The title's baffling! The hype's massive! And the name's Bond. James Bond.
That's right, Quantum of Solace has opened in the UK, (two weeks in advance of the USA, I might add- fuck you, Americans!) and I went to see it on Saturday night. It's had somewhat mixed reviews, but this is the one franchise that is absolutely critic-proof. Case in point- Die Another Day. So when everyone loved Casino Royale- and quite right too- it was merely an added bonus. As ever, I'm not going to compare this film to its predecessor because that's not the way to review films in my view. Also because it's not quite as good, but then I really liked Casino Royale. The review may potentially contain mild spoilers, and major spoilers for Casino Royale, because I assume you've seen it if you're reading a review of the sequel.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Who's in it? Daniel Craig, (The Golden Compass) Olga Kurylenko, (Hitman) Mathieu Amalric, (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) Judi Dench, (Notes on a Scandal) and Gemma Arterton (Rocknrolla)
What's it all about? Unlike most Bond movies, this is a direct sequel to its predecessor, picking up with 007 (Craig) going after the mysterious organisation responsible for blackmailing and indirectly killing the love of his life, Vesper Lynd. His search for revenge brings him into conflict with an apparent environmentalist called Dominic Greene, (Amalric) who seems to be involved in an oil scam and the reinstatement of a deposed Bolivian tyrant. Along with Greene's on-off girlfriend, Camille, (Kurylenko) Bond is forced to go renegade as his search for revenge threatens to consume him.
Any good? Daniel Craig keeps telling us that the title Quantum of Solace, taken from an Ian Fleming short story that has nothing to do with the plot of this one, refers to what Bond needs in his relationship with Vesper. Apparently a relationship can't survive without a quantum of solace, which Bond doesn't have because Vesper is dead. So the relationship technically can't survive already. Oh dear, I've picked apart the very title already. So within the film's context, Quantum is the name of the aforementioned organisation that wants... something- more on that later. The solace does eventually show up too, but to elaborate upon that would be a spoiler, so I won't. To call this Quantum of Solace therefore makes... well, not very much sense, but there we are.
Looking at the film as a whole though, it's a terrific way to spend 106 minutes. It's said that every Bond film is around 20 minutes too long, so it's great that they were sensible enough to pick up the pace here and shave off that last 20 minutes. It's action packed, and retains the sense of high drama that seems to characterise Daniel Craig's Bond. The former of these aspects do fall down when held to scrutiny however. Director Marc Forster has previously done fare like Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner. So he knows his stuff, drama-wise, but he's not an action director in my view. Everything feels overedited, with some action sequences being so confusing that you can't tell who's winning any given fight. Some downright dumb camera angles are employed at times- Bond changing gears at one point is shown with a close up of his thigh rather than of the gearstick. Forster does a wonderful job with the film as a whole, but it's these sequences that let the film down somewhat. Not good in a Bond film.
Everything else though is rather good. Starting with the cast. Daniel Craig is by far the most emotionally vulnerable Bond we've ever seen, which befits the fact that he's just started this job one film ago, given the whole reboot. At the same time, he's hard as nails, and no matter what his detractors say, that's a good combination. Jeffrey Wright is underused but brilliant as Felix Leiter, Bond's CIA poker-buddy from Casino Royale, and Giancarlo Giannini also returns as George Lucas-lookalike, Mathis, having an important role to play rather than being shoehorned in as part of the "look the whole gang's back!" trope. Mathieu Amalric does very much as Mads Mikkelson did with his turn as a Bond villain, speaking softly but carrying a big stick. Literally, towards the end of the film, as he starts beating someone up with a big stick. Stressful situations do that I suppose, but at least Amalric manages to restrain himself rather than strip Bond's clothes off and hit him in the bollocks.
The women are of course a huge part of the Bond films, and so they deserve appraisal of some kind too. Judi Dench comes back to do her semiannual job of being furious with Bond again, and there's a great scene that exemplifies the reliance and trust between the two about midway through the film. Perhaps not what you have in mind when I say Bond girl, but she's been there since Goldeneye with Pierce Brosnan in 1995, so she lays a better claim to the title than Gemma Arterton for instance. Billed as one of Britain's rising stars in films, she's depressingly bland in this one. True, her role as Agent Fields would never have scope for an Oscar-calibre performance, but her lines seem to be delivered as though Marc Forster is holding them up on cue-cards off-screen. Olga Kurylenko, being the alternative here as "the chick that Bond doesn't bang" as Camille is a sharp contrast to Miss Arterton, giving a nuanced performance that won't put her in the Bond Girls Hall of Fame, but it's not like that's something all actresses aspire to anyway. I stress that Agent Fields is a negligible role, and that's not Gemma Arterton's fault particularly, but I reckon if she was as good as the hype suggests, she'd have made it more memorable.
The plot, as some reviewers have complained, is intricate but not nonsensical. Those critics who say otherwise might like to look at the one where Roger Moore goes to the moon, or the one where Pierce Brosnan has an invisible Aston Martin. A nice twist in the middle left me pleasantly surprised, as I didn't expect an earlier joke I made about audacious Bond villain plots afte seeing the the trailer to be borne out. On film though, it does serve as a nice callback to some of the more silly plans that villains in this franchise have been known to concoct.
However, the aforementioned oddity of a title aside, it's difficult to know what Quantum actually wants. At least with SPECTRE in the older films doing a Pinky and the Brain and doing the same as they do in every film- try to take over the world!- you know where you're at. If anything, Dominic Greene in this film seems to be working on his own. Sure, he alludes to his organisation making his actions possible, but we don't really see a thing of them. Perhaps they're setting up for another sequel, which I think is a bad idea to be honest. Setting up Quantum to be like SPECTRE is fine, but Bond should not go down what I call the Pirates route. I love the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, but feel the sequels were ruined by some odd desire to unify all the films in a story arc rather than be three standalone films in the vein of the Indiana Jones films. Bond films are the apotheosis of the standalone adventure, with their polygamic protagonist never bringing so much as a love interest along to a subsequent film. It's not spoiling too much to say that Bond gets some form of closure on the Vesper issue in this film, and I thought that was great, but we don't need another direct sequel.
All in all, I reckon comparisons can be drawn between this and the hands-down best film of the year, The Dark Knight, but for the wrong reasons. While it is a great film- innovative and not afraid to be dark or to upset audiences- Quantum of Solace is at the end of the day, a Bond film. I love how the newest Bond films are experimenting with what we expect from the franchise, but I suspect this isn't quite what audiences wanted from 'that difficult second film.' I'm fine with Craig's broodyness, and it was great to see him throw some quips and typical 007 moments in here and there this time around, but let's see him a little more at ease with himself and the world next time around, please. He's apparently got his quantum of solace back, and yes, I am equating that to him getting his mojo back cos God knows what else it's meant to be, so let's see something more fun come The Property of a Lady or Risico... whatever they call it.
I did consider doing reviews of one film for each Bond, having went out to buy two of my favourite Bond films, From Russia with Love and Licence to Kill, on DVD yesterday, but then realised this would mean sitting through the apparently interminable On Her Majesty's Secret Service, something that most film fans seem to be advised against. So we'll see if that comes to pass or not. If not, the next review will likely be Ghost Town, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Choke and/or W. If I'm feeling generous.