Tuesday, March 24, 2009
In 2006, Casino Royale rebooted what had become an increasingly stale and bloated Bond franchise. With a furious burst of energy, Casino Royale served up a Batman Begins for Bond, providing a back-story for the British spy and recasting him in more realistic tones. A lot of people doubted that Craig could pull Bond off. There were even websites devoted to opposition of Craig, criticizing everything from his blond hair and blue eyes to his height (he is the shortest Bond at 5' 10"). But Craig proved to be more than up to the task, delivering the best Bond since Connery and one closer in spirit to the character created by Ian Fleming.
Judi Dench as M is one of the best things about the new Bond films (MGM/Sony)
Casino Royale set the bar very high and I went into Quantum of Solace with the high hope that it would build on that and deliver even more. But Quantum fell short of that lofty ambition. It lacks the freshness and punch that made you sit up and take notice of Casino Royale as if you were watching Bond for the very first time. Casino Royale was so good because it was re-introducing characters that we thought we knew, giving them new shadings and allowing them to actually develop some depth. Quantum of Solace doesn't take that time and care as it delivers a straight-ahead action formula with less emphasis on character and plot. Casino Royale felt very much like a fresh take on Bond, Quantum feels like Bond done as the Bourne Ultimatum . It also feels like a filler between bigger films, something made a bit hastily to satisfy fans and to insure that the renewed interest generated by Casino Royale was not lost.
Quantum of Solace does suggest that the franchise is going for an over-arching narrative across films as it picks up literally moments after Casino Royale ends. Bond is in hot pursuit of the people who killed his girlfriend Vesper Lynd. Along the way he picks up Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a beautiful young woman who is also out for revenge. Their relationship reveals that the film is trying to give a more mature spin on the Bond formula by not simply having Bond jump into bed with her (this was the routine for Moore's Bond). Like Michelle Yeoh's Bond babe in Tomorrow Never Dies , the relationship never becomes a sexual one. (Maybe we have producer Barbara Broccoli to thank for that. She grew up on her dad Albert Broccoli's Bond sets and she's been bringing a stronger female perspective to the series since his death.) Camille's need for revenge complements Bond cold-blooded quest to capture Vesper's killers, something he claims is not fueled by vengeance. But the film never takes a moment to consider how Bond's grief is playing into his hunt for Vesper's killers. Casino Royale would have taken a little breather to allow for some character development, but Quantum of Solace doesn't want to stop or slow down for anything.
Mathieu Almaric stars as corporate baddie Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace (MGM/Sony)
The plot involves a powerful covert international network of corrupt corporations that has its fingers in every pie. It may be the organization involved in ordering Vesper's death. Hoping to lead him to those killers, Bond has nabbed Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), remember him from the closing moments of Casino Royale ? Mr. White informs Bond and M that the nasty organization they are after "is everywhere, but you haven't even heard of it." This organization is so covert and so far-reaching that it even has a mole among the MI6 staff attending M (Judi Dench in top form). Bond hones in on one particular greedy corporate player, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric as a smarmy villain) who presents himself as an eco-friendly entrepreneur. Bond's hot pursuit of this corporate baddie takes him from Europe to Haiti to South America, and highlights the global water crisis in its surprisingly timely tale of international corporate manipulation and attempts to gain control of the global water supply. Water -- as the documentary Flow laid out -- is the new oil.
Director Marc Forster tries very hard to prove he's up to the action of a Bond film. But Forster is an odd choice for director since he's best known for art house works such as Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner . Casino Royale's director Martin Campbell was much better suited to Bond action. But Forster directs as if he feels he has to prove his action skills so that means we get a lot of fast cut, claustrophobic fights and frantic chases coming at us every ten minutes or so. Forster also has an annoying penchant for cross cutting during action, so we get Bond engaged in a chase cross cut unnecessarily with a performance of Tosca . But constant action doesn't necessarily make for a good action movie. We need to be drawn into the action and care about the outcome. Plus, the best action films (and I'm thinking Asian) use action scenes to reveal something about the combatants; the way they fight reflects their character. We got that in Casino Royale , seeing Bond's fierce determination in his fighting and chases, and in his improvisational skill at using whatever was at his disposal to give him the edge in a lethal encounter. But Forster just delivers generic action that could have been lifted from any of a number of other films. The only good fight is a quick one in the tight confines of an elevator. I wish they would put someone like John Woo at the helm of a Bond film - he knows how to do breathtaking action AND he has a good sense of storytelling and character. ironically, Forster doesn't excel at delivering any intimate moments, something that his art house films would lead you to believe he might be good at.
I have been a fan of Bond since I was a little kid. I loved Sean Connery but have been disappointed by everyone else playing Bond -- especially Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan -- until Craig. Craig's great. He delivers a much more realistic and hard-edged take on Bond. He's fallible at times and gets beat up a lot but he's tenacious and smart. Plus he's hot. That never hurts. Although Craig's Bond has little time for romance in this outing.
Quantum of Solace now out on DVD and BluRay (MGM/Sony)
This rebooted franchise - ably overseen by producers Barbara Broccoli and Michel G. Wilson - has pared Bond down to basics. So no more silly gadgets, no frivolous romances, no smirky double-entendres; just tough, blunt action with a chillingly focused and often brutal Bond. But while Batman raised the bar when it went from its origins tale of Batman Begins to The Dark Knight , Bond has not been as fortunate. Forster fails to build on what the first film laid out, and fails to further develop Bond's character. Quantum of Solace is a film that treads water - it merely stays afloat, not losing position but not really moving forward either. Even though Quantum of Solace falls short of the standard set by Casino Royale, it's still head and shoulders above any of the Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton Bond films, and it's much more realistic than any of the Roger Moore ones.
Quantum of Solace clocks in at 105 minutes, making it the shortest Bond film yet (I won't make a joke about Craig's height). Maybe that was a reaction to the two-hour-plus length of Casino Royale . The DVD and BluRay release of the film contains some nice bonus features most notably a Bond on Location making of documentary and a longer piece called Crew Files offering a series of 32 featurettes employing blog-based footage used on the Internet to promote the film and each one highlighting a different crew person. Very cool.
Quantum of Solace (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content) is a must-have for any serious Bond collector. And with the franchise looking to continue its over-arching narrative across multiple films, you won't want to miss anything. Although Quantum of Solace left me a bit disappointed, I have lost none of my enthusiasm for the direction the franchise is going and am looking forward to the next installment - Bond 23 due out in 2011. Damn that's a long way off! But I hope the extra time taken will result in a film more along the lines of Casino Royale .