There is a coldness to Quantum Of Solace that is palpable and, for many people, very possibly detrimental. This time James Bond is shorn of even the remotest shred of conscience, the senseless loss of the love of his life having DNR'd away any sentimentality he may once have had. It is a powerful subversion of a cherished icon, but a change in his genetic code that is essential to his survival in the world of today. If we are to take James Bond seriously, this is how it must be.
As most fans will already know and appreciate, the measure of a Bond movie lies not so much with its overall director as it does with its 2nd Unit team, the men responsible for the action sequences, and here with Quantum, Marc (acclaimed helmer of The Kite Runner and Finding Neverland) Forster is aided considerably by Bourne's speed-technician Dan Bradley and the stunt-co-ordinator for whom Bond has been the family business since the early days, Gary Powell, whose reflex-taut, whip-crack handling of more cardiac-arresting scenes of pounding flesh-and-metal mayhem than you can come away fully recalling, is second to none. With a first act that simply does not stop for breath, you may be left frantically trying to latch onto exactly who our boy is going after or, indeed, getting away from. But this devastating thrill-ride tosses clues and plot twists behind it like the broken teeth from a goon's mashed mouth. Commencing roughly an hour after Casino Royale ended, this, as you are no doubt aware, is film series' first-ever bonafide sequel. It may take in the exotic locations that the franchise is renowned for - Chile, Haiti, Italy, Austria, Mexico, Russia and Panama - but it moves so ferociously that you will not have time to smell the coffee at any one stopover. The spectre of the Bourne movies, or SPECTRE, if you will, still looms, but Forster and the inestimable Bond-family he has at his disposal, know that Bourne would not exist without Bond and, instead of being fearful of such a rival kicking-up a storm every time he goes on the run, now seem content to move back along their own high-calibre trajectory. So even if the impact of the other J.B. cannot be overstated, it must remembered that Bond came first and he will not be beaten at his own game. This is hard, fast and punishing. The relatively few lulls are packed with much-needed plot emphasis - courtesy of screenwriting triumvirate Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - or tantalising reveals of just how scorched Bond has become (you can really believe that for him to actually sleep now would mean having to knock him out with a helicopter crashing on top of his head first). As the new villain taunts him and his equally bereaved accomplice at one point, “You're both damaged goods.” This inner darkness translates to a movie that jettisons the fun and way-out nature of previous Bonds as if such traits as hat-flinging, killer-quips and gadgets had never existed.
Ostensibly driven by a desire to bring down the men responsible for Vesper Lynd's death in Casino Royale, Bond uncovers the existence of a super-powerful, very strategically connected organisation called, incidentally, Quantum. This discovery is made all the terrifying in its implications by M's sheer incredulity that something so big and so sinister could have evolved completely outside of MI6's and the CIA's radar. Couple this with a captured and battered Mr. White (a returning Jesper Christensen) merely laughing in response to the Secret Service's bully-boy tactics and the flamboyance and cackling zeal of SPECTRE suddenly seem about as threatening as Cbeebies. With his own vendetta taking personal preference over M's seek-and-locate mission, Bond finds himself slipping the leash and going rogue, gathering enough names and faces to violently scratch the surface of Quantum until he can find out exactly who set Vesper up to die. One man, Dominic Greene (played by the thoroughly charismatic, though surprisingly under-written Mathieu Amalric) keeps cropping up and Bond, continually crossing swords with him during his nation-hopping crusade, will learn that if he wants to get anywhere - and keep his own increasing hostile people happy - he will have to dismantle and destroy Greene's, ahem, decidedly less than “green” plans with extreme prejudice. You just know that a secret base somewhere is going to have to be blown sky-high at the end of all this ... just like in the good old days.
“You know who Greene is and you want to put us in bed with him.”
“Yeah, you're right. We should just deal with nice people.”
I've made numerous comments about Craig's similarity to Steve McQueen already, but here the physical reincarnation goes to its ultimate degree. Having commandeered a motorcycle and piloting it around the shanties of Haiti he would, naturally, provoke a nostalgic memory of Hilts, the Cooler King from The Great Escape. But when you dress him up in a very similar pair of stone chinos and a tatty dark jersey that looks like it has just been torn from off of that pesky barbed-wire fence, the homage is complete. And it is testament to the actor's innate star appeal that despite his character's far more limited dialogue, this time around, he still manages to exude absolute and implacable presence. Whether casually flipping someone off the afore-mentioned motorcycle, demolishing a lift-full of special agents (somewhat recalling Tom Cruise's getaway in MI:3, only much, much quicker and far more bruising), calmly raising an assault rifle through the gaping chasm where the door to his Aston Martin once was and sending his growling hangers-on to Hell on a benediction of lead, or simply striding into a hotel foyer with his dinner jacket ripped and covered in dust and blood, Daniel Craig lets us know that he now owns the part of James Bond. Be sure to check out the awesome moment when, after a little game of hi-tech eavesdropping, he arrogantly stands right before a gaggle of Quantum movers and shakers, brazenly showing them that he is utterly unafraid. It is a truly glorious statement of ultimate machismo. Even at the wheel of a vast DC3 rumbling through the skies above a parched Bolivian desert with strafing-fire from an enemy jet raking open the bloated fuselage, he looks perfectly at home. And just wait until you see the free-fall! Forget Roger Moore and his dodgy back-projection, because even here, dropping from the heavens at a hundred miles an hour, you totally buy into this guy being able to get up and walk away ... and still look good. No-one, but no-one makes bruises and torn suits look this sharp!
“Are you going to tell us who you work for?”
“The first thing you should know about us is that we have people everywhere. Isn't that right ...?”
With much more time allowed for M's briefings, de-briefings and lip-pursing exasperations at 007's increasingly itchy trigger-finger, Dame Judi actually refines her character with yet more style, believability and balls. Gone is the sappy “Well, I knew you were you,” mutterings and in their place comes reluctant Kill or Capture orders on Bond, a growing respect for his bull-headed efficiency and a very believable realisation that, although she hates to admit it, she needs someone like him. This is especially true when it transpires that she can't trust even those as close to her as her own bodyguard. Dench is excellent at playing someone with power and responsibility and, when it comes down to it, she is acutely hard as nails too. However, there was one dreadful moment when I thought we were actually going to see her in the bath!
Perfume-promoting Gemma Arterton's squeaky “Hello, Mr. Bond. I'm Fields from the Consulate,” may get, get, get, get on your nerves but her pouty Brit-class and porcelain skin dazzles when she gets dolled-up. Her now-infamous Goldfinger-inspired denouement may not be as scintillatingly drip-dry as Shirley Eaton's was, but you've just got to admire her fancy footwork on the stairs when a henchman foolishly opts to go after Bond which, once again, proves the reborn franchise's determination not to view women as purely “disposable pleasures.”
Strangely enough, despite a much bigger role and plenty of emotional workouts to tax her, sexy ally Camille just doesn't really register. Her story is tragic, of course, and her own mission - pleasingly harking back to For Your Eyes Only's orphaned avenger Melina Havelock - is certainly plausible, but for some unfathomable reason, I found her difficult to warm to. Perhaps this, in turn, plays into the fact that Bond, whilst matter-of-factly sympathetic to her cause, is not drawn to her in the classic 007 way - ie, the two work as a team under fire but not under the sheets. Ukrainian-born model, Olga Kurylenko (whose real name would have passed for a character's in virtually any of Fleming's novels) is startlingly attractive, though, and definitely supplies a hint of exotic sass combined with some hard-edged practicality. I love her balletic swing into the upper window of the desert hotel/fortress and her uber-cool ability to stroll across the almost alien landscape barefoot. Forster does tend to show us that burn-scar quilting her back a tad too often, though. We did clock it the first time. In a turn up for the books, even the movie's poster features both Bond and the girl with equal prominence, coolly walking out of oblivion as though returning from one helluva night out. Brilliant ... and pure class.
“James, I think she has handcuffs.”
“Oh, I do hope so.”
Bringing back Giancarlo Giannini's shady Mathis (love that voice!) is a nice touch that homes this particular Bond to his roots in Casino Royale. The relationship is different, but more resonant. You can actually sense the difficulty that these two characters have with one another after what happened the last time and there is a gut-punching symmetry to one of Mathis' old tricks that leaves a poignant sting that is compounded by the beautifully callous, yet still caring reaction that Bond has to it. Jeffrey Wright's slower-burn, dishevelled Felix Leiter is also welcomed back into the fold and it is smartly rendered just how ambiguous the whole spy game really is. A brilliant, but all-too-brief encounter between him and Bond in a dirty tavern provides some cuttingly acerbic Anglo-American relations. It will certainly be interesting to see how their, ahem, bond develops over the next couple of movies. Oh, and see if you can spot series producer Michael G. Wilson's obligatory cameo. Pssst ... here's a clue ... he's reading a paper in a tawdry hotel foyer a couple of floors beneath Bond's latest kill.
Almaric's Greene - all dark eyes and greasy indifference - follows the template of Le Chiffre in that, once again, we have nothing more than an underling in the organisation. An ideas-man. His big scheme is certainly intriguing and his cocky way of dealing with others who believe themselves invulnerable - dictators, politicians, liberators - is refreshingly casual as well as intimidating. Somehow, though, there is still something missing here. I'm not saying that we need a scar on his face, a cat for him to stroke or a third nipple on his chest, but there is little repartee between him and Bond that we can cling to. 007's grim determination does not seem to allow him the luxury of engaging him on any level other than physically - although it must be said that their axe-wielding brawl amidst a terrific inferno in the desert stronghold of Perla De Las Dunas is well worth waiting for. Almaric has said that his character is hardly a match for such a skilled killer as Bond, but that his utter craziness in combat is something that 007 is unprepared for ... and this is certainly borne out by a frenetic, flailing and fiery confrontation.
“I thought I could trust you. You said you weren't motivated by revenge.”
“I am motivated by my duty.”
David Arnold's score, this time out, is not as excitingly redefining as the one he composed for Casino Royale which enjoyed two barnstorming action cues and some neat homage-laden riffs. Here, the action cues tend to merge into one and his absorption of John Powell's electro-ambience only serves to remind us all the more that the rebirth of the franchise just has to acknowledge Jason Bourne's antics in its parallel espionage universe. However, the traditional James Bond motif, which until now I don't think Arnold has ever really pulled off with much style, sees some interesting Haitian influence creeping in and it is certainly reassuring to hear that 007 has now earned himself the full signature theme, and also to see that he also now gets awarded the classic gun-barrel walk-on and shoot the viewer shtick - although its at the end of this film, rather than the start. The theme song by Alicia Keys and Jack White, however, is a severe disappointment and it almost ruins the otherwise impressively surreal titles of Bond striding through fantastical desert-scapes and loosing off random rounds at the swirling environment.
“In training, they tell you that when the adrenaline kicks in, you should compensate. But part of you doesn't believe the training, because this kill is personal. Take your time. You only need one shot. Make it count.”
With awesome stunt-work and an utterly relentless sense of bullet-fuelled momentum, QOS packs heat like a wad of high explosive. That its resulting explosion sends a smokescreen of debris across some of the character's and the franchise's once unique subtleties should come as no surprise. With all and sundry lavishing praise on Craig's down-and-dirty, thuggish 007, the producers, quite forgivably, have opted to make him even more vigorous, deadly and streamlined. With a vengeance-driven plot and a dedication to revealing how unemotional Bond is becoming towards life, love and death, the film grips its own heart in a fist that cannot be bargained or reasoned with, snuffing out the boyish ego of Connery, stifling the sophistication of Moore and knocking Brosnan's Irish blarney on its smarmy ass. If anything, this Bond is derived from the frantic, punch hard, kick low and shoot-first ethics of Lazenby and the wilfully driven and deadly serious Dalton - sort of the two fused into one weaponised body. Craig, not as buff as in his first outing, but even more bestial, is also keen to prove his mettle in scenes of savage hand-to-hand combat (a wall-shattering apartment tussle is wince-inducingly enjoyable and look out for the nano-second head-butt), hyper-swift gunplay (cartwheeling across tables and double-tapping through windscreens at very close range), auto-adrenal athleticism (the car certainly becomes an extension of the man when Craig's Bond is at the wheel) and all-out, unstoppable locomotion. M's oh-so-quotable description of Bond being a “blunt instrument” has never been more applicable than here, with 007 becoming a relentless agent of destruction. He simply can't go anywhere without shooting the place up. Likewise her disparaging-cum-admiring acknowledgement that Bond had been chalking-up “quite the body-count” on his previous mission now seems like a gross political understatement - I couldn't put a figure at the number of his kills he makes this time around. And, hey, I like that
“Did you have to kill him?”
“I tried not to.”
That trailer-beloved shot of Bond and enemy swinging from ropes like duelling pendulums always struck me as a patently ridiculous set-up that would take this Bond into Indiana Jones territory, but the truth of the matter - once you see the full sequence, that is - is that this is one utterly superb set-piece. The amazing over-the-edge trip that sees us falling alongside Bond from a high stone belfry - the bells still ringing in our ears - through a stained glass window, and then onto and over the scaffolding is one of those incredible one-take money-shots that simply demands to viewed again and again. Sheets of glass and plasterboard, an unyielding stone floor just beneath their bouncing skulls adding yet more jeopardy, this is the type of excess that would probably be hysterical to witness from a static viewpoint - two guys spinning and cavorting around like homicidal bungee-jumpers. Forster does do something that may grate when it comes to repeated viewings on Blu-ray, though, that possibly devalues the dynamic rhythm of some of the more inventive segments. The early sewer-cum-rooftop pursuit that prefaces the above dangling-dilemma is intercut with flash edits of the Palio horse-race, perhaps emphasising the speed of Bond and his nemesis as they barrel along, but somewhat distracting from the main event. A later sequence details Bond expertly gatecrashing a supposedly “private” meeting between some Quantum members at an Opera first night performance of Toska, using ear-pieces and a tux (conveniently snatched) and his own Erikson phone (exclusive to O2, by the way - natch), but his truly enthralling exit from the establishment once the game is up - via gantries, pantries and dining rooms - is ferociously, though artfully, interspersed with an opulent death scene played out on stage. The fact is that Bond takes out numerous pursuers throughout this wildly designed episode, but the haltering use of the operatics just seems to get in the way of the good stuff. The motorboat chase - yep, as well as cars and planes, Bond gets mighty choppy as he bursts through the surf at Port Au Prince - does, I'm afraid, feel somewhat unnecessary, almost as though the makers had realised that five minutes of exposition between Greene, Camille and rogue Bolivian General, and sadistic rapist, Mendrano (Joaquin Cosio) was about as much as an audience could take before their next injection of adrenaline. But, saying that, it is still terrifically done, with Bond using yet another in a long line of hijacked vehicles as a souped-up bludgeon of defiance.
“Who do you work for?” Bond politely asks a guy he has at gunpoint on the edge of a roof.
comes the reply.
OOPS - look out, below!
Craig has been on everything lately, taking his dedication for the film's promotion to staggering new levels. But, despite sporting the most useless looking sling I've ever seen (to hold that damaged shoulder in place), and dazzling those pearly blues through coy squints, he still comes across as beguilingly shy and faltering - which, of course, only endears him all the more. Coldly efficient, brutally emphatic and possessed of the Devil's own determination on-screen, there is something uniquely disarming about his stuttering manner when not in character. But this is also a weapon that he uses to maximise his 00 persona. With today's media-accessibility and voracious celebrity appetite, he knows that if he comes across as arrogant, big-headed and self-adoring, the backlash, no matter how good the films may be, would be catastrophic. Bond is sacred. Craig knows this better than anybody else, and he's not about to screw it up. So whilst his rambling mumble in interviews dumbs him down, it also masks an ice-cool alter-ego that literally grips the screen by the throat and refuses to let go.
It is hard to imagine the Bond movies ever harking back to the gadgets and gags of the past judging by the recent double-whammy. But with Craig apparently signed on for two more missions, and with the sure-fire knowledge that the character can certainly move with the times and become the eye-of-the-storm for each new generation, there is probably ample opportunity for Q's and Little Nellies and cat-stroking master-fiends to return to the saga. The lack of quintessential Bondisms and trademarks can't help but be isolating and disconcerting for some fans, though. For me, as a devoted disciple of Connery's incarnation, but a true believer that Lazenby, of all people, nailed the part - thuggery combined with vulnerability, ie, when someone this skilled gets scared, you get scared - watching Craig's deadly kosh of an agent switch off and go for broke without a hint of a quip or a raised eyebrow in sight is purely inspirational. This is bloke's fantasy stuff - and rightly so. You want to be James Bond - just like the song says. But did you ever want to be Moore's dirty old lounge-lizard? Did you ever want the perfectly manicured hair and naff suits of Brosnan? Or the classical poker-face of Dalton? No. But Craig gives us - the lads who dream of putting on a DJ but would struggle for hours with the bow-tie ( like me); who aren't over six feet tall and blessed with pretty-boy looks (ahem, like me); who believe that kicking the stuffing out of a bad guy is only right and justified every time (definitely like me); and who take a pride in fitness (like me, but severely unlike every other Bond, bar Connery's animalistic truck-driver incarnation) - the perfect no BS, heroic role model to look up to. Escapism is all well and good, but in this day and age of ten-onto-one knifings and hoodies playing football with a have-a-go hero's head in front of his family, we need someone like this to prove that even us mini-Bonds can go the distance. Outdated Queensbury Rules and pithy verbal put-downs don't, and never did, work. You've got to hit hard and fast and give absolutely no quarter ... and, finally, we have a 007 who does just that. Hurrah! I saluted Daniel Craig for his barnstorming, genre-crashing Bondian-debut in Casino Royale ... and I salute him again for Quantum Of Solace. It is rare to walk out of the flicks feeling empowered and able to take on the world, but, by God, Craig's Bond taking the fight to the bad guys and stopping at absolutely nothing to get the job done, does just that. In spades.
“You know, Felix, I don't think you're as cynical as you make out. I know you didn't come here alone. How long have I got?”
“That doesn't give us a lot of time ...”
Let me just finish by saying that Halloween is my favourite time of year. My genre of choice would always be Horror and the nights of October would normally be totally consumed with stalk 'n' slash, creaky old Universal classics and the landmark fright-fests of the sixties, seventies and eighties. But Bond, James Bond has completely and utterly ruined it all for me. By not only coming out on Halloween and by literally filling the TV screen in everything from GMTV, Jonathan (naughty-boy) Ross and even The South Bank Show - you simply cannot move without Craig's face looming down at you from billboards, train stations, bus shelters etc - 007 has dominated this month in his, now typical, aggressive swagger. And with the first batch of Bond Blu-rays having arrived in October too, it seems that my trusty old Frankensteins, Draculas, American Werewolves, Poltergeists and Michael Myers ('s) have been well and truly nudged aside by brutal blonde Bond's bullet-boned elbow.
Ahhh, what am I complaining about? I'll be seeing QOS again tomorrow!
To be honest, I was a little disappointed that new Odean in Liverpool hadn't cranked the sound up a bit more ... but then again, I still have nightmares about the old Odean in Liverppol making a painful mess of Goldeneye by doing just that.
Ahhh, well .... I'm certain it will sound awesome on Blu-ray.Not at all the Bond of the old days, Daniel Craig's interpretation now thunders out of the camp excesses of the past, but somehow leaves a fair chunk of the essential charm behind at the same time. Now I, personally, don't mind this. But there is a considerable danger that if the reboot doesn't learn to embrace a bit more of its established culture then it will swiftly degenerate into just another series of action movies. Bond is so much more than that, but the evidence that his former beguiling, cocksure self is slipping away is certainly there to see on the big screen with Quantum Of Solace.
Ironically, that elusive element that many will feel is missing from this instalment can be identified by the film's very title. For here, there simply is no tangible quantum of solace - for the film simply refuses to slow down, or to take any prisoners. But, be that as it may, Bond is on fine explosive form and this proves, if ever there had been shred of doubt, that Daniel Craig was born to play this role.
Ultimately, this is NEW BOND and, as such, when held up against the character's “own” genre and traditions, it comes up short. But, when you understand and accept the required evolution that he has gone through, there can be no argument that NEW BOND is a clear winner. I don't think the film is quite as good as Casino Royale, therefore I am awarding it 8 out of 10. But this is an incredibly strong 8 out 10, folks.
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