Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Quantum of Solace"

From its opening shots of 007 driving his Aston Martin while getting shot at with semi-automatic weapons and then getting rammed with a truck, Marc Forster’s “Quantum of Solace” makes no secret that it’s going to be a more adrenaline-fueled affair than the last outing, the much-beloved “Casino Royale.” As probably the most anticipated “big” film of the fall movie season, it’s a worthy (if not terribly memorable) follow-up that shouldnt really disappoint anyone. There’s something to be said for the fact that this is really the first continuing Bond movie, picking up immediately after “Casino” ends (the guy he shot at the end of that one is now in his trunk); in fact, the whole movie pretty much serves as an epilogue to that film, though only its beginning and closing 10-15 minutes are directly related. Daniel Craig reminds us again that he was the awesomely perfect choice for Bond, and the movie surrounding him is fun, fast, short, kind-of confusing (post-screening discussion revealed no one really followed the story) and never really gets stupid,though the explosion-filled climax straddles the line. For all its merits, “Casino” wasn’t really “fun” per se. It was a tad longish, with action sequences that seemed to be shoehorned in inorganically, while “Quantum” is practically kinetic. That was undeniably a better film, but this serves as a more successful “action movie;” There’s a lot of well-shot, brisk action and minimal pathos on display, for better or for worse.

What pushes the narrative forward this time around is Bond’s loss of love Vesper (Eva Green) in the last installment, and while he insists he’s not seeking revenge (of a villain, he scoffs “He’s not important, and neither was she”), he keeps frustrating M (Judi Dench) by killing people rather than bringing them in for questioning. After learning who was behind the circumstances that led to Vesper’s death, Bond sets his sights on Quantum, an elite organization so secret no branch of government even knew they existed. In a relevant bit of plotting, the evildoers’ schemes are dictated by the world’s running out of oil, and 007’s able to do much globe-trotting (with each location-establishing title card in a different stylistic font). Soon he meets up with with another chick who wants revenge (Olga Kurylenko), looks hot and gets minimal dialogue (and subversively, doesn’t sleep with Bond). If I seem a bit hazy on plot details, it’s because I am. While the convoluted nature isn’t the sort that frustrates or confuses you as you’re watching, it does result in you thinking things like “Wait, what was Bond’s mission in the movie?” or “Why did they go there?” on the way out of the theater. There’s noticeably less meditative stuff and emotional complexity this time out, but with Paul Haggis getting a screenplay credit again, maybe that’s a good thing (“I have no armor left! You’ve stripped it from me!”).

While the insane amount of action initially seems like a regression to the putrid, numbing Brosnan films, for the most part, the execution here’s pretty good. Another rooftop chase after “Casino” seems repetitive, and no less than three people throughout the movie are pulled out of trunks, but there’s at least a half-dozen extended memorable sequences that Forster actually pulls off really well (somewhat surprising, considering he’s never directed action before). The money shot of Bond falling through a skylight that’s been shown in all the trailers is thankfully, within the film’s first 15 minutes, and just as cool on a big screen. Just as impressive are a sequence where Bond jumps out of a plane without a parachute, and a score-less fight only punctuated by sound effects, where Bond brandishes knife and shoe, which recalls “Bourne” in a good way. But a set-piece during an avant-garde Opera, where the on-stage performance is cross-cut with information being exchanged between villains and, eventually, a shootout, is masterful and easily the film’s highlight.

It’s still startling what a fantastic 007 Craig is, and he’s about 75% of the reason this movie works. He’s always the coolest of customers, killing without emotion, or even facial expressions, but you can see sadness in those glassy blue eyes; this time around he’s a wounded animal, a killing machine with a broken heart. And yes, he doffs his shirt again in this installment. As M, Judi Dench is, as she’s always been in this role, one-note and delightful, commanding “Impress me” to Bond, and giving orders via phone while filling up her tub and applying face cream. As our chief villain, rogue environmentalist Dominic Greene (seriously, Haggis?), Mathieu Amalric bugs his eyes as wide as possible to compensate for the lack of a distinguishable villainous tic, but adds a seductive menace to his Omega role. Brandishing possibly the worst Bond movie title ever, “Quantum of Solace” keeps up the Bond tradition of hyper-stylized opening credits , and while I still am waffling on how I feel about “Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keyes’ collaboration, I quite liked the sand-themed sequence, and Bond purists should enjoy a nostalgic closing note, and a midway nod to “Goldfinger.” After “Casino,” which many consider to be one of the best (if not the best) Bond films, “Quantum” may not reach the nearly-impossible expectations, but as long as you don’t expect that film’s equal, you’d be hard-pressed to not be entertained.


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