Friday, November 21, 2008
Casino Royale that the producers of Hollywood’s longest running series wanted to take a hard left turn from the excesses of the Pierce Brosnan era, one need look no further than star Daniel Craig’s second go-round with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Quantum of Solace.
Like the previous installment in the reinvigorated series, the filmmakers, led by director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland) have made a concerted effort to eschew many of the Bond tropes that are so familiar they’ve come to be thought of as essential to the series’ survival. Once again there’s no Q, no Moneypenny, and about the most exotic thing Bond does with his cell phone is make phone calls.
In a first for the Bond series, Quantum of Solace picks up its plot right where the preceding one left off, with Our Man Bond on a globe-spanning search for justice following the death of true love Vesper (that was last time) and a threat to his boss M (that’s this time). Both films taken together give us the full arc of Bond’s journey from a wet-behind-the-ears double-O to the agent we’ve come to know over the past forty-plus years and twenty-plus films.
What it also does quite effectively is to give the story a sense of real world peril and real world plausibility. The main baddie, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, last seen with Craig in Steven Spielberg’s brilliant Munich), is a millionaire who has positioned himself as an ecological savior while secretly engineering backroom deals to pad the bottom line of the omnipresent QUANTUM organization (a callback, perhaps, to SPECTRE from the ‘60s Bond films).
Anyone who has followed the machinations of the World Bank and its forced privatization of natural resources in third world countries may find a whiff of déjà vu in all the villainous proceedings.
The brisk 110 minutes (the shortest in the entire series) doesn’t allow much downtime for martinis or other vices (those expecting a tryst, for example, with lead Bond girl Camille, played by Olga Kurylenko, will leave the theater disappointed). That said, there’s little doubt that this is one of the most action-intensive entries of the series. One can also clearly see the stylistic debt owed to Universal’s hugely successful Bourne movies.
The first twenty minutes alone drops us in the middle of a high-intensity car chase, quickly moves onto an exhausting, labyrinthine pursuit on foot, and caps it all off with a harrowing sequence involving ropes, pulleys, and a whole lot of shattered glass that has to be seen to be believed.
As Judi Dench’s M (reprising her role for the sixth time) says to Bond early on, "You look like hell," and it's pretty hard to dispute. This is a Bond who embodies his physicality, perfectly at ease in a tux, but never far from Ian Fleming’s description of the character as a thug in a finely tailored suit. As was abundantly clear last time around, Craig is absolutely magnetic, and he’s taken ownership of the iconic role in a way that really hasn’t been the case since Sean Connery gave it up so many years ago.
Quantum of Solace is Bond in full hurtle, presenting action sequences that are not only brutally efficient but emotionally gripping. Though it fails, perhaps, to clear the high bar set by its immediate predecessor, it nevertheless remains head-and-shoulders above the malaise that has braodly characterized the franchise for far too long, stretching from the recent Pierce Brosnan films all the way back, arguably, to the tail-end of Connery’s run.
While it’s understandable that long-term Bond devotees may be left pining for the days when the puns were a bit more plentiful, and the punches a bit less lethal, I for one hope they don’t go too far back in the other direction. B