Sunday, September 8, 2013

Quantum of Solace (2008)

The 22nd James Bond film is rather problematic as the more I watch it, the less I tend to enjoy it.  I saw it in theaters twice and dug it but subsequent viewings have not helped it.

A direct follow-up to Casino Royale (actually more of a continuation of that film's story), it pits James Bond against the evil Quantum organization and the action is plentiful but the stuff that makes a James Bond film what it is is missing. Marc Forster keep the pace up but it comes at the cost of the heart and soul of the franchise.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Rather than the traditional gun barrel sequence, we are thrown right into a car chase as Bond escapes with Mr. White, the prisoner he took at the end of the previous film.  It's a good enough way to start the film but if you haven't seen the previous film, it;s just a hollow action sequence.  This is a problem with the whole film, in fact.
  • The main title song "Another Way to Die" is alright but the title sequence that goes with it is a little underwhelming.  Nothing in this movie is outwardly bad (save for one scene I'll get to later) but nothing really sticks with you as remarkably good.
  • Daniel Craig makes for a great James Bond and he does quite well, though we do have to slog through endless scenes of M (Judi Dench) questioning his competence.  I like Dench but after Tomorrow Never Dies, M sort of began to great in the way of the film to a degree.  I totally get the need to give an accomplished actress like Judi Dench something worth her time and the money you're paying her but quite often it just bogged the film down.
  • Making it even more frustrating is that the film is so compressed (106 minutes, roughly half of which are action scenes) that she never really gets a chance to shine, her first real scene is cut short by a foot chase breaking out.  It's a good one with a nice climax but this film seems to mistake action for plot development.
  • I do enjoy the sequence of events that leads Bond to meeting our heroine for the day, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), Bond casually flipping the bike out from under a random goon is fun, but we end up intercutting from that with M at the office keeping an eye on Bond.  I get that the spy game is more high tech but really, we go to a Bond film to escape, not dwell on reality.  There are times when the film comes off a bit like a Jason Bourne film and the constant tracking of Bond's movements is one of them.
  • One of the highlights of the film is Mathieu Almaric as Dominic Greene, our main villain.  He's your typical millionaire who is trying to help a deposed Bolivian American dictator regain power.  Almaric is pretty good (it helps that he does the whole crazy eyes thing to perfection) and he is nicely menacing.  As for the deposed dictator, General Medrano is well-played but ultimately just there to provide Camille with a reason to be in the film (she's gunning for him because he killed her family).
  • The boat chase that follows the intro of the bad guys is okay but ion the first thirty minutes of the film, we get three big action scenes.  You know, the part of the film that is usually meant to set up the plot?  Hell, even the lowliest Cannon production gives the audience a chance to get an idea of where the film is coming from before Michael Dudikoff and Steve James begin kicking people in the face.

  • As I said, Craig makes a great Bond, though he is hampered a bit by the requirements of the plot.  As a direct sequel to the previous film, he is still dealing with the events of it (the Bond Girl killing herself for him after betraying him).  As a result, Craig is colder than usual and while he's quite the badass throughout, a little more humanity would have helped.  Happily, Skyfall gives us just that.
  • The CIA sort of backing Greene is an okay twist as it brings Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) back but it just comes off as superfluous seeing as it doesn't factor in outside of two scenes.
  • Bond getting info on the bad guys at a performance of Tosca is one of the few standout scenes in the film that really feels like it belongs in a 007 epic.  It's well shot, paced nicely and Craig is just utterly cool.  could have done without M basically taking away Bond's gun and badge after he inadvertently kills a guy who turns out to be one of his own but dropping the ball is par for the course for this movie.  The action beat leading up to it is nicely done but given that it follows thirty minutes of nearly endless action, it comes off as rather hollow.
  • Giancarlo Giannini makes a welcome return as Mathis from the previous film.  He's warm and funny buy the way the film handles his death later in the film rather callously.  After a touching death scene, Bond unceremoniously dumps the body in a dumpster and lifts his wallet.  It sort of fits the situation (Bond is being framed for the death and is in a rush) but the way it's done generates an unintentional laugh.  Hell, Camille even calls him on it!
  • There is a little bit of stuff with Bond not being able to sleep but as with everything else, it;s quite superficial.
  • I do get a kick out of Gemma Arterton as Agent Fields (no prize for guessing her first name given the franchise this is).  Bond moving them to a better hotel is also a fun bit.
  • The stuff at Greene's party is pretty good, though it comes off as more arbitrary than the "Bond meets the villain at a social event and screws with him" thing should.  Maybe it would work if there hadn't already been one scene of Greene ordering a bunch of guys to kill Bond.  In fact, the focus seems to be more on Camille embarrassing Greene than anything else.
  • Camille is, in fact, sort of reminiscent of a Fleming Bond Girl in that she has a tragic past and in the books, Bond always had a thing for a bird with a wing down.  Olga Kurylenko plays the part well enough but apart from the back story, there isn't a hell of a lot to her.  She and Craig have a little chemistry but not enough to really make one give a crap.
  • The plane shootout after Mathis dies is a nice bit of business though once again, it's hard to really give a damn when the film has been mostly action.  Marc Forster isn't a terrible director but he just doesn't work as a director of a James Bond film.  The action would be fine with a more defined plot (the bad guy trying to stage a coup in order to control the water supply is actually sort of neat) but the film, barely stops long enough to give more than bits and pieces.  He does do some interesting things like giving the caption for each new location a different look depending on the setting.
  • I think the Writer's Guild strike had an affect on the film's screenplay.  It definitely comes off like an early draft in dire need of fleshing out.  Still, that's no excuse for a director who wasn't a fan of the series (not that that's an essential) and seemed to be more interested in pace than telling a good story.
  • The Goldfinger homage when Fields is found dead, covered in oil, is a nice touch.
  • The CIA aspect of the plot is dealt with quite offhandedly as Felix simply gives Bond info on where Greene is even though his boss wants 007 dead and then ends up taking over the man;s position offscreen.
  • The finale at an abandoned hotel (or maybe its under construction, I don't know) is a pretty good one with a cool location and lots of stuff blowing up.  It's a decent enough wrap-up to the plot, or would be if there had been any true focus on it.  Still, we do get some good bits with Greene going psycho with an axe and casually eating an apple as he puts the screws to Medrano before the shooting starts but outside of that, it's just more vapid action.
  • The last few scenes wrap up things well enough with Bond confronting Greene in the desert; finding the man who got Vesper to turn traitor and getting over his loss.  It would work better in a complete film with a good script, but sadly it's in this one.
  • The gun barrel logo comes at the end of the film and is followed by a nice rendition of the James Bond Theme and another piece by David Arnold.
  • One last little amusing thing (for me at least), in the time between Casino Royale and this film, home video rights for the franchise went to 20th Century Fox so in a technical sense, the old days of Bond films being released by CBS/Fox Home Video are back.  Neat!
 The follow-up to Casino Royale is a problematic, flawed film with good acting from Craig and Almaric and some nice action but precious little of it matters thanks to a muddled script.  It's well shot, looks nice and sounds great but at the end of the day it's just another hollow action movie.  Happily, the next film would be much better.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.