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For all the gloss and sophistication that is instantly conjured when the name of Ian Flemingís ultimate creation, James Bond, is mentioned, it is curious how many of the later films about the British super spy are concerned with his shattered psyche.  From the previous chapters starring the underrated Pierce Brosnan, the films became discourses about exactly how screwed up and sick in the soul the constant betrayals by friends, lovers and countrymen alike in 007ís choice of profession can make one.  This is the place where we find the current 007, as played by Daniel Craig.

Picking up directly where 2006ís Casino Royale left off, our hero is hell bent for leather on the trail of the last few pieces he needs to bring closure to a very big question, did his late love Vesper Lynd betray him as a double agent?  Scratching at the surface of this Pandoraís Box has released an entire consortium of bad guys hitherto unbeknownst to 007, his keeper ďMĒ or even by MI6, this would be Quantum, like the title.  The discovery of this vipersí nest leads Bond to his latest quarry, super wealthy ecologist, Dominic Greene (geddit?), whose public face as a philanthropist hides a green motivation of another kind.

This leads us to an important question about Bond films overall and Quantum of Solace in particular:  How important is the plot to a James Bond film?  Itís a query I put to Marc Forster, director of the latest 007 outing, who responded that the plots were ďa little bit secondary,Ē and heís certainly held up that time-tested tradition.  Whether it was gold robberies, kidnapping space ships, global media manipulation, or, in this instance, the current and eco-trendy prospect of water-hoarding, letís face it; no one turns up at a James Bond movie for the clever premise.  What you do need to know is that Greene and his cronies are now not only on the bad side of 007, but also a captivating female operative with a more personal agenda than saving the world.

Olga Kurylenko as Camille may be my favourite Bond Girl to date (- Excepting Goldfingerís wonderful Shirley Eaton, who gets an homage of sorts in QoS).  Despite being unrecognisable in tanface as the lissome Latina operative, the Ukrainian Kurylenko holds her own on the roleís physical aspect, believably dispatching foes alongside Bond and gives us a distressed damsel who only needs saving from herself.   We meet Camille as Greeneís plaything, another disposable bimbo and possible love puppet for Bond to vanquish.  Luckily, she turns out to be anything but.  Like Bond, Camille is the walking wounded and like any animal in pain, sheís a dangerous thing.  Mourning many horrific losses at the hands of their mutual enemies, 007 and Camille join forces to become a nihilistic team of righteous fury.  

Marc Forster is known for dramas such as 2001ís Monsterís Ball and 2004ís delightful Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.  Tear Ďem up action isnít on his CV and the choice of Forster (- allegedly at Daniel Craigís urging) is a canny and refreshing one.  Forsterís challenge seemed to be how to instill any form of character development when this installment is the shortest Bond on record and the action is jam-packed.  The pacing is gigantic improvement over the previous chapter, which was all gangbusters for the first half, but stopped dead in its tracks once it moved to the eponymous casino, never to resuscitate.  Thereís a bunch of breathtaking action set pieces starting right off the bat with an eye popping (- and blurring) car chase (- Híray! The return of the Aston Martin!) through the winding roads around Lake Garda in Italy and a stunning aerial dog fight and free fall over the Chilean desert.  Craig, much better suited for the grunt work of running, jumping, climbing and knocking enemies out than his predecessors, really seems to be doing a lot of his own work here and it only serves to let you know how nuts his secret agent counterpart really may be.  Thereís a reason why M keeps sending Bond on missions despite his inability to keep his quarry alive long enough to retrieve any intel.  The eco-Maguffin of a plot, which is meant to be relevant to this era of fading natural resources means nothing and youíre having such a great time watching all the rock-em, sock-em spy action that youíll never notice it or get any clearer idea of what exactly Quantum is.  Some might take that as a minus, but I enjoyed the tighter pacing of Quantum of Solace very much over Casino Royale, which I felt became bloated and uninteresting.  Also, this time there was a real connection between Bond and Camille, which I felt was absent between the agent and Vesper Lynd, who all his angst is about.  Never once did I buy that romance in Casino Royale and itís hard for me to relate for Bondís seething agonies since her death.  Camille, on the other hand, has a palpable chemistry with 007, which is ironic as she is the only major Bond girl who doesnít even get so much as a kiss from Jimbo.  Crazy, huh?

Big complaint time:  Why the need to turn James Bond into Jason Bourne?  As fast-paced as Quantum of Solace is, the first set pieces are awfully hard on the eyes, with editing that looks as if it was done inside an overheated blender.  Was that a fist?  Was that an elbow?  Whose car just fell off that cliff?  Quick, jumpy cuts that actually confuse the viewer and thatís a shame as the action seems to have been wonderfully choreographed.  Letís say it together, EON Productions, Bond is Bond, Bourne is Bourne. 

The other nudging issue is the lack of the little touches that I so equate with a James Bond film.  I miss the gadgets; thereís still no appearance by a ďQĒ and with him an opportunity to show off some futuristic spy gizmos.   Using some of the neat hologram effects as seen in Iron Man, the knick-knack rundown could be given new life.  The theme song, Another Way to Die, by Jack White and Alicia Keys, made me worry about truth in advertising.  Tuneless and annoying, this latest earache makes the patently awful You Know My Name from Casino Royale sound like Goldfinger by comparison.  Iím sure this kvetch falls by the side of character development, but egads I miss some of the shaken-not-stirred dry wit of the early Connerys. Granted, 007 is all business now and suffering deep, grievous wounds, but Quantum of Solaceís Bond is practically a one-note drone of oh-so-broody intensity.  Iím holding off a solid side-eye on the lack of personality until the next film, but lighten it up folks; Iím not asking for 007 in a clown outfit, but nobody likes a charmless Bond.

Feh, all trivialities to the visceral blast of this latest chapter.  This is action at its pure, popcorn-inhaling best.  The reprise of Casino Royaleís freejumping, this time through the crumbling, medieval architecture of Siena, the intricate structure of Bondís infiltration of a Quantum jamboree during a viewing of Tosca is worthy of a chess grandmaster, the aforementioned aerial dogfight and free fall and the boom-crash pyrotechnic opera of the filmís climax are all stunning.  Also, itís got the impeccable Judi Dench as a strangely maternal M, Giancarlo Giannini as Bondís rakish partner from the previous film and the amazing Jeffrey Wright as Bondís US counterpart, Felix Lightner.  Wrightís inclusion is almost a mixed blessing because in his precious few scenes, Wright delivers all the effortless cool the audience desperately wants to see in 007.  Iím still not convinced Daniel Craigís James Bond is completely developed yet, but Quantum of Solace is certainly a thrilling, kinetic, action-packed move in the right direction.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Nov 14th, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

Courtesy of  Columbia Pictures

 

 

 

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