|'); document.write(''); //-->|
Daniel Craig is back in Quantum of Solace, his second exploit in the world's most persistent moneymaking film franchise. MGM's new Blu-ray shows once again that audiences respond to the made-in-Britain combo of action, gadgets, girls and glamour. My observations below aren't meant to be overly critical -- I enjoyed Quantum of Solace quite a bit. What may read like nitpicking is intended to be the observations of an old-time Bond fan made rather dizzy by 007's evolution into an eccentric action hero.
James Bond (Craig) is still hot on the trail of the murderer of Vesper Lind from Casino Royale when he comes upon a new conspiracy hatched by the multinational philanthropist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric, of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Heartbeat Detector). Greene claims to be helping out in third world countries, when he's actually planning to corner the market on essential natural resources. Greene's private "security services" overthrow countries to benefit would-be dictators like Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) in exchange for exclusive rights. Bond rescues former Bolivian agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko), not realizing that he's interfering with her efforts to kill Medrano for the murder of her family. With Camille and his old Italian agent pal René Mathis (Giancarlo Gianninni), Bond goes after Greene in Haiti, Austria, Italy and finally a Bolivian desert. Unfortunately, Bond's superior "M" overreacts when one of her most trusted assistants turns out to be in Greene's employ. She misinterprets several of Bond's killings and recalls him for an investigation. When Bond refuses she sends a contact agent to bring him in -- shapely Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton). Also on Bond's tail is a C.I.A. hit squad commanded by renegade agent also in league with the crooked Greene.
Quantum of Solace is thirty minutes shorter than Daniel Craig's previous outing. Unencumbered by the need to introduce a new Bond, it comes off as more assured and balanced. Craig's new, evolved 007 made news by deviating from the classic gentleman killer played by Pierce Brosnan. Craig earns praise for his down-to-earth sullen pro. He's as much of a thug as Sean Connery, and an action doll like George Lazenby. He also channels some of the pissed-off rebelliousness of Timothy Dalton.
Actually, since 1988 and Die Hard, 007 has been playing keep-up with other action franchises and one-off thrillers. The Daniel Craig version seems to be following the example of the "Dark Knight" Batman. The emphasis is now on a rather simple 'sober' vengeance theme. Bond kills more deliberately than ever, but we're supposed to be aware that he's a deeply conflicted, moral type of guy inside. Basically, he's become the "Killer With A Heart" lampooned way back in Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York. A new fantasy for a new millennium.
When did Bond's leading ladies stop being exotic sex fantasies? They're now svelte supertoys, runway models with tomboy instincts. Olga Kurylenko is perfectly okay as the vengeance-seeking Bolivian secret agent, a paper-thin characterization. The series wants us to believe that it's progressed beyond bimbos, but when they threw out the sexist fantasies they left us with comic book window dressing. Gemma Arterton scored the role of "Strawberry Fields", a Brit station clerk who sticks with 007 just long enough to get laid and then offed. That's the same old Bimbo formula, really. Can 007 be a bastard with women and noble at the same time? It's tough selling this new Bond's "soulful vendetta" personality when he still engages in casual conquests that put his partners in mortal danger. He's the New Bond only in style.
So far the adventures of the New Bond have favored plain cops 'n' robbers action over grandiose sci-fi and fantasy. The bad guy is not a Supervillain but an ordinary business crook. Mathieu Almaric is a nice choice, but he doesn't have to stretch much to play the wheeler-dealer creep. And he's a champagne-swilling Frenchman, so we know he can't be trusted!
The escapist action is marginally less ridiculous than in Casino Royale, but still geared to the mentality (and reflexes) of a video gamer. Bond doesn't leap from helicopters to construction cranes, etc., but his fight scenes still strive to "keep up with the Bournes'es". The fast cutting obscures the fight choreography as well as the laws of physics, forcing us to guess that we just witnessed a great fight scene. The continuity-challenged chaos results in "impressionistic" blurred fights, with a thundering audio track doing a lot of the work.
Thankfully, outside of a few set pieces, the action is a little more readable, and at least one fight-pursuit is engagingly goofy. Bond corners a foe in an ancient building under restoration. Both of them get tangled in the décor and end up dangling from scaffoldings and swinging on ropes. We almost expect a Tyrannosaurus to swing by and snap its jaws at them, as in the remake of King Kong.
With vehicles it's the same old same old. Four boats with machine guns seem unable to touch Bond and Camille, even with clear skies and perfect shooting conditions. We can't blame the poor bad guys, as Bond uses the mysterious "Houdini" method of boat-to-boat combat: in a fraction of a second, he's able to change direction, cross fifty yards of water and run them over -- before anybody can get a clear shot at him.
It's all fantasy, of course, even with the new veneer of grit and slick editing. Just the same, it's pretty silly for Bond to cold-cock, out-shoot and pulverize dozens of lethal combatants during the course of the movie, only to suddenly experience difficulty in the final scene in holding off one lightweight wielding a fire axe. I guess Bond was distracted by the fireballs.
The politics of Quantum of Solace continue the series' ultraconservative agenda. The slimy bad guy is named "Greene" and hides behind a fake liberal smokescreen, a vague suggestion that all ecology minded activists are opportunists. Renegade pirate Greene, not globalized corporations, is the one responsible for nefarious plots to "privatize" essential resources, as described in the documentary The Corporation. As the franchise has been doing since the 1960s, Quantum of Solace's overall message is that England's secret service occupies a moral high ground in a global intelligence community overrun with corruption. The offenders now include the United States, which cannot control cynical sellouts in its ranks. Official policies are never to blame, just bad-apple rogues. The C.I.A.'s Felix Leiter used to be Bond's squire and cheerleader, but now he seems to be the only decent Yank spy in the field! 1
And the political slurs keep coming. Dialogue references blame Uncle Sam's quagmire in Iraq for everything wrong in the world, forgetting colonial England's historical role in the Middle East. According to Quantum of Solace, Americans "let South America get away", which presumes that South America's proper place is under our control. It also misrepresents current events by ignoring Bolivia's serious attempts at social reform, and pretending that the old Banana Republic myth is still the norm.
Quantum of Solace's ultimate slight to the ecological mindset figures in the final action scene. A Bolivian hotel in a desert wasteland is said to be powered by fuel cells. It only takes a little fire to make the entire building self-destruct like an ammo dump. That's what you get from listening to ecologists ... the next thing you know, they'd trick us into installing cancer-causing solar panels! We wouldn't be surprised to discover that disaster movie producer Irwin Allen built this hotel for use in Towering Inferno 2: plug it in and it goes up like a Roman candle.
As a production, Quantum of Solace is as slick as they come, with film units working all over the world -- except Bolivia, understandably. Director Marc Forster's varied and impressive filmography doesn't indicate any particular experience that would point to out as a good Bond director, but that's nothing new for the series. The extras make it look as if he filmed every action scene, when specialists and second-units have been enhancing those (extraordinary) sequences for decades. The dialogue scenes are also to formula: crisp and stiff-upper-lipped, with key exposition doled out so quickly, normal viewers can't be expected to follow. "Just fasten your safety belts", is all they need to say, because more dizzying action is coming up in 30 seconds.
Actually, in the "some things never change" department, the film has a moment that should have provided a much bigger joke. Bond does an about-face in the lobby of a fleabag hotel, pouting, "I'd rather sleep in the morgue". Now That's the snob we know and love. 007 goes from Italian rooftops to sunny beaches to ultra slick futuristic sets, but the closest he gets to human reality is when he lowers his standards to ride in a beat-up VW. These are hard times, you know, we all have to sacrifice!
MGM's Blu-ray of Quantum of Solace -- "The Ultimate High-Definition Experience" -- has the expected top-notch transfer and encoding of the hit movie. The umpteen hundreds of millions this pulled in worldwide precludes Danjaq from having to pay attention to anything but the flow of armored cars carrying their profits. The show contains a modest set of extras, perhaps indicating future special editions with commentaries and deleted scenes. The featurettes are well produced, EPK oriented short subjects long on gloss and naturally on the superficial side, with installments on the locations, Olga Kurylenko, Daniel Craig, director Forster, and the David Arnold music score. The usual assortment of teasers and trailers accompany a music video and some behind-the-scenes clips. Bond fans will not feel short-changed.
The title Quantum of Solace comes from an Ian Fleming short story; maybe we'll soon be seeing a franchise entry entitled The Hildebrand Rarity. It's another Fleming short story, a quiet little non-adventure about a pleasure cruise, an unhappy woman and a poisonous tropical fish! 2
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Quantum of Solace Blu-ray rates:
1. We hope that the low-key, expressive Jeffrey Wright remains in the series for more than two installments, unlike Giancarlo Giannini's René Mathis. The Bond franchise has been killing off or disposing of its interesting secondary characters for years. Do they do that before the actors can ask for more money? Actor's agents are tough!
2. Note from Gary Teetzel, March 23, 2009:
(Yes, I am being sarcastic.) -- Gary
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the 2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.