"Bond... James Bond."
Yeah, it's a classic line. Never gets old, does it? Too bad he never says that. Not in the latest installment of the James Bond movie franchise: Quantum of Solace. He does make some bland comment about the vodka martini, but he's still grappling with coming to a "favorite" drink. I guess you could say that the teaser poster for this film is sadly appropriate: a shadow of James Bond strutting his way through a dry and desolate wasteland.
This second in the sequence of the new "Bond Begins" films, starring Daniel Craig as Ian Flemming's famous "007" character, is a continuation of the story that made it's predecessor, Casino Royale (2006), so brilliant. And then, it falls flat on its face.
I must start by mentioning how the opening title sequence pales in comparison to that of the last film. Quantum's pop single, "Another Way To Die", by Jack White and performed as a duet with Alicia Keys, is a decent modern-yet-classic Bond theme, but it just doesn't have the energy and emotion of Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" theme from Casino Royale. Also, the design in that film, which was reminiscent of a classic Saul Bass style (using all the shapes of the four suits in a deck of cards in conscious symmetrical patterns) played beautifully with the theme of the film's title and also hearkens back to an era when that design was more popular - the 1960s, where James Bond began. It was poetically retro and brought the entire character quickly and respectfully full circle. Quantum's title sequence looks like it's trying to sum up the essential pieces of the title sequences of every previous Bond film, adding nothing unique or special. Bummer.
As for the story, we pick up about an hour after the last film ended and we're taken through a terribly long and ridiculous car- and foot-chase scene - elaborately staged and beautifully executed, I'm sure, but you can't tell by watching it. At what seems like a rate of 100 different cuts every minute, it's hard to tell who's chasing who and who's winning or losing. And what's more, those shots are shaky and blurry, so it's ridiculously confusing and disorienting. Director Marc Forster delivers less of an elegant telling of a car chase story and more of an editing room masturbation sequence; a great lesson in how not to edit an action sequence. Then he goes on to do the same thing about a half a dozen more times throughout the film.
And ultimately, there's a very confusing, diluted and thin plot driving the action behind this film - quite a let down from a team headed by acclaimed screenwriter Paul Haggis, who has turned out brilliant scripts for Crash (2004), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) and In The Valley of Elah (2007), as well as Casino Royale. Forster, whose previous films (The Kite Runner (2007), Stranger Than Fiction (2006), Stay (2005), Finding Neverland (2004), and Monster's Ball (2001)) are usually more sentimental stories about the beauty of humanity, takes a stab at a genre outside his own and... well, just doesn't get it right the first time. The acting, the camera angles and the lighting are certainly all up to par, so he did fine on all of that usual stuff. But... substance, man! It's substance we lack! I just didn't get a real story out of this film. Lots of great characters and set pieces, but no tangible, believable context. The soul of the Bond character is all but completely left out.
Of course, in Quantum, Bond characteristically breaks the rules, defies M's direct orders and plays the maverick to a tee. But this is nothing new or interesting - it's actually horribly cliche. And cliche would be fine if this was Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton... but this is Daniel Craig. This is the new James Bond for a new generation. Casino Royale changed the game. Gone was the wise-crackin', smirky, swaggery Bond whose attention was more on his next "booty call" than on his mission. Here was a Bond for the new millennium, a Bond who reflected the world in which we live today: young, rugged, unruly and seeking an identity. That's something to which the movie-going audiences of today can relate! But in this film, we seem to be heading back into the old cliches again.
That's not to say that it's not an entertaining film. There are some unforgettable scenes, set pieces and special moments that certainly belong in a Bond film - like the business in the opera scene, the plane crash and the final moment in the desert with the villain (the brilliant Mathieu Amalric, whom you may know from Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005)) - and I must pick these kinds of moments out as a credit to the great Paul Haggis' talents. The newest "Bond Girl", Camille (Olga Kurylenko), is unlike any we've ever seen - she's just as blood-thirsty and vengeful as Bond, if not more so. (And, I hope this doesn't give away too much, but... he never even sleeps with her!) And overall, it's a great way to kill a couple of hours on a weekend (that is, if you don't go in to see it with a splitting headache already plaguing you, as I did - but I can't hold that against the filmmakers.) The action is intense, and there are a lot of familiar faces in the cast to cement the two films together and remind you that we're still in the same world.
But, after racking up a total production price tag of $230 million - the most costly Bond film ever - Quantum of Solace falls a bit flat... especially when compared to Casino Royale. It seems that all the gold in the world can't make up for a thin screenplay. But, then again, it's hard not to think that Quantum is just a stepping stone to a third part of a "new Bond" trilogy: a drawn-out and almost unnecessary middle story that serves only to get us from Point A to Point B. If that is the plan, then so be it; on we go to the next (and, hopefully, much richer) tale of Bond's trial-by-fire initiation into the world of modern-day espionage. But sorry, kids - Quantum just ain't no Casino Royale.