Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace

The new Bond movie is out after a two year wait, and there's a lot to mention about it. Spoilers abound, so take that into consideration as you read on.

Quantum of Solace
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Dame Judi Dench


Quantum of Solace picks up an hour after the events of Casino Royale, which makes it the first direct sequel in Bond history. The story follows 007 as he tries to track down members of Quantum, the organization that was ultimately responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd, his love interest from the last film. Let me say this: after watching Casino Royale, I didn't really get why Bond was so into Vesper. She didn't seem that special to me, and it was hard for me to fathom how the international super-spy that we all are so familiar with would be willing to give everything up to be with this girl that he seemingly barely knew. On subsequent viewings of the movie, however, my opinion on Vesper has changed. I think I was so blinded by the new incarnation of Bond that I didn't let myself see their relationship for what is was - the key element to the character of the new Bond. Remember, back in Royale, Bond wasn't yet the "Bond" that we are accustomed to - he just recently gained "00" status and therefore it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to assume that he could give it up to be with a woman since he hadn't really gotten into his career yet. Vesper's betrayal at the end took a chunk out of Bond's soul, challenging his perspective on life and making him a better agent because of it. Quantum of Solace is a showcase for how Bond deals with those feelings; his most important motivation is doing what he has to in order to free himself from Vesper, who haunts his memory.

Plot-wise, the story left a little to be desired for me. The actual title of the movie* comes from a short story in "For Your Eyes Only," but the events of the movie have nothing to do with the events of that story. It's pretty obvious that is the case, since the film is fused with the ever-topical environmentalism theme that seems to be ripping through movies recently (WALL*E, The Happening, The Day The Earth Stood Still, etc). The shadowy members of Quantum, we discover, are hoarding the Bolivian water supply to sell at a ridiculously high price to the newly inserted government officials. In the scheme of things, there are worse Bond plots to be found (Die Another Day, Tomorrow Never Dies), but it seemed like the writers could have gone the extra mile and thrown some originality in there. I will give them credit for the climactic scene in the explosively unstable eco-hotel in the desert, though - I've never seen that before, so that kind of creativity should be rewarded. Thank God they didn't go with what was originally in the script, though - Vesper had a kid that Bond found out about. We all know how what happens when you bring children into movies: Superman Returns.


Daniel Craig returns as the Bond of today - "damaged goods" as Mr. Greene calls him - and I thought he was a little more heartless in this one than his previous performance. Bond kills people left and right in QoS; going so far as to use an old friend as a personal bullet shield, throw his body in a dumpster, and take the money from his wallet. I'm not saying those actions weren't practical, but dude - show a little emotion about it. The lack of one-liners and the humor of the movies of yesteryear leaves the audience a little concerned with this James Bond, almost to the point where he's unnervingly stoic while he does his job. I guess he probably put himself into "emotionless mode" to get the job done and get revenge for Vesper's death, but even so, Craig's Bond is definitely more callous than previous versions.


Ah yes, the Bond girls. The impossibly gorgeous Olga Kurylenko plays Camille, a one-dimensional character bent on getting revenge for her family's death. Her mission mirrors Bond's, and the two of them sped through the film on a quest for their individual redemptions. She didn't really do much for me, but then again most Bond women don't have prominent motives or solid storylines to work with (effective, yes. Solid, no). Gemma Arterton plays the lovely Strawberry Fields, whose first name is never mentioned on screen. A MI6 agent sent to recover Bond from Boliva, Fields is the eye candy that Bond seduces, but her screen time was cut tragically short due to a Goldfinger-inspired death. Instead of being covered in pure gold, Fields is killed by Quantum members who drowned her in oil and left her for Bond to discover. All said and done, nothing to write home about with these ladies, except that Arterton will be starring alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in the upcoming Prince of Persia: Sands of Time movie. I think it goes without saying that Judi Dench was awesome as M, a pattern that doesn't look like it will be broken any time soon.


QoS is the shortest Bond movie ever made, but they certainly didn't skimp on the action. In fact, I might go as far as to say that there was too much action in it, almost to an unnecessary degree. When you've got James Bond swinging from ropes like something out of The Musketeer just to fill some time, there's probably something wrong. They shouldn't have to resort to that. Just keep it simple - car chase, jumping out of an airplane, ramping a motorbike onto a boat, exploding hotel...that's not enough for you guys? And the Bourne style of editing was on full display for a few of those scenes, throwing frames at us and expecting us to be able to put it together in our heads without showing much of anything in the process.


Marc Forster, director of such films as Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction, took over for Martin Campbell in the director's chair this time around. You can tell that they wanted someone with a more "artsy" background to direct this one because Bond's character was supposed to be the main focus, and Forster made his mark known with a couple of strangely cut scenes during the movie. The intercutting of a horse race and an opera scene right in the middle of a chase scene and a gunfight (respectively) seemed more distracting than effective; Bond movies aren't high brow entertainment - those kinds of things aren't needed. You know what WAS needed? More Felix Leiter. His character is criminally underused in these movies, and his presence in this one was confusing and unclear. Have him team up with Bond and do some action of his own in the next one.


Technologically speaking, the movie followed Casino Royale's lead by not featuring excessive amounts of gadgets. The one really cool thing was at MI6, they had a computer interface that was a massive touch screen similar to that in Minority Report. You've seen it, so you know what I'm talking about. I thought that whole sequence was really cool, from being able to connect to the phone system, to having Bond's voice recognized into a search engine (when he said "Greene," he said "G-R-Double-E-N-E" and the computer changed a "W" to a "EE" because it anticipated what he was saying and corrected itself). Funny part is, we're not that far from that technology today.


The ending to QoS was a little more closed off than the open-ended finale to Casino Royale. Bond leaves Vesper's boyfriend alive (after killing most everyone else throughout the movie) and I think the reason he did this was because he was able to warn the guy's new conquest. Bond told the female Canadian agent this guy's whole game plan, saving her from Vesper's fate and finding a little bit of redemption for himself in the process. The ending shot (Bond dropping Vesper's old necklace into the snow as he walks away) gives closure that he's done with this chapter of his life. I applaud the film for not stretching this storyline out into three movies, because that would cheapen this movie by itself (anyone who watched the second Pirates knows what I'm talking about), and this one doesn't feel like a wasted setup to a third film. It definitely doesn't tie up every loose end (Mr. White is still out there, along with the whole Quantum organization), so that leaves some promise for a third picture when that comes out in a few years. Since Quantum of Solace already holds the record for the highest Bond opening of all time in theaters, I'm sure that a sequel isn't too far away. Until next time...

*In case you're still wondering what the heck "Quantum of Solace" really means, Daniel Craig might be able to clear it up for you. He says "Bond is looking for his quantum of solace and that's what he wants, he wants his closure. Ian Fleming says that if you don't have a quantum of solace in your relationship, then the relationship is over...Bond doesn't have that because his girlfriend has been killed, and therefore he is looking for revenge to make himself happy with the world again."

5 comments:

Boze said...

I noticed the Double E thing as well... very slick. I thought QoS did a good job of moving the revamped plot line along while also having enough merit to stand by itself. I am very interested to see what master plan Quantum is invariably working on... It better be on the scale of a Clive Cussler novel!!!

Solid Review Benis

Jackie Chan said...

I didnt read this because of I havent seen the movie yet, Rolemodels was funny tho. CHECK IT

Alan Trehern said...

Ben, you're giving QoS a bad name on all the other websites you work for, but here you almost sing its praises.

The movie isn't as bad as you think you remember it to be, and for what it's worth, I think it fits well into the new series. This movie actually changed my mind on Casino Royale.

Ben Pearson said...

Mr. Trehern,

First of all, I don't appreciate your tone. I'm not "giving QoS a bad name on all the other websites" I work for - I mentioned it on ONE of them.

Just because I wrote a review right after I saw a movie doesn't mean my opinion on it hasn't changed over time. That's the point of this website, in my opinion - it's a personal time capsule of my thoughts about films directly after seeing them so I can look back on them later.

For the record, I don't think QoS is the worst Bond movie I've ever seen, or even the worst one in the past 10 years. It has some cool elements, but if you read this review closely, you'd see that most of my praises come with caveats suggesting how to improve those elements.

I'm certainly not discounting your opinion that you think it fits well into the new series (because I guess I probably think the same thing, to some degree), but while it took you a while to warm up to Royale, I was hooked from the first viewing and didn't need this follow-up to convince me of that movie's success. I think this is an inferior sequel, and I'll stand by that remark until the day I die.

Alan Trehern said...

Your points are noted, I just find it strange to like it at one time then bash it when trying to get people interested in Bond 23. It seems counterproductive.