Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quantum Of Solace The Latest James Bond Film Is Insufferably Average Bond.

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of theme
The Bad: Predictable plot, Not-so special effects, Light on character
The Basics: Quantum Of Solace is a disappointingly average James Bond action-adventure film less the heart and charm of earlier Bond works.

I had no plans to go see Quantum Of Solace. I know, there were a ton of Star Trek fans who will be flocking to the theaters in short order just to see the trailer for Star Trek (reviewed here!) attached to the prints of this film (FYI, It's not worth it - hold out to catch it on-line in a few days. The new Watchmen trailer, though . . .). But given I couldn't get into this - as I have so many other films lately - gratis, I was ready to pass on it. Having seen a number of trailers for it over the summer during Summer Blockbuster Season, I felt I had already seen it. Indeed, whomever made the Quantum Of Solace trailer belongs on the growing list of people who ought to be fired: I'm sick of seeing the entire movie in the trailer!

That said, my brother was at the mall the other day and saw an advertisement for the midnight showing of the movie and called to ask if it was going to be a big movie. When I told him it was, he bought me a ticket to the midnight showing, which was pretty sweet of him. It has been a while since I was a James Bond fan. I went through that phase, right before Star Trek became my thing, as I recall. In fact, when I watched Quantum Of Solace for the first time, I had not seen Casino Royale (which this is a sequel to and I have subsequently seen and reviewed here!) and the only recent one since Roger Moore left the franchise that I've seen is Die Another Day (reviewed here!). So, I went to the theater tonight with minimal expectations and the general impression that I had seen the bulk of the movie from the preview. That truth resonated the longer the movie went on and I saw more scenes and heard more dialogue that was familiar to me from the trailers.

James Bond is driving his car through a canyon being hunted by gunmen, following the apparent betrayal and death of Vesper, the woman Bond claims to have loved above all others. With the assailants he is fleeing dispatched, Bond drives his seriously damaged car into an MI-6 facility with Mr. White stuffed in his trunk. Mr. White, it seems, is the member of an ultra secret organization that has members infiltrating everywhere, a point that is immediately proven by M's private security guard turning on her and Bond and springing Mr. White.

Ordered to learn who Mitchell and White were working for, Bond begins a hunt with a rising body count to find Dominic Greene, an industrialist supervillain who is posing as an environmentalist to raise capital to execute his plans for world domination. Bond encounters Greene as he is disposing of Camille, a woman he soon learns is an agent herself. Like Bond, she is out for vengeance for the death of a loved one, vengeance she hopes to extract from a Bolivian general Greene is setting up to take over the South American country. Bond must thwart the plans of Greene while staying ahead of other agents who are out to stop him, lest their collaboration be uncovered.

Quantum Of Solace is essentially a collection of "The Best Of James Bond" coupled with a serious motivation for Bond coupled with a lot of chase sequences, less the gadgets. This James Bond is not a step ahead by cunning or equipment or even innate talent, he stays alive through sheer force. The only devices Bond employs are the state-of-the-art cell phone (which seems to work anywhere) and a communication's network provided by Greene's thugs. Everything that James Bond does to stay alive, then, becomes a function of physical dexterity and slightly greater speed than his adversaries.

This ranges from the would-be tense (the opening battle between Bond and Mitchell is the one shown in all of the trailers, so it's more a waiting game through the falls for Bond to get his gun back) to the absurd. James Bond, we understand, is a clever, strong guy. Apparently, though, we are meant to believe he is the only one in MI-6 who has those qualities. As Bond's list of allies diminishes, he turns to a former MI-6 operative and an incorruptible American who both help him. One, though, isn't so good at his job. Neither are the four MI-6 operatives who have Bond in custody when he is bound and knocks them all out in an elevator. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but come on! Was Bond the ONLY agent MI-6 bothered to train?!

The other exceptional failure of Quantum Of Solace comes in the special effects department. Special effects are special when they are rendered in such a way that they are comprehensible. Sadly, Quantum Of Solace has speed, but not sensibility. Many of the elements in the chase scene across the rooftop and the subsequent boating scene occur at such speeds, with such frenetic camera movements that it is both difficult to tell what is going on and who is the one getting hit/chased/blown up.

That said, Quantum Of Solace works best in its quiet moments and there is at least a passing attempt to give the characters character. Bond is moody and motivated by vengeance and that works surprisingly well for both the film and the character. Of course, it doesn't explain why his libido is still raging if he is still tied up on Vesper, but one supposes it wouldn't be a Bond film if James didn't get some.

Bond is played off by Camille, who is an excellent foil to Bond, providing a level of damage that Bond is not allowed to. Of course, one might argue that this is just another way of keeping women in their place - Bond is efficient and compartmentalizes, leaving a trail of bodies that is formidable to say the least, Camille flounders around and cries and ultimately needs James to get her in position to attempt to reap her vengeance. Camille is interesting, though, and perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the characters of Quantum Of Solace is that Camille is exactly who she appears to be, a woman out for vengeance.

Also working the favor of Quantum Of Solace is that Paul Haggis co-wrote the script. Haggis is the writer and director of the amazing film Crash (reviewed here!) which is easily one of the best films of this decade. In this film, Haggis avoids making the obvious mistake of too many reversals. Indeed, from the outset, the viewer is more or less waiting for Camille to join the list of people who will betray Bond because of their allegiance to Greene, but Haggis keeps her focused on her own agenda and her desire for vengeance quite well. Because I am running out of opportunities, I think I'd like to take a moment to blame Haggis for playing into the current political environment. Only in a time and place where arguments are defined by people like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their agendas would you have a Bond villain who everyone is describing as an "environmentalist." Shame on you Haggis! And for the record, Greene is a supervillain, using the environmentalists the way other Bond-villains used the military-industrial complex as part of the Cold War red scare!

Quantum Of Solace is directed by Marc Forster, who established a pretty powerful reputation with his film Monster's Ball. Quantum Of Solace lacks the subtlety that Forster was careful to create Monster's Ball with. This film is big, bright and everything is out there on the screen. He does, however, make a passing attempt at creating some of the emotional resonance that his other films seem to have and the Bond less-the-wisecracks helps make for a more serious and dark film.

It is the acting that is superlative in Quantum Of Solace, though. Dame Judi Dench appears as the stern and powerful M, instantly stealing every scene she is in (much more than the dazzling special effects mechanisms her character is surrounded by). Mathieu Amalric plays Dominic Greene as best he can given the monolithic Bond Villain that he is. But Olga Kurylenko plays Camille with a real sense of pathos and ability that make the viewer instantly believe that she is truly as damaged and emotionally fractured as she appears to be.

Finally, Daniel Craig does great as the moody and cold-blooded James Bond. Unlike prior Bonds who use charm to get themselves somewhere, Craig plays Bond almost like a brute and that works for making the viewer believe he has been reduced to a vengeful man. Craig almost never smiles in the role and as a result, he plays Bond with a cool efficiency that makes him seem as isolated and alone as the character claims to be.

But ultimately, it feels like the most repetitive aspects of James Bond mixed with a new bevy of character elements that are distinctly not Bond. The spark isn't there and while this might be an average action-adventure film, it falls short of maintaining a level of quality one would hope would come from a James Bond film. If you have to see it, wait until it comes to DVD; on the big screen it is visually overwhelming/jumbled in a way that will agitate as well as disappoint.

For other films with Gemma Arterton, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Clash Of The Titans


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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