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Saturday, April 18, 2009

REVIEW - "Quantum of Solace" (2008)

Even after the time that has passed since this film’s release I’m still divided over it. Sure it’s fun, the story is enjoyable and Bond has never been so cold. On the other hand, it’s not even close to hitting the bar set by “Casino Royale.” Although, I suppose if I were to compare every Bond film to “Casino Royale” I’d have to call the whole series mediocre—Or, wait… What does that say about the series? Well now I’m in a conundrum. Perhaps instead of dissecting the quality of the Bond franchise I should look at “Quantum of Solace” as a film on its own. Sounds fair, no?

After the capture of Mr. White (from the previous film), Bond finds his priorities shifting from his country to personal revenge. Battling an organization linked to Vesper, Bond uncovers a plot to hold Bolivia for ransom by obtaining its natural resources. Allying himself with a former Bolivian agent, Bond tries to thwart the organization’s plans with the intention of avenging Vesper.

Being one of the more down-to-Earth Bond storylines, “Quantum of Solace” has a certain charm that maintains the idea that this is a new, fresh Bond series. Nowhere in sight are the laser-armed watches, transforming cars and shoe phone. (Oh. Wait. Wrong franchise.) And with the absence of these tools it gives more time to the characters. Right? Well…

The storyline’s “mission” tends to take away from the characters. It’s not that the story is poor; it speaks worlds about our penchant for natural resources and director Marc Forester made some valid points with C.I.A. Agent Felix’s misgivings. It’s simply that Bond’s character is so much more interesting of a story than what Forster pushes to fit in this movie. Extreme visual comparisons to how we value oil over gold today are effective, but when you have a chance to stretch Bonds’ character I have less interest in the mission.

Furthermore, risking the criticism of being too much like Jason Bourne, I think there’s a level of absurdities the Bond series should maintain.(Especially if the characters aren’t going to be center stage at all times.) Instead, Marc Forster throws director Paul Greengrass’s best “Bourne” shots at us—Delivering car chases and roof leaping rundowns with shaky camera work and rapid fire editing. This would be fine if it weren’t such a defining watermark on the Bourne series. Admittedly, the action in “Quantum” is no less entertaining. Go figure.

This isn’t to say that James is devoid of any characterization. He’s clearly upset and impressively furious throughout the film. Rarely is there a moment where you can sense relief from Craig’s stern expression. Bond’s lying and constant lack of expressing his feelings keeps him cold and hateful. For some this might be a turnoff, for me, it was excellent to see his character so profoundly affected by Vesper’s death.

While Bond’s descent in to a cold-blooded killer is quite obvious, some of his antics skew me in to confusion. While a Bond movie can’t go without him making would-be love to a lady, his reasons for doing so are muddled to the viewer. Is it simply because he’s suave and manipulative? I can’t tell if the scene was meant to cater to the hardcore fans or insinuate a certain tragedy behind his womanizing actions. Either way it’s slightly disheartening. Isn’t he trying to avenge Vesper?

While I believe Bond’s hardened soul is the most interesting aspect of the film, it also leaves us wanting more. I understand Bond is a character not suited for breaking down in front of an audience, but I wish it explained more about why he is... Well… Bond! Instead, he’s simply as mad and cold as all hell.

Veering off for a moment, I feel compelled to mention the rather interesting edition to the Bond-girl lineup. Camille Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko, is an unconventional “Bond-girl.” She has no romantic involvement with James, but her story is the same as the British agent’s—She’s out for revenge. The fact they’re not romantically involved is very appropriate as their commonalities are best suited for their mission and nothing more.

So where does “Quantum of Solace” sit? Accusations that it’s the worst Bond film ever are severely exaggerated, but it’s not the sequel to “Casino Royale” I was hoping for. The Bond franchise finally opens up with secrets about a character we’ve just assumed was an action hero cliché. Next, it silently hardens him, projecting him back to that cliché for future entries. Luckily “Quantum of Solace” avoids the cliché and keeps the action flowing. It’s not the best and it’s not the most exciting Bond film, but it’s good enough to escape mediocrity. If just barely.

**½ out of ****

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