Quantum of Solace is the first, we are told time and time again, “direct” Bond sequel in the franchise’s history. It starts “one hour” after the events of Casino Royale. In much the same way that The Bourne Ultimatum started almost instantaneously after The Bourne Supremacy. The film focuses on a highly trained spy/assassin breaking free from his leash and going rogue on a personal mission of revenge. Just like in The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. It has motorcycle stunt work in exotic locations – like The Bourne Ultimatum. It has roof-top chases, quickly-edited fight sequences, scenes in which heroes walk into abandoned apartments and get set on by a dude with a knife and have to go brutally hand-to-hand with one another. You know, just like… You get the point, right?
I’m not trying to be be facetious. Honest. But Quantum of Solace (its action controlled by the Bourne trilogy’s second unit stunt guy Dan Bradley) cannot help but evoke constant memories of that masterpiece esponiage trilogy. It constantly feels like a glossier, more silly, less controlled version of those audacious Matt Damon movies, in much the same way that Cliffhanger and Passenger 57 were much less intelligent but hugely fun “samplings” of the Die Hard series. The most obvious thing that separates the latest Bond movies from the Bourne movies (asides from budget!) is that whilst the Bourne movies used copious action to tell one fluid, kinetic story in each of its films, the Bond movies still feel like action set-pieces connected together with stuff to keep you engaged till the next action sequence.
Now, I’m not the world’s biggest James Bond fan and, in the past, I have admitted that I saw the “re-boot” approach they were planning to take with Casino Royale [a la Batman Begins] as smacking of desperation. With the Bourne movies being infinitely superior over the course of two films then anything Bond has done in twenty-odd movies, I just questioned what the point was in carrying on with this franchise. I didn’t rate (but do now!) Daniel Craig as an actor and didn’t really have that high a hope for the film but judging from the internet and from listening to mates down the pub, it seemed I wasn’t alone. Then Casino Royale came along and really, really entertained the living daylights (pun intended!) out of me. I had a blast. It’s not the greatest blockbuster ever made like the media would like to have you believe but it’s damn well bloody close in my opinion and still a great cinematic ride. The opening action sequence, combining some great stunt work with some superb wire-free parkeur (free-running), was probably one of the best movie set-pieces of that year. It’s an unevenly loaded movie in that it is completely top heavy. It cannot best the opening sequence, but it tries commendably hard with the airport chase sequence. Then it struggles to better that but serves up the (very Bourne Identity esque) stairway fight sequence as an apology. By the end they haven’t got anything left so it’s almost as if they just shrug and go “Hmm, let’s go sink a building in Venice then huh?”
Quantum of Solace has learnt from such mistakes. It’s extremely heavy on the action (a good 75% of the film’s running time is action beats!) but it never suffers from having shot its load too early like Casino Royale. In fact, this film seems to exist with a vehicular checklist sat by the director’s monitor: “We’ve done stuff with the car at the start yeah? Right, let’s do a foot chase! Got that? Good, let’s do a motorcycle set piece now! Right, moving on, bring out the boats! Good, good stuff, yeah! Now, roll out the aeroplanes and helicopters!” Think of this as James Bond in Ian Fleming’s Planes, Boats and Automobiles if you will.
Press kits and producers keep talking about this being a “stream-lined” Bond movie and the “shortest” in the film’s franchise history. This is for a reason if you ask me – the film ain’t got a lot to it outside of the action sequences. You know when a film is padded because it feels bloated and plays longer in your mind then it actually is. This is the case with Quantum of Solace which has a simple enough storyline (seeking revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd, James Bond sets out to stop an environmentalist, who has ties to a shadowy organisation responsible for her corruption and subsequent suicide, from taking control of a country’s water supply) but always feels as if it is making it much more complicated and sophisticated then it actually is.
It certainly thinks that it is saying more about our current state of governmental affairs, oil and the environment then it actually is. It also thinks that (and I’m almost certain this is a Paul Haggis invention) it is way cleverer circumventing the “silly name” Bond cliches then it really is too. The whole thing with the unrevealed Christian name of Gemma Artherton’s under-used Agent Fields is nothing if not predictable. It’s eventually revealed in the film’s end credits but Beatles’ fans will be one step ahead of the game regarding this anyway.
On top of this, the film very quickly falls back into “typical” Bond conventions – the return of the Bond theme as an instigator for all musical cues, the villain’s secret lair out in the middle of nowhere prepared only for the movie’s climax, the sexy silhouetted ladies over the opening credits, the horrendous theme song, uncomfortably unsophisticated product placement (Hello Virgin Atlantic!!) – that you thought were long abandoned with Casino Royale. And, while we’re on that subject, let’s discuss that Jack White / Alicia Keys “Another Way To Die” theme song. God it is awful! You hear it the first time and you think “M’eh!” but when you hear it in context over the opening, and then realise that it is used frequently as orchestral incidental music throughout the movie, it just grates on you so badly! It’s quite possibly the worst Bond song of all the recent movies. And bear in mind, how bad that Garbage track was for The World Is Not Enough.
That’s the grumbles aside though!
The epic foot chase straight after the opening credits is an exceptional set piece that marks Marc Forster (director of Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball remember!) as a guy capable of holding the reigns on solid action fare. There are moments when Forster and company try so hard to emulate in the action sequences the crazy-cam/fast-edits of the Bourne movies, that they disappear into the motion-sickness-inducing confusing territory of Michael Bay, but by and large the action is heavy, nothing if not regular, glossy and thoroughly involving.
There’s some neat touches outside of the action, along the way, too. I thought Forster’s location titling to match the locale as to where they were was brilliantly done. I loved Olga Kurylenko’s work as the mysterious Camille too, and she’s most definitely the strongest female character (outside of Judi Dench’s M!) that the franchise has seen in a long time. Less “Bond girl” and more fully realised character in her own right. She’s sexy, feisty and well written. Everything they told us Halle Berry was going to be in Die Another Day and then just embarrassed themselves with.
It’s unarguable that this is a thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining film. It is as exceptionally well made as you’ll have come to expect and as much of a Bourne knock-off as it may come across (you look at that penultimate scene in the apartment and tell me it doesn’t evoke memories of the finale of The Bourne Supremacy), it’s still a thoroughly solid action blockbuster well worthy of your time. It is flawed, yes, and it’s sort of “typical” Bond finale leaves you wondering just how well-mapped out this “epic story arc” is (that the producers speak of) and what the inevitable third movie can bring to the screen that three flawless Bourne movies and two Bond-led Bourne-rip-offs haven’t already, but it is a huge heap of fun action extravagance.
And, when it comes to Bond, do you really want or need anything more?
NB: The title doesn’t aggravate me as much as a) it did when it was first announced and b) the god-awful theme song BUT I still think there’s better. Here’s my TOP 5 suggestions for better titles:
5. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER – CUBIC ZACHONIAS ARE FOR THE LASSES YOU WANT TO SEDUCE INTO BED WITH MEANINGLESS FAKE MARRIAGE PROPOSALS!
4. AREN’T FOREIGNERS SUCH “MEANIES”?
2. CASINO ROYALE II: CASINO ROYALER
1. I WANT BOURNE’S IDENTITY