Eugene Weekly : Movies : 11.20.08


Quantum Leap
Bond flick flops on arrival
by Molly Templeton

QUANTUM OF SOLACE: Directed by Marc Forster. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Cinematography, Roberto Schaefer. Music, David Arnold. Editor, Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson. Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Judi Dench and Mathieu Almaric. MGM/Columbia Pictures, 2008. PG13. 106 minutes.

Daniel Craig as James Bond

In 2006, James Bond got a makeover. Gone were the cheesy sets and the over-the-top double entrendres; in were a brooding star (Daniel Craig), brutal fights, alluring location shoots and a certain level of reality more in keeping with the Jason Bourne films than with the Bond of old. Of course, the new Bond was really the old Bond, as Casino Royale was in part an origin story exploring why ladykiller James never lets himself get attached.

The reboot made Bond fresh again, but it maintained the necessary Bond checklist: shiny cars, gorgeous women, fight scenes, tuxedos and villains with needlessly convoluted schemes involving some faintly timely geopolitical machinations. It also gave us back something we’d lost somewhere around Tomorrow Never Dies: expectations. Casino Royale set a new standard for Bond, and we might’ve expected Quantum to do the same. Alas, the elements are in place, but the outcome is disappointing.

Action sequences: Within minutes, it’s clear that director Marc Forster must never again be allowed near an action film. Forster can muster a good crunching car crash, but that’s the extent of his action prowess. The initial car chase, like action sequences that follow, is shot too tightly and edited incoherently. There’s no connection between one moment and the next and no sense of context or tension in the rapidly cutting images. When the scenes aren’t muddled and jumpy, they make little sense; the worst offenders are a climactic string of poorly thought-out explosions and an absurd boat scene in which automatic weapons seem to jam up at the most convenient times.

Hot women: Bond meets spunky Miss Fields (Gemma Arterton), a consulate employee who turns to putty in his presence, and Camille (Olga Kurylenko), whose loyalties are not immediately apparent. Camille is almost interesting, but her fixation on vengeance leaves little room for personality. It doesn’t help that the writers are unable to imagine a non-M female character who does not need to be rescued. 

Cars and gadgets: After the Aston Martin in the opening sequence, cars are borrowed, stolen or otherwise not Bond’s. Without Q around, creative gizmos are a no-go, excepting an earbud-and-lapel-pin set used by the bad guys and a hi-tech information-displaying table on which members of MI6 shuffle and twist electronic documents.

Plot: In theory, Quantum finds Bond searching for the truth about Vesper Lynd, the woman he loved and was betrayed by in Casino. In reality, Bond spends the film stalking nasty businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric), who’s got a talent for installing new governments when they’ll benefit his nefarious schemes. Greene surely has something to do with Vesper’s betrayal, but it can’t be that interesting: Bond’s eventual revelatory chat with him is one of two important conversations that the movie skips right over, leaving us with the distinct impression that even the writers aren’t sure what was said.

Familiar faces: As M, Dame Judi Dench holds the film’s shreds of goodness together with steely calm. Bitter CIA agent Felix (Jeffrey Wright) is so dry and world-weary he makes Bond look downright chipper. Giancarlo Giannini’s Mathis reappears to share one of the film’s best scenes, a quiet moment at a bar, with a glassy-eyed Bond. Bond himself is a wreck: cold, detached, revenge-driven. Craig gives us a Bond who’s all icy stare and frightful efficiency, stronger, faster, crueler, more cunning than ever before. He breaks from the all-business demeanor maybe once or twice, but that’s a good thing: It’s Craig’s gravitas that holds the film together, giving Bond a singular vision that’s both horrible — he barely seems to register the number of people he’s killed — and vital. With another actor as Bond, Quantum would be a disaster rather than just a letdown.