underused as Felix Leiter, a character who deserves more focus in this new generation of Bond films. Olga Kurylenko is effective as a stereotypical “modern” Bond girl, fiesty and angry but relying on Bond to enable her revenge and show her there is life beyond it (as he apparently discovers somewhere himself, though I’m not sure where). Gemma Arterton is a bit of a mystery as the secondary love interest, Agent Fields (the credits inform us her first name is Strawberry – Ian Fleming would be proud), in that the character seems to serve no other purpose than to bed Bond and then serve an existing plot function (ironically already being served by another Bond girl).

As Bond bad guys go, Dominic Greene is a fairly average villain. He certainly has more character than the earlier film’s Le Chiffre (though it is provided with clunky exposition), but the film’s pseudo-realism seems to demand a more restrained foe than the days of old – so he won’t linger as long as Sean Bean as Alec Travelyn or Donald Pleasance as Blofeld even Christopher Walken as Max Zorin (terrible film, but the performance is amazing for the sheer scenery-chewing involved). Mathieu Amalric does offer a strong performance, remaining mostly understated but not afraid to ham it up when the moment calls for it – he manages to make Greene wonderfully sleazy and creepy, which is a reasonable substitute for menacing, I suppose.

It’s a very good action film. It doesn’t really have a lot more going for it, lacking the self-awareness of most other Bond films, but – if you are looking for well-choreographed action sequences and a solid leading performance – it delivers.

As a side note, I love the title Quantum of Solace – it’s a very Bond title, perhaps the most Bond element of the movie. For those still not sure of what it means, here’s the explanation from the short story (which isn’t so much a James Bond short story as a short story featuring James Bond):

The governor paused and looked reflectively over at Bond. He said: “You’re not married, but I think it’s the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn’t care if the other is alive or dead, then it’s just no good. That particular insult to the ego – worse, to the instinct of self-preservation – can never be forgiven. I’ve noticed this in hundreds of marriages. I’ve seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I’ve seen crimes and even murder forgiven bythe other party, let alone bankruptcy and every other form of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster – all these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I’ve thought about this and I’ve invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace.”

The more you know.

One Response

  1. “Quantum of Solace” quite disappointed me because of the lack of chemistry between Craig and Olga Kurylenko. “Casino Royale” succeeded in part because Eva Green and Craig seemed a match made in heaven, but here there’s no sizzle. I also didn’t much care for Mathieu Amalric as a villain.

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