18 February 2010

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace Still Missing The Bond Mark
By Kristin Battestella

Even after having such a love hate relationship with Daniel Craig’s 2006 Bond debut Casino Royale, I was eager to give his second picture Quantum of Solace a due chance. Unfortunately, director Marc Forster once again strays too far from what makes Bond, well, Bond.

Picking up where Casino Royale left off, Quantum of Solace has MI6 Agent 007 James Bond (Daniel Craig) tracking Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, The Young Victoria) and another Quantum leader, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) to Bolivia and beyond. CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and Bolivian Officer Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) aide Bond in infiltrating Greene’s environmental schemes, but Bond’s tactics are almost too reckless for MI6’s leader M (Judi Dench) to handle. How far will Bond go in stopping Greene and resolving his dead lover Vesper’s death?

I suppose I shall begin where a proper Bond picture begins and ends-with the ladies. Like Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace portrays women in very unBondlike ways. Craig’s Bond comes and goes with no partner, has a very brief night with Strawberry Fields (a wasted Gemma Arterton, RocknRolla) and skydives with Camille. Wow. Actually, we don’t even hear the full name of Agent Fields onscreen. Why even have a juicy, innuendo-filled name like Strawberry and not say it? Her hyped up and thus spoiled death by being drowned and covered in oil is weak in comparison to Jill Masterson’s fictitious death via goldpaint in Goldfinger. The scene is actually too dang brief, barely anything actually except a rip off thinly dressed as homage. Moreover, the complex, convoluted, heavy handed, and mish mashed plot gives us no reason to care. We spend more time harping on the late Vesper Lyn, inevitably tying Quantum of Solace as a direct sequel to Casino Royale. For this supposedly new, edgy, and rebooted Bond, he’s certainly spending a lot of time in the past, isn’t he? The drudgery doesn’t let the lovely Olga Kurylenko (Max Payne) shine, either. I’d like to see her return and get something more than all that woe. You can’t have both a depressing Bond and the tortured but beautiful leading lady. It’s almost too much of an emotional expectation for the audience. Are we looking for that much emotion in a Bond picture, anyway?

Of course, I can’t really say anything bad about Judi Dench (Notes on A Scandal, Nine, Mrs. Brown) and her continually strong portrayal as M. We get a lot of M again for this installment, and again, she’s not served well by returning writers Paul Haggis (Letters from Imo Jima, Crash, Million Dollar Baby) and Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day). The logistics just don’t add up here. Bond has been rebooted, so we visually might assume M has not been, since it’s the same actress. How, then can she not trust Bond? It’s easy to forget the same M is with a new Bond. We think we can rely on the relationship, but then everything gets turned on the dime. Likewise, Giancarlo Giannini (Man on Fire) as Mathis and Jeffrey Wright (W, Angels in America) as Felix Leiter are wonderful, but underused and exited far too soon. Their scenes might be the best in the film! I dare say the next film’s course should be almost a buddy picture of Leiter and Bond with pieces from Fleming’s 007 in New York. This fine support is being wasted amid obvious and boring modern commentaries that do a lot less than letting a talented cast strut their stuff.

Now then, let’s talk about the man himself. I’ve never really liked a Bond because he’s been so hot and sexy or dreamy. However, in Quantum of Solace, 007 going psycho, flying by the seat of his pants and always getting beat up is not attractive or appealing. Perhaps I’ve been too harsh in saying I hate Daniel Craig and his portrayal of James Bond. I want to like him and his Bond, but he’s so dang heavy! There’s no Brit wit, dry humor, or spy subtleties. For the next film, add some of the old traditions-Bond, James Bond. Shaken, not stirred. Q. Moneypenny- and Bob’s your uncle Craig could be the best Bond ever. Unfortunately, all this action for action’s sake makes Craig’s brooding Bond depressing and unlikable-and unlikable, James Bond is not. You’re supposed to like 007 and root for him no matter what. That’s why we’ve put up with some very lean films over the past thirty years.

Nevertheless, I’m trying not to be mean, for I don’t think Craig is without talent. I’m making a point to watch his other films, in fact. In Tomb Raider, (which I love) he takes hot showers, struts around naked with strategically placed objects covering his tackle; and after an unfulfilling close encounter with Angelina Jolie, he proclaims, ‘Now I need a cold shower!’ I always scream at the television, ‘Why can he do that as Bond?’

Quantum of Solace does have several visual and action proud points. The lesser shown, not necessarily pretty sides of locales like Italy, Panama, and Chile are delightful. The chases are on the one hand, exceptional-but count ‘em by foot, car, boat, and plane! A lot of the action is just too dang much, too intricate and complex and without the triumphant Bond theme to tell us when it’s really cool. Likewise the main titles, theme song, and hi-tech MI6 interfaces are sweet-but I keep thinking of how dated this heavily focused upon technology will seem in a decade. Speaking of technology, the blu-ray is sharp, distinct and clear…. but sensitive and a real pain when it freezes. Quantum of Solace seems so long and loud and headache inducing despite its short 106 minutes.

The fine action in Quantum of Solace competes with itself and can’t hold the viewer amid the repeatedly obvious plot of oil corruption and environmentalism MacGuffins. The intriguing introduction of the Quantum organization is ala SPECTRE, yes, but the geeky yet villainous Greene is again too seriousness and politically uninteresting for me to care. There are also a few too many side villains here, and it’s tough to tell who is who. For everything that’s potentially good in Quantum of Solace- like the realistic usage of different languages worldwide- we get stupid seriousness and obvious symbolism and ridiculously over done deaths. Not only do we never strike the right blend on this brooding roller coaster ride, but the absence or askew use of traditional Bond anchors is just too much. You end with the gun barrel and don’t think it’s necessary for ‘Bond. James Bond’ to ever introduce himself? Come on!

However…I do have faith! Now that everyone has gotten this brooding Bond set out of his or her systems; for the next picture perhaps we can have a few familiar laughs and light-hearted innuendo, traditional Bond music, and lovable friends like Q and Moneypenny. I’ve said it before I know, but apparently, it bears repeating: coughQMoneypennycough. I’ve even thought of ways for the hat toss to make an appearance! Bond could be in uniform alone and pissy in M’s office, toss his cap, miss the rack, break something, and thus a quip from the newly entered Moneypenny. Craig could even give a fourth wall glance to the viewer, making a silent coincidence to Casino Royale’s ‘I’m the money…every penny of it.’ Yes, I have that kind of time!

Quantum of Solace [Blu-ray]Unfortunately, as the British would say, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. When I had the chance to pick up one of a dozen copies of Quantum of Solace for $3 at my local library’s sale, I passed. Sure, I took Casino Royale when it ended up being free with my library volunteer discount, but there’s just an overall sense of blandness, blah, and meh that seems to follow Quantum of Solace. Craig lovers and fans of this new Bond turn no doubt own and love Quantum of Solace, but the traditional Bond aficionado can certainly do better. Completist collectors can find the DVD or blu-ray editions affordably enough, but the casual 007 fan or layman action viewer can do without Quantum of Solace. Ironically, there’s not a iota of solitude in it.

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