More noise than signal

Quantum of Solace

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Well, I suppose Casino Royale One and a Half wouldn’t necessarily be a better name, although it’s hard to think of one worse than Quantum of Solace, but it would certainly be a lot more descriptive. Picking up the narrative more or less directly from the last film, we follow Daniel Craig’s impersonation of Jason Bourne as he tries to follow the trail of the mysterious criminal cartel that offed his bird and attempts to off his mother. Well, M (Judi Dench), at least.

The trail goes directly through Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric) who appears to be operating a tree hugging eco-business but that is secretly a front for the aforementioned shower of government destabilising, junta supporting corruption mongers. Supporting breasts belong to ex-Bolivian secret service bird (Olga Kurylenko) who has no-doubt has some tragic backstory that I couldn’t bring myself to care much about.

Right, before I set off on extended rants of somewhat tangential concerns, let’s get this out of the way: Quantum of Solace is a pretty decent film tending towards being a pretty good film. If you liked Casino Royale, you’ll like this, because it’s much the same film. If you liked The Bourne Identity, you’ll like this, because it’s much the same film. If, however, you like Bond films, then the case is a little less clear.

How art thee not a Bond film? Let me count the ways. There’s no Bond villain. In general, a Bond film is only ever as good as the evil he faces. Think of Chris Walken’s cackling Max Zorin, or Donald Pleasence’s sinister Blofeld, or Christopher Lee’s even more sinster, oddly titted Scaramanga . Into this line we’re now forced to insert Dominic Greene, who simply has no presence whatsoever. Neither physically or verbally intimidating, Greene isn’t a Bond villain. He’s a middle manager. This guy makes even Jonathan Pryce’s Rupert Murdoch impression seem credible.

There’s no Bond music. I don’t know what that god-awful caterwauling that Jack Black and Alicia Keys have belched our way is, but it’s hardly music, let alone a Bond theme. No use of the iconic Bond music until the end credits? Do one. If you’re going to call yourself a Bond film, accept that certain thing go with the territory.

While we’re on the subject, there’s no Bond gadgets. Okay, it’s fashionable to knock them as silly, but they’ve been a part of Bond’s ethos for just about as long as it’s been possible to say it’s an ethos. I’m not petitioning for a return of the Hover Gondola or the Invisible Car or anything, but it’d be nice to break Q branch out of mothballs at some point. Although I suppose there’s some evidence of their handiwork in the ridiculous Minority Report-esque computer system MI6 are apparently rocking these days.

So, what’s left of the essential ingredients of a Bond film? Action, I suppose. There’s certainly plenty of that in Quantum of Solace. So much, in fact, that the only way to cram all of it in is to edit it together in such a way that no one camera angle remains on screen for more than half of a second. The opening salvo of a car chase is the pinnacle of ADHD jumpcut editing, and while it thankfully calms down somewhat later on it never fades entirely and always remains a source of low-grade irritation throughout. But again, you’ve seen the Bourne films. You know what to expect.

The other element, of course, is Bond himself, and here things start to pick up somewhat. The one thing Quantum of Solace does really well is develop Bond’s character. Daniel Craig is dependably excellent throughout, and as a reboot of the character our new Bond is more compelling than he has been in decades. With a sound and believable setup now in place for the womanising, attachment-phobic Bond of the ‘later’ films, depending on how the chronology of the films match the books, if at all, the Bond character is in a very strong position indeed.

Now, I understand the desire, and arguably the need, to reinvent Bond (again) to make him more relevant to modern audiences (again). While this time around it’s producing better, more enjoyable round than the Dalton Era attempt, I’m still not convinced that there’s a massive need to stray this far away from everything that’s made Bond Bond, and a track record of twenty odd films over four decades would seem to point to the fact that people liked Bond well enough just the way he is.

Of course, the box office taken proves that the new Bond is something of a draw as well, although I suppose buying every advertising slot in the country for the last month will put something of a dent in that once the final beancounting is done.

Enough moaning. The interesting thing going forward will be whether elements of the old iconic Bond can be successfully fused with the momentum of the new Bourneian Bond to make something truly interesting, or whether they drive this gritty ‘realism’ into a smoking crater in the ground. I’m not opposed to embracing and extending elements of the Bourne films that made them so interesting, but if I want to see a Bourne film I’ve three sat over there on the shelf and more in the pipeline. When I go to see a Bond film I want to see a Bond film, dammit, not this impostor.

Some, more balanced people would say I’m exaggerating somewhat for effect, and they are of course correct. You could apply most of the above to Casino Royale as well, they might point out, and they’d be correct again. As a card carrying hypocrite, Casino Royale gets a pass because it’s so damn enjoyable. This isn’t, so it doesn’t.

That said, I don’t think too many people will walk away overly disappointed from Quantum of Solace, and certainly not to the extent of feeling robbed out of the entrance fee. I’m sure however, that most will think that it’s not quite as good as Casino Royale, and feel that it had far less impact than Casino Royale. Maybe, somewhere at the back of their mind, they might be hankering for something that’s a bit more recognisable as, well, the most successful and long lived franchise in the history of cinema.

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