Wow! (That bit of shock is not for the latest Bond flick, but more about how long it’s been since I’ve gone to the cinema. Rhythmic thumping of feet against the back of my chair from the row behind, o how I’ve missed you. Seriously, I think it will be a meager winter for my cash at the theatre till. That’s why I didn’t do my annual “15 Flicks for Fall” post. There’s only a handful of flicks I’m excited about, and now I’ve just seen one of them.)
As I previously mentioned, Quantum of Solace comes to us with so much anticipation, due both to the meteoric success of the franchise reboot with Casino Royale two years ago, and the lack of blockbusters in the male-friendly genre since this summer’s uber-smash, The Dark Knight. What’s even more promising is that this movie is meant to be a sequel to Royale, set mere minutes later in story-time, so any lack of closure from that film should be neatly tied up by Quantum. Alas…
This movie starts in the high-adrenaline style of the new Bond: a motion-sickness-inducing car chase through the hills of Siena, Italy results in the destruction of two gorgeous luxury vehicles and the delivery of Mr. White (apprehended at the end of Royale) to the hands of M and MI6. His interrogation only leads to more questions, and more action (there’s a rough and ready replay of the roof-jumping opening of Royale, but this time it’s more brutal and less athletic than the first) as we and MI6 are left to wonder how far and how deep the secret organization that he works for goes. The plot/mission that follows is a sign of how far we’ve come from the old missions of classic Bond. MI6, now a much more elaborate organization, with the quasi-sci-fi kind of data and communications systems (including a touch screen interface that made my geek glands salivate! Sorry for the gross image, there) that is de rigeur in today’s TV and movies, is now doing what intelligence agencies do in the real world — gather intelligence. Even Bond, with all his masculine glamour, deadly charm, and roguish recklessness, spends most of this movie trying to find out who’s doing what and what’s going on. Unfortunately that makes this movie really disjointed. At least in Casino Royale there was a mission: Bond plays cards to bring down the bad guy. We seem to be flying by the seat of Bond’s designer pants throughout Quantum.
Along for the ride is new Bond girl Camille (played by Olga Kurylenko — a younger, bronzer version of Catherine Zeta-Jones). While it’s mostly happenstance and mistaken identity that brings them together, they also share a common goal: revenge. Bond wants just desserts for Dominic Greene, an environmental magnate/manipulator of global politics, who was responsible for the blackmail and resulting death of his beloved Vesper Lynd (from the last movie) — we miss you Vesper! Camille is interested in Greene’s new partner, a pig of a Bolivian general who Greene plans to set up as its new presidente. He brutally killed Camille’s family when she was a child. While Casino Royale had scenes of wonderful dialogue between Bond and Lynd that revealed the soul beneath the hard soldier’s shell, the anger and desire for revenge hardens his character again so that every scene seems joyless and cold (which is ironic since they spend a lot of time in Haiti and the Bolivian desert).
While I’ve been a vocal hater of Paul Haggis’s manipulative work in movies like Crash, with his involvement in the last two Bond scripts, I surprisingly find myself wishing for more emotional satisfaction in Quantum. It’s great that the new Bond is psychologically complex and the new Bond film is thematically complex, but I think we’ve become overwhelmed by the modern belief that ambiguity equals depth. While on one hand the movie tries to say that revenge is fruitless, and that there are higher things, there is also a sense that justice is never served when governments themselves get in bed with villains and look the other way. Bond can’t seem to get a break here. Despite his unwavering self-confidence, by the end of the film I’m not sure if even Bond thinks that the mission was accomplished. He walks away telling M that he’s always been there, but the audience is left wondering whether we will be. (3.5 out of 5)
What if I had made Quantum of Solace?
Well, there’s nothing wrong with the production values of the movie, they continue to be top-notch (I thought it was pretty funny how they made the CIA look like a bunch of slobs compared to the high-tech, designer elegance and sophistication of MI6). Neither would I change the cast. Everyone from Daniel Craig (perfect as Bond), to Judi Dench (who elevates the role of M into the stratosphere), to Mathieu Amalric (whose Mr. Greene really captures the spirit of a psychopathic, ruthless, world-dominating businessman but can express it through his eyes alone) are great in their roles. I would have kept the idea that there is a central mission to the film, one which actually needs the finesse of a precision instrument like Bond rather than Jason Bourne-esque bluntness. The story established a global network of conspirators, working with Greene. That could have been mined for so much more of a thrilling story, but in the end the theme of revenge took over (and even that was left to fall flat). I would have had the writers expand on that plot and bring down that organization in a more satisfyingly Bond way. Let’s hope that (while preserving the essence of the new Bond) they will go back to a more mainline Bond story next time.