Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review – Quantum of Solace

January 5, 2011

Quantum of Solace – UK, 2008

A film critic much wiser than I am once observed that a film should never make you recall a better film. There’s a certain logic to this sentiment, for who really wants to be reminded that the film you are watching is not as good as an earlier film? Yet that’s exactly what viewers are likely to think when Bond stares at the oil-covered body of Ms. Fields (Gemma Arterton). The image is intentionally similar to an iconic one from Goldfinger, and it may have been meant as an homage to that earlier film, as a way of acknowledging that film’s greatness. The problem is that Quantum of Solace, despite all of its attempts at relevance and thrills, is not Goldfinger. In truth, it’s not even close.

Like Goldfinger, Quantum of Solace, which could easily have been called Casino Royale 2, has a rather topical storyline, for the threat depicted in the film is a threat the world is currently facing – terrorists earning money through so-called “legitimate” projects often backed by governments willing to look the other way or simply too ignorant to notice a company’s terrorist links. The film picks up where Casino Royale ended, with Bond having captured the mysterious Mr. White (Jesper Christiansen) and in the process of transporting him to a secret detention facility in Italy. In the car behind him are a group of people using a semi-automatic weapon to thwart Bond’s efforts. That weapon that has never succeeded in wounding Bond in the past, and this time is no different. However, the passengers in the automobiles that just happen to also be on the road that day are not so lucky. In fact, there seems to be an awful lot of collateral damage in this film, and while this has probably always been true of the world Bond inhabits, for some reason, it seems much more noticeable in this film.

Early in the film, we learn that Mr. White is part of a rather large organization that has apparently gone unnoticed by British intelligence. The organization is apparently so powerful that is has even infiltrated MI-6. While questioning Mr. White, a British agent reveals his association with the group and attempts to assassinate both M (Judy Dench) and Bond. Bond’s subsequent investigation leads him to one of weakest villains in the history of the Bond series, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Standing noticeably shorter than Bond, Greene is by no means an imposing figure. His power comes from the people that back him, a group that resembles SPECTRE in both its size and internationalism, albeit without the underground lairs or the automatic doors. And while SPECTRE had no problem finding a way for its members to be in the same place at the same time, Greene’s group apparently has to settle for meeting at public places such as opera halls. They spread out among the audience and communicate through ear pieces given to them at the reception area. Not exactly a foolproof plan if you ask me, and apparently no one in the organization has the sense to wait for the opera to be over before exiting. After all, isn’t it easier to escape in a crowd?

Quantum of Solace eventually settles for being a rather standard action film, filled with a few rather extended scenes in which Bond either pursues or is being pursued by someone. Still absent is the Bond humor that made previous Bond films unique from other action films. In addition, M’s frequent admonishments of Bond for killing so many people are delivered without a hint of humor or sarcasm, and Bond cannot even muster up a clever double-entendre when he decides to have a fling with a woman he’s just met. He simply says that he needs help in his room. Why that would make the woman blush and go giddy, I’ll never know. In addition, we get several conversations about Bond needing to let go of his pain. One of these sermons is delivered by a character who has just been shot, yet in stereotypical fashion, the fatal blow leaves him with just enough time to impart wisdom about the importance of forgiveness. And then there are some of the head-scratching moments that one should probably try not to dwell too much on, the most glaring of which involves a secretary being assigned to bring Bond back to the UK by herself. In what world would MI-6 send a complete amateur to pick up a supposedly dangerous agent that had gone rogue?

Quantum of Solace was written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, and it’s clear that they were trying to inject a more human element into the story. So in addition to the usual car chases and airplane dogfights, we get the added storyline of poor Bolivians being manipulated by both governments and companies in an attempt to either overthrow presidents or maximize profits. It’s a nice touch, and it brings to mind the real struggle that Bolivians waged to combat corporate greed and reclaim their water supply from Bechtel. This storyline allows the film to introduce Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman seeking vengeance for the murder of her family some years earlier. I actually enjoyed this storyline much more than the one about Bolivia, simply because the Bolivian struggle to regain their water supply has already been told and Bond, despite all appearances, does not take on assignments at whim. He’s not Rambo or the A-Team, and therefore, the Bolivian storyline is used to make the film’s villains appear much more evil and not to make Bond appear more human. In a nice tough, Bond and Camille are dealing with very similar emotions, and their scenes together are surprisingly moving. Of course, the film opts for a big final battle, at the end of which Bond wraps his arms around Camille, having come to terms with the fact that they are trapped in a burning building and that escape is impossible. Compare this to the end of Goldfinger, and you’ll see what’s so wrong with this picture. Simply put, Bond does not accept defeat.

Quantum of Solace is not as interesting as Casino Royale, and Bond’s brooding and emotionless demeanor turn out to be less intriguing the second time around. The film is directed by Marc Forster, who has made some excellent films about some very interesting characters. However, not even his competent hands are enough to make the film truly engaging. The truth is that since Pierce Brosnam, Bond has been moving more and more towards action and special effects, but for Bond to be a truly interesting character, he has to be about more than just revenge and solving the case. He has to also be about the women, the drinks, the jokes. His world should be not only exciting but also enjoyable for both he and the audience. Quantum of Solace simply isn’t. Note to the makers of the next Bond film: Let him smile this time. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

2 and a half stars

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