Reel Opinions

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quantum of Solace

In the past, I've always considered James Bond as somewhat of a live action comic book hero. How can anyone blame me really, with all the gadgets he possessed and some of the villains he's gone up against in the past? 2006's Casino Royale toned that aspect down quite a bit, but there was still plenty of fun to be had, and he still felt larger than life in some way. In Quantum of Solace, Bond is turned into a completely different kind of hero. He now resembles the protagonist of a video game, visiting exotic locations only to shoot the bad guys, and not even stopping to have fun with women. Where's the joy in that?

Daniel Craig is back as Bond, and he still has that steely and menacing glare that worked so well in Royale. He's a much colder Bond than what we're used to. If the last movie didn't convince you, the fact that Bond spends pretty much the first half hour or so going all over the world killing almost anyone who crosses his path will pretty much ram the point home. He's somewhat of a tortured soul here, still feeling the pain over the death of Vesper Lynde at the end of the last movie. He travels the globe, seeking information, and also seeking info on a mysterious organization that seems to have eyes everywhere, even within his own agency. His search for the truth leads him into a plot being hatched by a villain named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who isn't planning to take over the world, he really just wants control the water supply in Bolivia and increase demand by creating a drought. A fairly small fish for Bond to fry, considering some of the bad guys he's tangled with.

Thrown into the mix is a woman named Camille (Olga Kurylenko, recently seen in Max Payne), who has the body and dangerous skills of a classic "Bond Girl", but none of the personality. Like Bond, she is driven on a quest for revenge, since Dominic's scheme has him dealing with the man who murdered her family and burned down her house when she was a child. I missed the foreplay here, since the movie never lets the two heroes have any fun together. They come together and are motivated simply by revenge and killing, and never get to share any intimate or private moments. (And when they do, they talk about revenge and killing.) What happened to the sexual innuendos and the devilish fun? Even Casino Royale had a little bit of that element, with Bond and Lynde teasing each other now and then. There's another woman who plays a role in the story, who has the wonderful Bond-style name of Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), and even gets to share a brief bedroom scene with him. Too bad she exits the story not long after (Her body is discovered dead on a hotel bed covered completely in black oil, and I couldn't help but think of the poor housekeeping staff member who had to clean up that mess.), and we don't even get to hear her first name during the course of the movie. (She is simply referred to as "Fields" throughout, and we don't learn her full name until the credits.)

Director Marc Forster is usually a more serious-minded filmmaker, with dramas like Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, and The Kite Runner under his belt. He seems uncomfortable in the world of Bond, and indeed in the realm of action films, due to how spastically he shoots many of the numerous big action set pieces. He relies on rapid cuts and the ever-infamous "shaky cam" technique to obscure the action whenever possible. We often can't tell who is doing what to whom in some of the sequences. In fact, many of the action scenes seem inspired more by the Jason Bourne films than anything in the Bond franchise. Quantum of Solace keeps its hero running and gunning for most of its running time, but never quite gives us a reason to care. I got the sense that if the movie didn't come from such an esteemed and long-running film empire, audiences would not be very excited here. Bond himself comes across as a video game hero with the screenplay manipulating him at the joystick, moving him from one location to the next. And the evil Dominic Greene is one of the lamest villains to go up against the superspy in recent memory. He's not interesting, nor does he ever present himself as being much of a threat.

As the movie went on, I found the only thing holding my attention was Craig's performance. He once again is fascinating to watch, and has the cold attitude and physical ability down pat. He's simply not allowed to build to anything beyond the basics. I was fascinated by the idea of a Bond driven by a personal vendetta, so much so that his superior, M (Judi Dench), is trying to hunt him down, fearing that he is getting too reckless in his mission. Even though this is technically a direct sequel to Royale, it never feels like one. With its numerous action sequences that never quite connect, it often feels like just another generic sequel. Only when the movie slows down and concentrates on the potential does it feel like more. This is what I wanted to see more of. The movie never finds a proper balance between the action and the story, and it gives the entire thing a somewhat hollow and empty feeling.

Quantum of Solace is the kind of movie video game programmers dream of, since the filmmakers have pretty much done all the work for them in designing the game tie in. (Not surprisingly, a game based on the movie is sitting on store shelves even as we speak.) That's well and good for them, but anyone seeking a little bit more fun to go with the violence will be disappointed. I have no doubt the movie will make money, and we'll get another movie. I just hope the next one remembers that Bond has a lot of personality to go with his fighting ability, and utilizes it more.

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