Quantum of Solace which I revisited recently for the first time since seeing it in theaters.
In the aftermath of the fall-out at Casino Royale, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is trying to get Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) to safety for interrogation. White has ties to a completely clandestine organization that has ties in everything internationally; business, government, even MI6. With some help from an agent in deep cover, White escapes, but Bond is on his trail. The vengeful 007 follows the clues to Haiti where he finds Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a supposedly up-right citizen with ties to a charity focused on saving the planet. With help from Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman who wants to kill Greene, Bond discovers Greene's ulterior motives, but time is running out.
First off, I loved Casino Royale. It quickly went Top 3 Bond movies ever for me so I was naturally psyched to go see this follow-up. I came away....disappointed. Having rewatched the movie, I still can't quite put my finger on it as to why. It's entertaining throughout. Daniel Craig shows again what perfect casting he was. It's action-packed, it has that dark humor that the best Bond films had, and it isn't based in an out of this world environment where super-villains are trying to take over the world. So what happens? For one thing, at 106-minutes, it feels short. The ending is somewhat disappointing, but even that isn't it. Let's think about this.
Where 'Casino' had some epically impressive action sequences, 'Quantum' ratchets up that formula. Unfortunately, it isn't always for the better. And here's where I think the issue is. 'Quantum' tries too hard to be a Jason Bourne movie, not a James Bond movie. The action is cut so ridiculously quick with hyper-active shaky cam that it becomes almost indecipherable to watch. The opening car chase through the Italian mountains should be a gem, but it's almost impossible to keep up with everything. Not all the action is that bad -- most of it is very good, would have been great if we actually saw it -- including a chase in/around Palio di Siena as Bond guns for a double agent. Some encounters are quick (a hand-to-hand fight with an assassin) and brutally effective while others are on a larger scale (Bond flying an ancient plane through narrow canyons). It's weird to say this with a Bond film, but there may be too much action. I know. Sacrilege, right?
What isn't in question though is the continuing and developing character of James Bond. I don't know who didn't think Craig wasn't a great choice for 007 after seeing Casino Royale, but 'Quantum' should put those doubts to rest. This isn't a cardboard cut-out of a secret agent. This is a flesh and blood individual, in this case a highly trained, brutally effective killing machine gunning for revenge. Like an exposed nerve, Bond wants revenge and answers for Vesper's death (from 'CR'). He's fed up with the proper way of doing things, and does things his way instead. Craig makes Bond a real-life person, and that's huge. I liked the movies, but did you ever get that sense from the Roger Moore entries? Me either. Also, and always a bonus, Craig is a beastly presence on-screen, handling much of his own stunts. Badass much?
His supporting cast again is very solid for the most part. Kurylenko isn't your typical Bond girl, and like Vesper, she's given a hard, tough edge to her. She can handle her own as well, not a damsel in distress. Amalric's Green is an average villain, smart and manipulative but not a presence enough to be a threat to Bond while Joaquin Cosio is General Medrano, Greene's South American dupe. Judi Dench is a scene-stealer -- as always -- as M, Bond's MI6 supervisor, and Giancarlo Giannini is given too small a returning part as Mathis, the possibly treacherous agent who may have double-crossed Bond in Casino Royale. Gemma Arterton plays Strawberry Fields, a consulate agent who meets Bond. Also in a small part is Jeffrey Wright as Leiter, Bond's CIA counterpart, a criminally underused part.
Through the negative, there are some impressive positives. We're talking great positives. There are times where 'Quantum' is a frighteningly effective art-house secret agent film. Director Marc Foster shoots on-location in Italy, Haiti, Chili, Mexico, Austria and England. Some scenes are hard to top. Bond follows Greene to an elegant outdoor theater where members of Greene's organization are meeting in secret. The fall-out? A silent scene with the opera music playing over Bond's shootout escape is a gem. Later, Bond and Camille -- in their black suit and little black dress -- descending out of the desert is surreal, aided by David Arnold's score. The finale at a hotel in the desert is almost apocalyptic, making up for a lack of scale with a bizarre, other-worldly feel.
So where does this one fall? Not great, not awful, but slightly above average. What it gets right is a home run. All I can figure with the negatives is that it isn't a Bond film in the traditional sense. It tries to be what the secret agent movie has become following the immense success of the Jason Bourne movies. Worth watching, but not a classic. Bring on Skyfall!
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