29 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Jeffry Wright
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis DIRECTED BY
Marc Forster

** (out of ****)

I’m about to say something I never, ever thought I would say about an action movie: there was just too much action, and not enough in the line of story. Otherwise, Quantum of Solace is about as awesome as you’d expect: amazing fight choreography, insane explosions, the characters lust for revenge, the suave coolness of Daniel Craig accompanied by two very attractive female co-stars. So, what’s not to love? Apparently, plenty.

Solace begins with gunshots: minutes after the Royale ended, Bond is being chased (in a very fancy car) by some baddies. Bond escapes and hides out in a secret, MI6-controlled vicinity. Turns out, Mr. White (the dude he shot in the previous film’s ending) is in the trunk, and interrogation commences. Mr. White reveals that he is part of a secret organization (evidently called Quantum, but I honestly don’t recall anyone ever saying the organization’s name), and they have people everywhere – including MI6! Suddenly, one of the rogue agents starts shooting – commander M (Dench) barely gets away while Bond is in pursuit of the suspect. Ultimately, the guy dies, but now Bond is determined to locate the mastermind of this organization and bring all members to justice – whether it by a bullet or the justice system. Oh, and he’s also trying to find out who got Vesper killed, but again, not sure how this relates to the Quantum organization (perhaps I should have paid better attention).

My first exposure to the world of James Bond was Die Another Day (2002), and suffice it to say, that wasn’t the type of Bond flick that would get me pumped for another installment. Thus, with some resistance I saw Casino Royale, and to my complete surprise, I fell madly in love with it. Sure, the whole card dealing sequences aren’t all that interesting, but they were still quite engaging (a testament to its wonderful direction, I wager). And a smile lit on my face during every combat, their brutality and unrelenting force leaving me in awe. Although, the sight of Eva Green (The Golden Compass) didn’t hurt matters, either. I loved that they took away the Superman-ish way of Bond, where he could do anything, short of flying without aid of some mechanical device. Perhaps Bond became too much like Jason Bourne - it is an arguable question - but this is the type of Bond I love and enjoy. Royale's awesome final minutes left me anxious and ready to watch the next installment immediately.

So here we are, Bond 22 is out, titled Quantum of Solace (a title I really dig by the way; it sounds friggin' epic), and it continues the story of Vesper's legacy (Eva Green's character), as Bond comes to terms with his relationship with her and the betrayal he felt by her hands. One would expect this movie to be insane - just by the prospect of watching Bond exact some much needed revenge on some Baddies alone, and to do it brutally and without mercy - that woulda been something. Instead, Vesper is mentioned every once and a while, and Bond's 'burning' anger about the situation is mentioned every once and a while (and occassionally expressed by Craig's face and eyes), but another thing that really sucker-punches the flick is that none of this rage and feeling of betrayal resonates at all.

The script doesn't feel complete - which I believe is due to the Writer's Strike because the script was finished hours (if memory serves me right) before the Strike officially began - and thus they decided to add in plenty of action sequences or at the very least extend their running time (get it? running time? because they're usually always running? Oh, I'm a genius!). Seriously, there's an action sequence in what feels like every five minutes! And hardly ever are these fights or chases truly integral to the plot. If it was between a long, drawn-out brawal or Bond easily kicking some guy's ass and begins torturing the bloke for information, I would go for the latter. I guess I'm just one of those strange people who prefer plot over fights. (Look at Bourne Ultimatum for example: they were still writing the flick while they were directing it, and look at how well the movie turned out!) Admittedly, the fights and chases are pretty damn cool (except the plane sequence near the film's climax - I was bored enough to leave and go to the bathroom, something I typically never do during a riveting action scene). Another nifty thing about some of them is that it showed the effects of Bonds rampages on your everyday citizen (for example, when a young lady got shot in the beginning by a rogue spy).

The most exciting scene and the one thing that made me believe that my initial worries were unwarranted was the sequence in which Bond locates and overhears Quantum members at a opera. When Bond departs, some Bad Guys start chasing him, and all the action is muted while the opera is blazzing full, with intercuts of Bond running and firing for his life and the opera's performers acting out a murder. This scene was filmed brilliantly (a rare case when it comes to director Marc Foster - I don't like the dudes directing style), and my hope for a good film started to rise, but diminished slowly when I found out Solace was nothing more then lazy directing and lazy writing. And considering how phenomenal Casino Royale was, and the amount of anticipation I had for Quantum of Solace, it's a high dissapointment.

However, one aspect these new batch of Bond movies will undoubtedly always excel at is Bond himself. Why? Because Daniel Craig epitomizes James Bond, and is truly one of the coolest damn action heroes I've ever witnessed. Obviously, there will be plenty who disagree and still hold true to Sean Connery's interpertation; I never got into those older Bond films, seeing as how my interest wavered no matter how many times I attempted to re-watch Dr. No, for example. Craig has the ability of just standing still and glaring at the camera, and he invokes a menace and power that makes me want to hide behind a blanket screaming, "The Power of Christ compels you!" When I first watched Craig in Royale, I thought the dude could do no wrong. Unfortunately, he was unable to follow through in one regard, though I also chalk this up to a ill-written script: his anger. This entire movie is suppose to be about Bond reacting to Vesper's death, but not only is the script apparently interested in other things, but Craig seems to think a brooding face will suffice. Not so. I wanted a little Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt from Mission: Impossible III (2006), where Ethan was enraged with Phillip Seymor Hoffman's character for threatning his wife, and thus returns the threat by opening the doors of the plane, ready to let him fall out. In that scene, Cruise made Hunt a force to be reckoned with when truly pissed off; so if Cruise could do it, why couldn't Craig?

A surprising performance highlight is Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), playing MI6 commander-in-chief M. Dench is bloody terrific in every scene she's in, and occassionally steals said scene from the other actors. If Dench leaves the series and the M character remains, the character will never be the same again. While authoratative and stern, M also holds a bit of a weak spot for Bond, feeling he's the only person she can truly ever trust (even though he goes off the grid plenty, but that's beside the point). There is a old friends while simultaneously a mother/son vibe going on with these two characters, and their scenes together are fascinating and always interesting, as you're never quite sure how M will respond to Bond's latest theatrics.

First breaking onto the screen in last year's Hitman, model Olga Kurylenko proves that she has some acting chops. Unfortunately, the script doesn't allow Olga the opportunity to truly shine, as her character isn't all that fleshed out; but by golly, Olga does what she can with what she's given. As Camille, Olga plays the character as strong yet sometimes vulunerable, and quite manipulative (as part of her story arc). I do like Camille's storyline, how she wasn't your typical 'Bond Girl', and how she mirrored James' lust for revenge, but she wasn't given enough to work with. The other female cast member is Gemma Arterton (RocknRolla), showing up as Strawberry Fields, whose only reason for existing in this movie is to shag Bond, trip a Bad Guy down some stairs, and get murdered (c'mon, like that's a spoiler).

As the Big Bad Bond Villian Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric (Munich, 2005) never registers as a threat, but you can't help but be captivated by his wide eyes and wonder what he's so wowed about. Actually, Amalric - for some reason - reminds me of a reptile, waiting to strike at his prey; I blame it on the eyes. Dominic has some brilliant scheme to purchase land, find water (or oil - something) and sell it for mass amounts of money. Or something like that. To be brutally honest, I have no bloody idea what the Great Scheme was, nor do I really care. After all, Quantum of Solace was suppose to be about Bond getting revenge, not beating up some random Bad Guy and making him cry for mommy.

Jeffrey Wright reprises his role of Felix Leiter from Royale, and the bloke looks so completely uninterested in being here. Wright looks bored and irritated every scene he's in, while simultaneously keeping a handle on his constipation problems (at least, that's how it looks). What initially promised to be a interesting character has no turned into just a worthless cameo, really. The only highlight from his scenes is his American partner, who ironically reminds me of Phillip Seymor Hoffman - that dude was major fun to listen to.

Something that bugs me and I simply must address: what were they thinking when they decided to make the visuals for the Jack White/Alicia Keys-contributed “Another Way to Die” opening credits song? First there’s James Bond shooting his gun – alright, I can deal with that – and we follow the bullet until…something fills the screen. Yes, something; either I don’t remember what it was or it was just some strange orange mist. The best way to describe what I was seeing would be to relate it is that if a person was on acid while watching this flick, they would have to be checked into a mental institution because they’re scared out of their freakin’ minds by the strange, Satanic images they just witnessed in a James Bond movie. Aside from what I think was a lot of sand transforming into bodacious women and Bond falling (is this suppose to be symbolic?), I have no idea what the hell I was watching. While on the topic of music, David Arnold returns to deliver a score as lazy and uninspiring as the script. It kind of sucks, considering I was contemplating picking up the CD before I saw the flick, and now that I know the only thing potentially worth owning is the theme song. Oh well.

Quantum of Solace kicks a lot of ass – as in people getting their butts royally kicked – but lacks in the department of story and having any sort of emotional center. However, with that said, there's no way I'm going to miss Bond 23; I just hope they put a bit more effort into it, and don't hire Marc Foster to direct. As this film concludes the Vesper storyline and closes the book on Bond's lust for vengeance, the next installment has a blank slate (similar to how season 6 of 24 left Jack Bauer with infinite possibilities), so Bond 23 can go in any number of directions, and I'm already excited.


thebonebreaker said...

Well said Andrew!

We have been discussing Bauer and 24 ~ this movie started, what - an hour after Casino Royale took place?!? Right away, I was like C'MON - after all that he went through, in Casino Royale, he can just up and commence with these chase sequences?!?

With that said though, I did enjoy this one over Casino Royale, and like you, I will still be looking forward to the next one!


kaline68 said...

God this movie was terrible, i have never been so bored watching a Bond film, pointless action sequences and an underdeveloped plot and characters equals a dreadfully dull movie, the only reason to even watch this time waster is the lovely Olga Kurylenko who spices up her scenes with just her mere presence.

1 1/2 out of 4 stars.