So what’s all this talk about wanting to “old Bond” back? A lot of talk about the Bond movie “Quantum Of Solace” revolved around how fans miss the Bond who had all the gadgets, knew all the best wines, loved his martinis shaken and not stirred, and always bedded the most beautiful of women. Wait a second, isn’t that what we were all getting sick of after “Die Another Day?” Didn’t we want to see the Bond series revitalized? Isn’t that why “Casino Royale” was so damn good; that it didn’t give us the same old Bond and gave us a tough new one who you could for once say honestly was the best since Sean Connery’s?
The late Roger Ebert, in his review of “Quantum of Solace,” said that he wanted the producers to remember for future installments that James Bond is not an action hero. But I don’t see Bond being portrayed as an action hero in this movie. Instead, I see him portrayed as a man who is devastated by loss and betrayal who is trying to keep his head on straight while trying to get revenge. Maybe when we get the next Bond movie, we can get back to the Bond we know and love, but this one still has issues to sort through and he can’t just throw them to the wind so he can give us the typical 007 we have gotten far too used to watching.
“Quantum of Solace,” as I’m sure you know by now, is not the equal of “Casino Royale” which is the best Bond film was in years, and it did set the bar higher for the one which would follow it. True, it is a flawed Bond movie that has several problems that would derail any other movies, but what keeps it afloat is Daniel Craig’s continued great work as Bond and how he gives an MI6 agent who is not just going through the motions. That, and his great interplay with M, played by the always great Dame Judi Dench, makes this 007 adventure still worth a look.
This is a first in the Bond series in that it is the first direct sequel to a previous Bond movie, starting off just mere moments after Bond nearly shot Mr. White in the leg. The movie literally starts off with a bang as Bond is in a high speed chase with the minions of Mr. White on his tail. This brings me to one of my criticisms which I kind of see as a double edged sword. A lot of the action scenes are filmed with a lot of the same shaky camera work we see in movies like “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Seeing a Bond movie instantly remind you of a Jason Bourne movie is not a good sign. At the same time, it does give the action sequences here a visceral urgency to where you feel those car crashes instead of just watching them.
The QUANTUM of the movie’s title refers to the new evil organization that is essentially the SPECTRE of the new millennium. Their goal is, of course, to achieve world domination and control every single thing they can sell at a high price. As a result, the Bond villain of this movie is a man who wants control the world’s last natural resource, but it’s not the one that you would think. As played by Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), Dominic Greene speaks to the public of saving the planet from global warming, but then we see him talk to an Army general about how they managed to talk some sense into the local government about not raising the minimum wage for workers since it would cut into his profits. Basically, he’s like the head of Walmart and someone we want to see get a huge bitch slap on a regular basis, making him perfect for this generation’s Bond movie.
As Bond villains go, Dominic Greene is far from being one of the most threatening of the bunch, but I still loved that glint of anger and overconfidence he gets in his eyes, and Amalric brilliantly gives an insight to his ever so greedy soul. His work is more great proof of how some of the best screen acting can be done without saying a word. Seeing him getting pissed when Bond spoils his well laid plans is a kick.
The Bond girl this time around is Camille, and she is played by Olga Kurylenko. As Bond girls go, she will also not go down as one of the best, but she is far from being one of the worst. Her performance during the first part of the movie is a little too stiff and her character is a bit underwritten. As the movie goes on though, she does get better when you see her real motives which involve getting revenge against those who took her family away from her. The parallel between Camille and Bond are that they are both going after the same thing, vengeance. It makes their relationship towards the end of “Quantum of Solace” all the more interesting. Kurylenko may not hold a candle to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, but not many could anyway, so holding that against her is not entirely fair.
But the key relationship of “Quantum of Solace” is between Bond and M. The scenes between Craig and Dench are some of the best in the movie, and there is no love affair between these two. It’s a mother and son kind of relationship if you can picture as both being estranged from one another and then trying to get back on track with each other before it’s too late. M wants to trust Bond but feels she cannot, and Bond wants to go after the one who almost had M killed. Talk about tough love.
Dench has been playing M since Pierce Brosnan debuted as Bond in “Goldeneye,” and it should be clear by now how much of an asset she is to this franchise. She has continued to be a strong presence and has gotten even better since Craig took over playing 007. M is the kind of person who is not about take shit from anybody no matter what country they come from or what government agency they represent. Dench is a real pleasure to watch in just about anything she does, and I love how she easily intimidates her male assistants who constantly tremble in her presence. Her interplay with Craig is great, and they make for a great couple (albeit an unmarried one) in these films.
The movie also features other strong performances that deserve to be noted. Jeffrey Wright returns again as Felix Leiter, the first actor to play the role consecutively in close to 20 years. His cool approach to the role is great, and hopefully we will see him playing Felix again in future installments. Giancarlo Giannini also returns from “Casino Royale” as Mathis. His role here could have been problematic as his character betrayed Bond previously, and having him be the only person Bond can trust here could have easily been far-fetched to say the least. But thanks to Giannini’s performance, the character’s presence is believable and welcome as his sadness over the death of Vesper forces him to team up with Bond. His final moment with Bond is actually quite touching as he encourages him to forgive Vesper and himself. These character moments in Bond films never get quite as much credit as the stunts, and “Quantum Of Solace” has them even while it could have used more of them to give us a rest from its relentless action scenes.
Marc Forster, best known for directing “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland,” takes on the directing chores this time around. He seems almost as unlikely a choice to direct a Bond movie as Michael Apted was when he was hired to direct “The World Is Not Enough.” His handling of the action sequences gets frustratingly confusing at times as the editing is done in a very rapid fire way, but they are still thrilling sequences if you can get past that. Forster doesn’t really bring anything new to the franchise, but he does keep things going at a steady pace. At less than 2 hours long, this is the shortest Bond movie ever made, but it did feel longer than that. Given how stringent the Broccoli family is about keeping the Bond movies confined to a certain formula, I’m not sure how much breathing room Forster was given to work with on this one.
Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are back along with Paul Haggis who is doing his usual screenplay polish here. “Quantum Of Solace” seems to exist more for the action sequences than the story which is a little frustrating, but they do still keep the central character of Bond very interesting and complex. They deal with the different layers of Bond and keep him from being simply one-dimensional. There is some good character work here, but a lot of minor characters suffer because of it, and not everything is as fleshed out as it could have been.
And let’s not forget David Arnold who has been composing the scores for the Bond movies since “Tomorrow Never Dies.” His music really complements the ferocity of the action scenes, and I also admire how he was able to move over seamlessly from the Brosnan Bonds to the Craig Bond as he doesn’t steal from his past work at all.
As for the movie’s theme song, “Another Way To Die,” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, people kept trashing it but it’s actually not bad. I like the fact that it actually sticks in the mind as opposed to other theme songs that go in one ear and out the other. Can you remember Sheryl Crow’s theme song for “Tomorrow Never Dies?” How about the theme from “Goldeneye” which was written by Bono and The Edge and sung by Tina Turner? Even Madonna’s “Die Another Day” song is far more memorable in comparison.
In the end, “Quantum Of Solace” is not one of the best Bond movies, but it is also not one of the worst. It has problems with the script and some of the characters could have been better developed, but the things that did work won made it more than watchable. Craig continues to give this iconic character a rough edge and dimensions not as present in previous installments, and his performance here proved his work in “Casino Royale” was no fluke. No, he is not the Bond many of us grew up with, but that’s fine because this one is far more interesting. Stop whining about wanting the old Bond back. He may come back with the next movie now that Bond has moved on from his revenge cycle, but at the same time, I hope Craig doesn’t lose any of the edge he has brought to the role thus far.
Whatever happens from here will be very interesting even if we have to wait another few years. But regardless of how long it takes, James Bond will return.