Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Apparently mediocrity is the new black in today's unscrupulous moviegoing audience, because the Daniel Craig 'reboot' of the James Bond franchise has been anything but deserving of its rabid following.

Since I've already, undoubtedly pissed in every bowl of cereal from here to the Prime Minister, let me clarify a few things. Quantum of Solace does not suck. Casino Royale didn't suck either. Both retain a lot of loyalty to the original Bond stories by Ian Fleming, and Daniel Craig is not a bad actor in the slightest. The new films have astounding production values which look gorgeous in both DVD and HD formats; and the action is brutal and effective. My real gripes with these stories is their lack of almost any interesting plot hook, ineffectual villains which Bond steamrolls over (more easily so than in past incarnations) and horribly dry, too obvious one liners which cannot live up to the Bonds of yesteryear.

I get that this is a 'serious', edgy James Bond for the 21st century audience who also salivates to the 'realistic', emo-Battlestar Galactica remake and similar retreads. What I don't get is how I've spent decades defending the 'serious' Timothy Dalton take on the roll from the complainers who are now salivating over Craig's very similar approach. Sure, the hair is a different color, but come on now. The new films have also had a little of the piss taken out of them by the recent Jason Bourne film series (undoubtedly influenced by Bond films themselves, but their action and cinematography is reflected in these new efforts).

But let's cut to the chase. Specifically, the car chase which opens this film with the same pulse pounding intensity as the 'parkour' chase in the previous movie. Action is not the problem here. You get gunfights, hand to hand combat, and a great one on one battle as Bond and agent turned traitor Mitchell fight it out admidst ropes and new construction in an Italian galleria. The conflict is brutal and edgy, painful to behold and thus effective (Craig was even injured during the filming). The film follows Casino Royale directly. Bond captures Mr. White to interrogate him and gain insight into the vast secret organization of old rich white men (but of fucking course...) who seem to control everything in the world. It's a damned Alex Jones docu-film with James Bond, but to be fair this has always been the case. En route to his revenge for the death of Vesper in the previous film, Bond runs into the crooked yet ineffectual villain Dominic Greene, portrayed by wide-eyed French actor Mathieu Amalric. Amalric isn't bad for the role, but there is little to squeeze out from such a dull character. Greene is even more boring and unworthy of an opponent for Mr. Bond than the previous film's 'Le Chifre'. And this one doesn't even weep blood...

The supporting cast is decent, but honestly, noone in this film has any semblance of a standout performance. Judi Dench reprises 'M' and acts much like she does in most of her films. Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton provide the eye candy yet aren't nearly as fetching or memorable as Bond girls of the past. At this point I'd die for a Plenty O'Toole or Honey Ryder. Dominic Greene's henchmen are likewise throwaway as are the corrupt Bolivian military officials. Craig is a decent Bond (news flash: they've all been good), but his one liners are cliches and most of his speaking roles are devoid of anything memorable.

The cinematography is astounding, the action is razor sharp and the locations in Italy, Haiti, Austria and Bolivia are all worthwhile. Marc Forster helms the film well. It's tight and snappy, never wasting much time (akin to the Bourne films). The David Arnold score suffices, though mediocre next to Bond films past, and the Jack White/Alicia Keys opening theme is sadly more miss than hit.

As loyal as this vision may be to its source materials, I really feel the film (and its predecessor) lacks much of the charm which made so many (not all, mind ye) of the the Connery/Lazenby/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan films enjoyable. Dominic Greene is no Max Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond's near death escapes and unbelievable streaks of luck defy the 'realism' defense made for this film, so why not hook us up with a villain to remember? Or a plot that dares to dream beyond the atypical point A - point B - point C revenge scheme. Since this is obviously a Two Towers type of film which is setting up the final part of a trilogy, I can only hope that the remainder of this mysterious organization will provide some real bang for the buck.

Verdict: Indifference [6/10]

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