Quantum of Solace
directed by Marc Forster
(MGM, 2008)

My wife loathes James Bond with the fiery intensity of a megalomaniacal supervillain, and my fondness for Bond films has earned a mixture of her derision and pity.

And yet my wife loves Daniel Craig to the extent that she has said on several occasions she would gladly watch Daniel Craig watch paint dry.

You see our quandary. However, her Craig lust was sufficient to get her to go with me to see Casino Royale in the theater -- and an amazing thing happened. My wife fell in love with James Bond, and her anticipation for Quantum of Solace outstripped my own. (Note: This doesn't mean she fell in love with old Bond, and she considers all pre-Craig Bonds to be posers.)

So we ended up at Quantum on opening night, and we both came out fully satisfied by the experience.

The film begins with a car chase every bit as thrilling as the free-running foot chase in Royale. For a guy who loves Aston Martins, Bond certainly puts them through hell. Unfortunately, it is followed with possibly the worst Bond theme song to date. Shame on Jack White and Alicia Keys for coming up with something so mediocre!

Fortunately, that bad taste is quickly eradicated by the interrogation and betrayal, scuffle and foot chase that follows hard on its heels, climaxing with a hell of a "wow" rooftop pursuit and explosive cathedral fight.

There's action a-plenty. The story, however, proves more elusive.

It takes a while for a real plot to materialize; for a while, it's mostly just a vague series of suspects getting run down and killed as Bond tries to get to the root of the conspiracy in Royale that led to his lover's death. But as things progress, the existence of a new global conglomerate begins to loom in the background; QUANTUM has the potential to exorcise the lingering specter of SPECTRE, once Bond's greatest nemesis until a lawsuit took the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge & Extortion and its seemingly immortal head, Blofeld, off the field.

QUANTUM apparently has its fingers in a lot of pies. This particular pie isn't all that tasty, though -- compared to meatier plots in the past to dominate or destroy the world, taking over Bolivia's water supply seems a little anemic. And, as the villainous Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric is too vanilla; he's acting evil, but you never really feel his evil.

But remember, this is the new, more realistic Bond, and the good comes with bad. Coating a girl with gold paint was classy, in its way; drenching a girl in oil just seems wasteful.

Of course, every Bond film is judged in part by the quality of its Bond girls -- excuse me, they are now to be referred to as "Bond women" -- and the pair here is neither the best nor the worst we've seen. Gemma Arterton as Agent Fields is cute, competent and fairly forgettable, if only because she's not around all that long to make an impression. Olga Kurylenko, as the revenge-driven Camille, gets a lot more screen time, but the character lacks luster. Fortunately, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini and Jeffrey Wright return along with Craig -- as M, Mathis and Felix Leiter, respectively -- and all three are top-notch cast members.

The film also uses some clever camera tricks to heat up the action, juxtapositioning a foot chase in the sewers with a horse race in the streets above, and a little backstage violence with equally violent elements of Giacomo Puccini's opera "Tosca."

Overall, Quantum doesn't quite measure up to Royale, but it's only a slight dip, all things considered. While each Bond film during Pierce Brosnan's tenure was a little worse than the one before it, I have high hopes and confidence that this Bond will get better and better.

Meanwhile, tragedies keep piling up in Bond's life. His mood, already grim, doesn't improve. I do hope he cheers up a little in the next one -- because being James Bond is one of the coolest jobs in the world, and he should get to enjoy it a little.

review by
Tom Knapp

29 November 2008

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