UK RELEASE DATE: 31 October 2008
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko
In Daniel Craig’s second outing as the indestructible British Agent, we’re immediately zeroed in on Bond a mere ten minutes after we left him at the conclusion of ‘Casino Royale’ – in all his Saville-Row-three-piece-suit-with-coordinated-assault-rifle splendour; and from the insanely adrenaline busting opening car chase right through to the extraordinarily explosive finale, there’s barely time to sharpen a pencil, let alone attempt to draw a breath.
‘Quantum of Solace”s principal villain is Dominic Greene, a wealthy property developer with a nice sideline in regime change. Obviously he’s an expert in micromanagement and possesses an enviable aptitude for multitasking, because when he’s not overthrowing dictators, he’s stockpiling a lot of water for “Quantum”, a mysterious, international organisation that might or might not have been behind the blackmail of Bond’s beloved Vesper Lynd, the very thing that drove her to suicide. Our man is out for blood from the get-go, and ploughs through the ranks of Greene’s similarly nefarious cohorts with all the sucrose-infused gusto of a toddler let loose in Hamleys. He finally earns a showdown with the main man himself and rounds things off nicely by blowing up half of the Bolivian desert.
And that, in essence, is pretty much it. It all sounds like standard Bond material. But ‘Quantum of Solace’ is anything but a standard Bond film. ‘Quantum of Solace’ is a cinematic quandary. Some of the things it does work brilliantly. Some of the things it does fail miserably.
Firstly: the major failure. Although it’s the shortest Bond film to date, it’s also the one with the most action: loads of it. In fact, when the OED is next updated, the phrase “Quantum of Solace” should stand as the definition of the phrase “action-packed”. Unfortunately, this means that there’s little room for a comprehensible narrative, so ‘Quantum of Solace’ also ends up being the Bond movie with the flimsiest plot to date – which is saying rather a lot given the existence of ‘A View to a Kill’. This failure can rather obviously be traced to another JB, and another franchise.
On paper, Jason Bourne’s influence seems positive enough. Action sequences have become fast, physical and hyper-realistic affairs; the stunts are executed by performers in camera and on set, rather than against a green screen which later gets a CGI makeover or a character that’s wholly computer-generated. Major villains have become predominately cerebral and believable characters that love delegation, rather than demonstrably maniacal thugs – though their aspirations remain as diabolically nefarious as ever. Heroes have become psychologically three-dimensional; s/he has foibles, strengths, idiosyncrasies and a back-story: they are now human beings and not robotic hitmen.
Unfortunately, due to the “mine-is-bigger-than-yours” arena of the action film, the filmmakers believe that with each movie, they have to raise the spectacular quotient just to keep our attention…and raise it and raise it and raise it. ‘Quantum of Solace”s sensational spectacular action bar is therefore so damn high, it’s pushed the plot into cloud cuckoo land. Apparently storytelling isn’t as important as free-running stunt work and “look-no-non-diegetic-music” hand-to-hand scraps. The film feels like a carefully orchestrated sequence of set-pieces, and while these set-pieces truly are technically astounding, the film itself is therefore as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny.
Of course it just might be that Marc Forster chose to employ an insanely thrilling visual style and chose to crank up the pacing to F1 speed to stylistically reinforce and elucidate Bond’s fractured psychological state (more on that later), but if he did, it’s really backfired.
The film is SO bombastic and SO visually overwhelming and SO spectacular that it’s impossible to follow what’s going on. And about twenty minutes in, you subconsciously realise you’ve got absolutely no idea where you are, why Bond is wearing someone else’s dinner jacket, why he’s messing about with a big plane and you instinctively engage “Popcorn-Movie” mode.
And that’s a real shame because Daniel Craig continues to impress as the indefatigable super spy. His immense physicality supersedes that of even Connery, and his wonderful, psychologically-nuanced work in the film’s very few contemplative moments, represents all of the heart that is to be found in the picture. The scene in which his friend Mathis is shot and Bond cradles his head while he dies is particularly touching. Of course, Bond then dispassionately slings the body into a skip with the quip, “He wouldn’t mind”, but that glimpse still remains one of the film’s better scenes.
And this duopoly in Craig’s Bond is easy to pin down. It’s a distillation of both Connery’s and Dalton’s take on the character; he’s physically formidable, emotionally frazzled, psychologically fragile, dark, brooding, bitter but can throw out a wisecrack when he needs to. And that’s pretty much how Fleming wrote him after all. If Craig keeps the standard this high, and indeed continues to evolve the character as majestically as he does here, he’s a contender to get tagged as “Best Bond Ever” – seriously.
On the other performances, Olga Kurylenko struggles with the underwritten Camille Montes and we have to endure her frantic tussles with a second and rather dull revenge plot. Gemma Arterton‘s straight-laced Agent Fields is barely worth mentioning at all; she has zero chemistry with Craig and zero percent more acting ability than a tree, while Mathieu Amalric is actually a particularly effective Dominic Greene. Many will complain that he’s nothing but a wimpish estate agent that does nothing more sinister than put up someone’s water rates, but as the methodical philanthropist, Amalric is suitably slimy and reprehensible. And let’s face facts here: Greene’s existence and master plan (so, y’know the whole movie really) is nothing more than an elaborate MacGuffin in the ongoing saga of (one) who the members of Quantum are (two) what Quantum wants and (three) how big an arse-kicking the members of Quantum are going to get when Bond catches up with them all in the threequel.
The film does get some things completely right though. Some fans will complain that ‘Quantum of Solace’ doesn’t feel like a proper Bond film. After all, where are the franchise staples of Q, the innuendos, the gadgets, the multiple sexual conquests etc? But as the film is a direct sequel to ‘Casino Royale’, certain elements have been quite rightly omitted.
Bond is, to all intents and purposes, a rogue agent, so why would the British government allow Q to hand over a load of fancy gizmos? Character-wise, Connery, Moore et al, inherited Bond as a seasoned 00 operative, whereas this is only Craig’s second mission: his Bond is still grieving for Vesper, and although the principal consequence of her betrayal and death is his development (actually disintegration) into the bitter, twisted, hard-drinking, wise-cracking and emotionless bastard that we all know and love, he’s obviously not feeling particularly cheery right now.
And of course you do get a few essentials thrown in: silly opening titles, a maniacal villain, an Aston Martin driven very fast, Felix Leiter, vodka martinis (seven of them in a row by my reckoning), and Bond taking his shirt off. There’s also the usual smattering of product placement (Virgin, Sony etc) which raises a wry smile, even if it doesn’t quite scale the dizzying heights that ‘Casino Royale’ did: Vesper: “Nice watch, Rolex?” Bond: “No, Omega”. I mean, Jesus…
Other plus points are the excellent handling of Bond / M’s frosty relationship, (he likens her to his Mother at one point), his penchant for killing suspects rather than incarcerating them, his nonchalant utilisation of his expense account (the hotel upgrade scene is laugh-out loud funny) and the fact that we get the proper recipe for that vodka martini.
There are also minor quibbles. Forster’s attempt to authenticate location titles by using regional fonts is both baffling and irritating. The forays into the M’s private life (and beauty regime) are particularly frivolous, and quite how Daniel Craig can beat up everyone in sight throughout the entire movie but is then subjected to a real whipping by a short, weedy property developer with boggling eyes and greasy hair is anyone’s guess.
So ‘Quantum of Solace’ really is a mixed bag. There probably is a decent plot in there somewhere, but it’s all but completely obscured by the explosions, the jumps, the fights, and the car chases. That said, it is popcorn entertainment of the highest quality and there’s no way you’ll ever get bored.
‘Casino Royale’ was just what the Bond franchise needed; to paraphrase Eva Green, a majestic kick up its not so perfectly formed arse, because it managed to combine an intelligent, realistic and enthralling plot with exceptionally well-executed action scenes, and it had a fantastic ensemble cast. It’s a shame that ‘Quantum of Solace’ has literally lost the plot a little.
But one shouldn’t lose all faith. With the elements of a majestic third-part conclusion to the Vesper Lynd revenge storyline now all present and correct and with Daniel Craig continuing to electrify as 007, there’s every chance the next instalment will be bigger and better than ever. We can only hope that the plot gets as much attention as the car chases do.