Quantum of Solace

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 11/07/08 04:54:57

"The One where Bond doesn't say his name."
3 stars (Average)

Do the clothes maketh the man? That's the question that Casino Royale asked, rebooting the Bond franchise by taking him back to basics and stripping him, and the series, of many of its identifying touchstones. It was a risky move, and one that paid off with huge dividends, with Bond's best critical notices for a generation. Quantum of Solace takes this stripping back even further. There's still no Q or Moneypenny, but now there's now no ordering of vodka martinis of any ilk, no famous self-introduction and not one action scene is carried along on a wave of the famous riff. But as it turns out, the stripping away of these aspects is not so much the problem, it's the hollowness that lies underneath it all.

Kicking off with a bruising pre-credit car chase set mere moments after the end of Casino Royale, we're then treated to Jack White and Alicia Key's duet, which captures the drama of a Bond theme, but doesn't really trouble with us with a tune. The only time that a Bond film has arguably been a direct sequel to it's predecessor is Diamonds Are Forever following on from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. There, the pre-credit sequence had Bond hunting down Blofeld to avenge Tracey's death, a motivation quickly forgotten about in the rest of the film.

Quantum of Solace, then, makes an immediate impact by being the first Bond film to heavily rely on the storyline dealt with by its predecessor. Bond, still hurt by the betrayal and death of Vesper, sets out to further track down those responsible for her death, which involves infiltrating the mysterious organisation that employed Le Chiffre. This takes Bond from Haiti to Bolivia on the trail of Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almeric), a supposed environmental philanthropist, who has links with not just a recently deposed dictator, but with the British and American secret services as well. Accompanying him at various points is Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a Bolivian with an agenda of her own, and his new CIA friend, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).

The central drive behind Quantum of Solace is not so much a reaction to a specific threat, but a personal quest of revenge by Bond himself. This in itself is not new to the Bond series, as anyone familiar with Licence To Kill will testify. The difference here however, is that while Bond's trail of vengeance may be involving, it's a narrative that is drained of any sense of fun or escapism. There was a great thrill to Casino Royale, seeing Bond as MI5s rough diamond, without any of the usual tricks, catchphrases and gadgets to get him through, but that charge has gone here. Quantum of Solace is a curiously sour and dour experience instead. The removal of the predictable elements isn't the problem, as I completely fail to see the attraction of inserting the same moments over and over again, just to merely elicit a Pavlovian whooping effect. Instead, the film suffers because it's a series of setpieces and unpleasant moments barely held together by a sketch of a plot.

This is Bond as grim as we've ever seen him before. A moment where Bond stands over a recently dispatched assailant to ensure that he bleeds to death, before leaving without a comic quip, is arguably the coldest we've ever seen. The problem isn't that Bond is humourless (he's not as a moment of checking into a hotel proves), it's that the film is, and director Marc Forster never seems comfortable with balancing the character beats with the action scenes. The action is brutal and loud, but lacks the clarity and excitement that Martin Campbell brought to Casino Royale. We flit from location to location, but it feels more like Forster is aimlessly dealing out places at random than piecing together a coherent narrative. It's a mixture of singleminded revenge films like Get Carter and Point Blank, with the glamourous locales that we've come to expect. It's an uncomfortable mix at best, with an explosive ending that is frankly bizarre in its set up and completely at odds with the dark place of mind it leaves Bond contemplating (much more effective is the sinister and understated last confrontation between Bond and Greene. One of the few moments where you can clearly see what Forster was aiming for with the film).

It's absolutely typical of the film that the nastiest fate is reserved for the only character who cracks a genuine smile in the entire film. It's a moment that clearly references one of the most iconic scenes in the past films, and is powerful in its own right, highlighting the danger of getting too close to Bond - it just belongs to a better film, that's all.

Further sinkholing the film is the abysmal lack of a plot. Bond is tracking down Greene and his associates, but Greene's eventual aim is the weakest of any Bond villain. It's an attempt to give Bond some real life gravitas, but is terribly underbaked and is something you can't imagine any secret service being at all bothered about.

Cruising through the film with the demeanour of a pissed-off shark, is Craig. Regardless of the film around him, Craig is still an exceptional Bond. Weighed down with Vesper's cruel fate, this is a Bond who bleeds, who feels but still takes care of himself with a punishing ease. There are clearly some of the more usual Bond elements peeking through Craig's portrayal, such as his quick appropriation of a bike or his escape from a lift of four armed guards. But Craig pulls off the canny trick of making Bond human, whilst also portraying him as the coldest we've ever seen him. As he stalks off at the end of the film, there's a sense that he's still on his way to the Bond that we first met over forty years ago, but that in another film, Bond could easily be the villain. It's an interesting perspective that holds our attention through the chaotic action.

Dench gets more screentime as M than any other actor in the role, and their relationship is nicely played by the two, leading to one of the rare moments of humour in the film as he describes her to Camille. Camille herself is an interesting Bond girl - someone as damaged as Bond, with her own agenda - but Kurylenko has little chemistry with Craig, leaving their relationship frustratingly underdeveloped. Much better is Wright's Leiter, quickly becoming the definitive version and quietly stealing each scene he has. Most disappointing however, is Almaric's Greene. He goes for subtle, but the menace simply isn't there, and he comes across as a wet accountant, not particularly important and certainly not threatening, especially when trying to face off with Craig. The physical mismatch between them killing the drama of the confrontation, not helped by the small scale scheme hatched by Greene.

If one of the main aims of Quantum of Solace was to set up a third chapter for Craig's Bond of tracking down the mysterious organisation, then it does that well, with a definite sense of unfinished business at the end. But that's to its own detriment, as Quantum of Solace feels so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, that you'll be able to skip from Casino Royale to the next film and not feel that you've missed much.

A mixture of the cold, sterile world of the Harry Palmer flicks, Graham Greene and revenge films, Quantum of Solace is a strange, unwieldy beast. Only one moment stands out as being a particularly successful update of an old conceit (Bond interrupting a 21st century version of the super villain round table meeting zings with a cheeky style) and the flaws are glaringly apparent. Yet the more removed from my first viewing of it, the more inclined I am to be favourable to it. No, it's not great and it's worrying that just two films into the tenure of a new Bond, the reboot has wobbled, but a Bond film that is confident enough to not rely on any of the shop worn cliches, is one that seems to me to be worthy of attention and one to be given credit. It's a cold, dark, troubling film that rings hollow - yet it's these aspects, alongside its flaws, that slap you in the face like a an icy splash of water. I'm still with you, Mr Bond. But I hope the ride is going to get a little more enjoyable from now on.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.