November 17, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

quantum_of_solace_ver4Despite the rejection of the rumored Quentin Tarantino-directed Casino Royale, complete with Pierce Brosnan, there now appears to be a very real parallel between the current revitalization of the James Bond franchise and the Tarantino filmography. It is a comparison made entirely with the release of Quantum of Solace. This film essentially completes the story that began in Casino Royale, giving them a similar relationship to each other as Tarantino's Kill Bill saga. In the Tarantino pair, the first film (as great as it is) cannot exist on its own without feeling terribly incomplete, whereas the second film is solid and can stand on its own. In this case, it is the second film that has more trouble standing on its own and while it is a solid film, it is not nearly as complete a Bond adventure as its previous outing.

bond2249The plot of Quantum of Solace comes second to the emotional continuance from the first one. This is very much the second half of a single film with the goal of reintroducing Bond to a modern audience. Do not worry, it is still Bond, but not quite the same Bond that you have known and occasionally loved for the past 46-years. This is much more the events that led Bond to become the Bond that we know and love.

I do not claim to be the most knowledgeable source for Bond information, but I have my own ideas about the character, and while Bond has always been suave, cool, and sure of his actions, there has always been a bit of emotional detachment in his interactions with the Bond girls and his steadfast pursuit of the bad guys. However, there have been a couple of times over the years where we have gotten a closer look at the emotional undercurrent of the super spy. The first that I can recall is On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which saw Bond actually get married, it was short-lived, to be sure, but definitely left a mark on the man. The other is the final Timothy Dalton outing, Licence to Kill. In that film, Bond resigns and goes rogue with revenge on his mind for what was done to his close friend and his new wife. Both of these films show the deep feelings that run beneath the surface of the character.

bond2243Now, I know that the films have never really been run together as a series in the strictest sense. Until now, none of the Bond films were directly linked together, but there have always been some themes and moderate character development despite their focus on evil villains, women, cars, and big action. With the pairing of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace we have some very strong seeds for the events that led Bond to become the Bond that we know. In essence, these two movies are not really about the beloved Bond, but the origins of the beloved Bond, and the way the two films play out from start to finish enforces that fact. With these films laying the groundwork for the sociopath good buy Bond and introduction of a new super secret villain group we are all set to move forward with the new era of Bond.

It has been a few days since I have seen the film and I am thankful for the separation. In the intervening period I have gone back and forth from really liking the film and merely liking it. I know, it would seem to be a minor difference, but I feel it was the difference between understanding the film and seeing the film. In the end, I wound up right in the middle. I get the film on what they were seeking to accomplish as well as on a more surface level, at the same time it is not nearly as complete an experience as Casino Royale, but when combined they provide a very satisfying ride.

bond2245Being a sequel, we pick up the story shortly after the end of Casino Royale. Bond has Mr. White, the man he shot in the leg at the end of the prior film. He has intentions of extracting information from him about the people behind the death of Vesper (if you do not know this, you should not be seeing this film). This interrogation, does not go well as a bigger picture begins to emerge, not to mention an assassination attempt on M.

This failed interrogation brings up more questions than it answers, but it also sets Bond on his journey. His travels bring two points together. First, he is definitely on the trail of those behind Vesper's death and M's near-murder, while also putting him in a position to face off with the latest bond villain, the slimy Dominic Greene, who is involved in a little regime changing in South America for some monetary gain. I won't go into exactly what his scheme was, but I will say that it did seem rather silly, but when put into a realistic perspective, combined with shifting loyalties, willingness to deal with bad guys, and the changing world stage it was definitely more intriguing than first glance.

bond2237Everything ties together leading Bond on a globetrotting excursion that brings him ever closer to Vesper's truth, pulls back the corner of the sheet hiding the group called "Quantum" (could this be the new SPECTRE or SMERSH?), and continues to bring Bond back to the Bond we know. Yes, I know I keep saying that, but it is true. This new pair of films go a long way towards establishing the Bond universe and the character.

Quantum of Solace is filled with wall to wall action and is likely the most action packed of the series. There are few moments where one can catch their breath. In less than an hour and fifty minutes you get car chases, shoot outs, fist fights, boat chases, plane chases, plane shoot outs, and more. It is quite jammed up.

Fortunately, even through the action Daniel Craig shines through as our hero. Yes, much of the action comes from the Jason Bourne school of up-close-and-personal combat, but Craig comes through as a decidedly different character. He is cold, determined, yet gentle and understanding, and in the final moments I feel we see James Bond truly for the first time. The next time we see him I am sure it will be the suave super spy that has existed cinematically for decades.

bond2226Joining Craig for the ride is Olga Kurylenko who made memorable appearances in a pair of lame films (Hitman, Max Payne) before this appearance. Here she is memorable as Camille, this Bond girl is damaged and on a path of revenge not unlike Bond. The two are kindred souls and they use each other to get to their own endgames.

The rest of the supporting cast is equally fine. Judi Dench returns for her sixth round as M and this time she is not as in control as she usually is. We see the lengths that she goes to in order to defend her people. Jeffrey Wright also returns as Felix Leiter, continuing to develop a relationship with Bond. And, of course, we have Mathieu Amalric as Greene, slimy, nasty, and a fine bad guy.

Marc Foster directs the film with finesse, taking us in close for the emotionally charged fights and high energy chase sequences, while also staging some intriguing set pieces. The meeting of Quantum members at the opera, in particular, stands out as a wonderfully staged sequence. He works from a script from returning writers Paul Haggis, Neil Purvis, and Robert Wade. While not as strong as the prior film, they still inject enough into this to make it a worthy addition to the Bond franchise.

Bottomline. With the appearance of the gun barrel sequence and the first full blown use of the classic Bond theme, the origin of James Bond has concluded in fine fashion. No, this is not a perfect film, but a highly satisfying one that brings closure to the Casino Royale story. Better than it appears at first glance, and well worth the price of admission. This is action packed and thrill-soaked. Oh yes, don't forget to spy the homage to Goldfinger.

Recommended.

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