So it is left to me to close Filmwerks’ retrospective look back at the Bond franchise and I cannot help but feel I have drawn the short straw. One of our reviewers previously mentioned that three can be a charm, but unfortunately this is only Daniel Craig’s second outing so it doesn’t look good does it? Had MGM not been in such a mess financially and the future of the franchise in so much uncertainty I had hoped to be reviewing Craig’s third instead (they wanted to release one every two years). Now we are likely to have to wait until 2012 to be allowed to move on. With three being a charm I’m sure I would have been raving about it. Instead I am left to close this chapter with what, for this reviewer, anyway was disappointing right from the off…right from hearing the title.
OK, Quantum of Solace is a title of a short story in Ian Fleming’s book, For Your Eyes Only, and therefore has a credible beginning, but the fact the name was settled upon mere days before its announcement is enough to set alarm bells ringing. It is by far the silliest name of the 22 in the franchise and, being that it was written as a sequel to Casino Royale, it feels as detached from it as the movie does.
Things don’t get much better when it comes to the plot either. We move on from terrorists to environmentalists posing as terrorists, or would that be terrorists posing as environmentalists?! I’m not really sure. After Bond and M (Judi Dench) discover the existence of an organisation, Quantum, Bond tracks down our super villain, Dominic Greene played by Mathieu Amalric, an environmentalist planning on staging a coup in Bolivia in order to take control of their water supply. With Quantum being related to the death of Bond’s love interest, Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, M is left wondering if Bond has his eyes on the mission or if he is driven by vengeance.
Green issues are certainly the running theme here: Greene’s surname, Gemma Arterton’s character Strawberry Fields, the utterly bizarre eco-hotel in the middle of the desert, hydrogen-fuelled Fords carting Bond around after he trashed his Aston and the small matter of the plot regarding water supplies. This was based on the Cochabamba Water Wars that happened in Bolivia after the private sector involvement in privatisation of the water meant massive price hikes that the vast amount of the population couldn’t afford. But it’s a plot topic that just didn’t feel current despite being about green issues and was trying to be too clever and “knowledgeable” rather than appeal to its target audience.
The previous film, Casino Royale, was just the franchise refresh it needed and brought Bond into a more harshly realistic world than ever before. It surfed on a wave of brutality and passion that hadn’t truly been felt before. Gone were the days of a karate chop to the back of the neck to bring down an assailant and in came a blood, sweat and tears approach that meant you felt every punch and glancing blow and you were exhausted with him after any bout of action. Daniel Craig was for many a dubious choice, but no one was arguing once they had seen him in action. He was buff and hard, yet soft and loving but most of all, he was believable. Oh and of course, he really did have the girls swooning at Bond once again.
So like many I couldn’t wait for the next time he stepped out with 00 status. Surely it wasn’t wrong of me to have such high expectations after the adrenaline rush that was Casino Royale. I should add here I have watched it countless times since and it is still as exciting to me now as it was the first time I saw it. But I think herein lies the problem. James Bond is 22 films old now. Along with the likes of Star Trek and Godzilla this is one of the longest-running film franchises and it has to have kudos for that to keep us coming back for more. Name me all the Godzilla movies – I’m sure there are few people that can, and with Star Trek, the franchise has all but been completely restarted from scratch. Ask any Trekkie and as much as they seemingly love JJ Abrams’ take on it, they will still be there tearing holes in inconsistencies with the original. Yes, with Craig’s Bond, formulas have changed and some of what is expected in Bond films may be absent but we are still being sucked into the world of his character and surely that’s one heck of a task for any filmmaker and writer to do with so many behind them. So does that mean I or any other Bond reviewer before me in Filmwerks’ retrospectives who has written a review that has been less than favourable is being overtly harsh? I’ll leave you to decide on that one. I’m still sticking to my guns on this one though.
The opening sequence starts with a very Chris Nolan-feeling artistic and subtle introduction to a 3.5 minute car chase. The camera fades in and out on the Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo with the soundtrack building. You settle down for what you think is going to be another classy picture and BANG, cue volume, cue ramped up excitement and cue…. Uh wait a minute. Unfortunately this isn’t Chris Nolan, instead it is Marc Forster who sadly seems to favour the Michael Bay approach. The opening 3.5 minutes are made up of edit cuts that are all somewhere in the region of a second long and that leaves your eyes tired before you’ve even begun. Sorry, but I thought we were watching Bond here and not Bourne! That equates to something like 200+ switches of the camera! You just aren’t given time to enjoy the action and you certainly cannot concentrate on anything that’s going on. This unfortunately sets the tone for most of the action in the movie. I don’t know about you but I’m growing very tired of this approach. It feels vast and exciting initially but once you try to get into it, it becomes aggravating and you can’t help but think it makes for slack film making. It’s harder to make longer scenes tense and thrilling, so it feels like we are taking the easy option instead. I for one can’t wait for this to be out of vogue in Hollywood.
The action just isn’t up to par of its predecessor: everything seems a little half hearted and formulaic. Parkour now seems to be the staple diet for Bond and after the wow factor of the free running in Casino Royale, this just doesn’t deliver. I would definitely go as far as saying that none of the action sequences here are memorable.
I’ve been negative so far so it’s high time I found some positives, and there are some. Craig is fantastic as Bond once more. Controversially, if MGM can sort their act out and release a Bond every two years from 2012 with him still intact with a Licence to Kill then I think he has potential to be the best yet. Yes I did just say that. I have also grown to love Judi Dench as M and her brilliant portrayal of the part has helped me to forget her fondly remembered character in As Time Goes By. Amalric delivers a convincing villain, although his part doesn’t lend itself greatly to being one that will be remembered and that’s a shame as you can see that with a better part, he could have delivered a whole lot more. Gemma Arteton and Olga Kurylenko play their roles accordingly but again are quite forgettable. Giancarlo Giannini’s, as Mathis, delivers yet another stellar performance and his death scene is without shadow of a doubt the best moment in this film and does actually move you. It was a brave move to kill him off as he was such a loveable character in the past instalment. Bond dumping him in the trash was cold and calculated and something additional to his character that we hadn’t seen before.
The score has once again been brought to us by the brilliant David Arnold and although the usage of the Bond theme is kept to a minimum he does a great job of accompanying the mood and the action. Jack White from the White Stripes and Alicia Keys on the other hand have brought us THE most diabolical James Bond song yet, ‘Another Way to Die’. Yes this was the first ever Bond duet but perhaps there was a reason for that!
For me this is the most disappointing of ALL Bond’s to date. There were several ominous signs during filming that things weren’t going to run smoothly: accidents galore, injuries to those involved, including Craig, an Aston Martin somehow plunging into Lake Garda and a fire at one of Pinewood Studios outdoor sets. And with Marc Forster surprised at being approached for the project in the first place (he wasn’t even a fan of the franchise) was it all trying to tell us something perhaps! To be taken to such new and exciting heights as we were with Casino Royale, with Craig’s Bond and its new direction, we come crashing down into this reality: that sequels are rarely a place to find Solace! Three’s a charm, I hope so. See you again Bond fans in 2012.