(Release Date: November 14, 2008)
At times, Quantum of Solace (and, thus, the franchise on the whole) is in some sort of limbo between what it was and what it wants to be. This entry, as with Casino Royale before it, works hard to be an edgy, anti-formula thriller that transcends all the Bond Ingredients that have become clichés. Still, it's hard not to notice that for all the violence, extreme sporting, profanity and rapid-fire, blurred action sequences, Quantum of Solace is largely the same formula... but faster and with more intensity. Now, if you think that I'm listing the Bond Formula as a liability here, you don't know this website too well, do you? In point of fact, some of the liabilities here are the lack of some of the definitive elements of Bond lore. This, coupled with the fact that much of the intense action and quickening plot distracts from some of the more vital story elements (many of which seem to be fighting for air... or airtime), drags Quantum of Solace down a bit... but just a bit.
All this said, this is a good film and a worthy successor to Casino Royale (not to mention the rest of the 21 official Danjaq Bond flicks). In fact, it's a credit to director Marc Forster that Quantum of Solace is so easy to get lost in, even as the (uncharacteristic for Forster) action threatens to overcome the plot. One might not expect the director of Finding Neverland and Stranger than Fiction to make the short list for directing "James Bond 22", or for his adrenalin cup to runneth over, but Lords and Ladies, that's exactly what happens here! Surprisingly, with very few exceptions, this works in the confines of this particular Bond Flick.
We begin mere moments after the close of Casino Royale with James Bond still enraged and without answers over the death of his true love Vesper Lynd. While M attempts to control Bond, it becomes quite clear that he is motivated by Revenge and is out to punish anyone he can find in the secretive organization that has claimed the life of the woman he loves.
Wow, that sounds NOTHING like the beginning of Diamonds are Forever, which starts just after the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and details Bond on a revenge-motivated Rampage (that M can scarcely control) as he kills his way through the lower ranks of the secretive organization that claimed the life of his true love Tracy di Vicenzo. The main differences being the names, places and the fact that the scene depicting a bad guy hanging off the side of a building by Bond's necktie doesn't show up until halfway through the picture this time.
Interestingly, the visual references to other Bond flicks don't end there. This one might just be an Easter Egg treat for true fans and Jeopardy viewers alike.
After 007 (played by the returning Daniel Craig) prevents a surprise bad guy from murdering M (played by the returning Judi Dench) and a good bit of their Double-O Posse, the good guys at MI-6 (minus Q and Moneypenny, who haven't popped back up yet) discover a connection between the would-be assassin and a Geologist hanging out in Haiti. (Yes, for those folks keeping track, this is Italy, London and the Caribbean, all within the first ten minutes of the film).
This trail, of course, leads to the Big Bad Bond Villain in charge of the whole evil show. This time we're introduced to a megalomaniacal environmentalist gone horribly wrong named Dominic Greene (well-played by Mathieu Amalric). Not only is Greene one of the top energy traders on the planet, but he's also one of the major players in the very shadow organization Bond wants to eviscerate. No, they're not called SPECTRE! To help the wonderfully ungainly title make at least some sense, they're called Quantum. Greene counts among his assets a global utility company, an incredible amount of land in multiple countries, an evil henchman named (I kid you not) Elvis (Anatole Taubman), an even more evil Bolivian warlord named General Medrano (Joaquin Cosío) and his hot, young On (the hit list) Again, Off (the hit list) Again girlfriend named Camille Montes (the beautiful and believably tough Olga Kurylenko). He's also got an Energy Plan borrowed from ol' Max Schreck in Batman Returns! Those Supervillains, they're always so predictable.
As Bond goes increasingly rogue (to the point that he has more shades of grey than a Zebra), he gets closer and closer to the billionaire magnate in South America (like in License to Kill) and makes tons of new enemies and reunites with tons of new friends along the way (many of these happen to be the same people). On the bright side, you've got fan favorite Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), on the dark side you've got... well, too many to list. In the grey area you've got Jesper Christensen's Mr. White and Giancarlo Giannini's René Mathis. And, on the incredibly hot side, you've got Secret Agent Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), who gives the super hot opening credits ladies a run for their burning buck. For those of you really paying attention, photos of Eva Green (as Vesper Lynd) and Mads Mikkelsen (as Le Chiffre) are visible, whereas the voices of both Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón contribute to the Spanish language dialogue in several scenes.
And, of course, in true Bond form, all these dominoes fall as we tumble toward our explosive ending that reveals the main villain's plans to dominate the planet, while the not-so-main villains are introduced, quite forcibly, to their makers. It's only after the dust clears and the credits start to roll that some of the rips and fissures in the screenplay by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade start to reveal themselves. But make no mistake, these flaws, faults and gaps are most certainly there. To a degree these are well-covered by the quality direction of Forster. However, a good many of these are covered only by the roaring action of this exciting film, much more than the art that Forster has become known for.
To this end, Quantum of Solace is packed with boat chases, car chases, airplane chases and foot chases over multiple rooftops in multiple cities to rival anything featuring Jason Bourne (which often seems to be the point)! There are more explosions here than in just about any film that features the credits of Bruckheimer or Bay and more fist fights, gun fights and near-death experiences than in Rocky, For a Few Dollars More and Super Dave combined. The body count is huge, the property damage bill is excessive. There is even a constant joke about Bond's inability to meet a bad guy he doesn't kill. Yep, you have to know what you're getting into here... and if you like that sort of thing (and I certainly don't hate it), you're in for a treat.
On the other hand, it's still James Bond, and Craig is still doing a great job of honoring the past while blazing his own trail. Fans might tick off the references to earlier Bonds here (the Goldfinger, or should I say Oilfinger scene immediately springs to mind), but some may also lament the absence of his famed introduction of "Bond, James Bond." Some real Dinosaurs of the Cold War Bond might even wonder why his count of female conquests falls somewhere below the professional breeder mark of most stud farms. It's safe to say that the current franchise goal of maturing Bond while keeping his edge and marketability after this many decades has been successful in a lot of areas. Still, one must wonder if his upped ante of destruction might somehow be linked to his frustration at reduced sexual intimacies. Still, the now-famed opening sequences (complete with hot, naked women in shadow) and even the classic Gun Barrel sequence both return here (the latter appears before the closing credits), to great appreciation.
In short, for an action film with intelligence, charm, history and class, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Quantum of Solace! It's hard not to like this film, flaws and all, thanks to its cast and characters (who still feel like old friends). It runs deeper in many personal areas than previous entries in the series and stands up well when judged against the franchise on the whole (albeit with its own, often new, continuity). It may not be quite the film that Casino Royale was, but Quantum of Solace is a good, solid Bond film that, at Three and One Half Stars out of Five, comes very, very close! It's been 100 years now since creator Ian Fleming was born and 55 years since be brought his most famous character (except, perhaps, for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) to life. Hell, it's been 44 years since the man passed on. Bond has been portrayed onscreen by no less than eight actors (in both "official" and "unofficial" adaptations), while Fleming himself has been portrayed onscreen by three different actors. Does Bond still matter today? Could he still be relevant in today's world and cinema? Checking out Quantum of Solace, not to mention its leading ladies and the look of defeat on its villains faces... I'm goin' with the big "Could Beee-eeee!" See you in the next secret reel, true believers, but this time FASTER with MORE INTENSITY.
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