Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Remember The Car Keys Next Time

While many have applauded the new direction that James Bond has taken with Casino Royale, the same would likely be scratching their heads wondering at Quantum of Solace, not only is the title bewildering on the surface, but the film felt like it might have all the ingredients of sealing Daniel Craig's stint as Bond, but yet also felt like a middle film of a trilogy, firmly continuing where we left off, but yet not being able to stand on its own for a lack of a clear and strong finish.

Of course one should not forget that Casino Royale had rebooted the franchise, but yet harbour the thoughts of wanting to see elements that the 20 Bond movies before that had established, with the Cold War sexist dinosaur spouting sexist dinosaur spouting sexual innuendos while dispatching villains with his license to kill, name dropping and sipping shaken martinis all at the same time. The look and feel is different here, though it fits the character at this point just fine, one who's still looking to be assured after what happened to Vesper Lynd left a very bad taste in the mouth.

So shall we start off with the Bond, and un-Bond like moments? We return to the formula of having the film start off with a bang with an action sequence. However, an extended car chase isn't exactly exciting to begin with, even though it's now a norm for Craig's Bond to demolish his very expensive Aston Martin within a few minutes of driving it on screen. Yes, for the car's aficionados, you'll wince at how the vehicle gets trashed left right and center. Besides the car, the lack of a quartermaster continues, so we don't get treated to any fanciful, futuristic gadgets besides a rather functional tracking device.

The stylistic opening credit song sequence with silhouette girls dancing got kept, though I did not enjoy Alicia Keys and Jack White's main theme "Another Way to Die", which I felt was one of the weakest Bond themes around. What of the gun barrel? If I'm not wrong, this is the first time it gets thrown to the end of the film, though this time round Craig does the proper walk-turn-shoot sequence versus the rather improvised one which was featured in his first film.

And what of Bond himself? He's still continuing with his fisticuffs, preferring to get down and dirty in the thick of the action, speaking with his fists rather than with his one-liners, which I think we can forget about with Craig in the role now. Gone are the innuendoes of course, as our Bond prefers straight, to the point talk. Still lacking in finesse, he still finds it liberating to finish off opponents much to MI6's abhorrence. He's beginning to develop his taste for Martinis here (versus his do I give a damn in Casino Royale), and also his deliberate living it up on MI6's expense. With few friends and plenty of enemies, this rookie Bond continues to charge ahead like a bull in a China shop, bulldozing people and property along the way.

But the weakest link of the film, and I hope it doesn't continue to plague Craig's Bond, is the villain. Granted it had very grey characters rather than the downright evil boss and his henchmen types, and some rather nice digs at incompetence or double crossings with other spy agencies like the CIA, essentially the villains' lack of over-the-top ambition in threatening the world, made them look like small gangs operating for small gains instead. The Quantum, an organization that is reputed to be everywhere, plays along its self-fulfilling prophecy that nobody has heard of, thus the audience never get to see how diabolical it can get, nor see anything beyond its intention to hoard water, the new oil in today's world. Bond fighting an environmentalist? Sounds boring, right? OK, so it ranks up there with his battling a corrupt media mogul in Tomorrow Never Dies.

The Bond girls seem to have taken a leaf from that same movie too, with the similarities too difficult not to note. Put Gemma Arterton's Strawberry Fields into Teri Hatcher's shoes as the only girl Bond beds in this film, being nothing much better than a flower vase. And surprise folks, Olga Kurylenko doesn't drop her clothes here, as her Camille steps into the shoes of Michelle Yeoh with some action sequences dedicated to her, and the Bond girl that James Bond does not bother to touch. Guess he's still beginning to realize he can milk his charm to have the girls at his disposal do things for him, so if this is early in his career, then naturally he hasn't gotten onto his Casanova player role yet. And there's a nice little homage to Goldfinger too, with oil as the new gold.

Director Marc Forster seemed to lack the knack for directing action sequences though, with everything in quick edits and delivered in a blur, that it's hard to make out who's Bond, who's not, that you just switch off and consider two stuntmen taking potshots at each other. The story as scribed by the Casino Royale team of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade also lacked some real, credible threat and urgency, and as mentioned, the villain of Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is as weak as, if not weaker than Le Chiffre. Lacking a distinct and strong finale, the saving grace in the plot would be sub-elements like how the teething relationship between Bond and Judi Dench's M continues to build with the development of trust, as well as the return of limited allies whom we're likely to see feature in future Bond films.

I think James Bond as a character and as a film continuing the franchise is still finding and establishing its identity in the wake of Jason Bourne, and it might take another film to finally get that clear before Craig completes his contracted fourth film outing as the cinematic world's most famous spy. Until then, Quantum of Solace would be classified as the piece that still has Bond groping in search for a stronger adversary, and to deal with some critical identity crisis.

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