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Quantum of Bondness


When I first saw this poster for the new 007 film, my thought was, “THIS is a James Bond movie?” The image — a handsome couple in tattered formal wear marching stoically as they escape a conflagration in the background — looks more like a Robert Rodriguez indie film. Though quite intriguing, it doesn’t scream action in the Bond manner. The original Ian Fleming short story, “Quantum of Solace,” takes place at a dinner party for dull guests, and this image seems to speak “James Bond’s drawing room drama.”

Of course, titles have little to do with actions in James Bond movies. In this case, Bond, played for the second time by the savagely efficient Daniel Craig, jets across the globe taking on an organization so mysterious that even MI-6 doesn’t know anything about it. The point man seems to be famed international environmentalist Dominic Greene, who is somehow tied up with a coup in Bolivia and mischief in Italy. Bond himself is still getting over that Vesper Lynd affair from CASINO ROYALE, and killing people left and right in an even more ruthless fashion than usual. It’s up to M (played wonderfully, as always by Judi Dench) to rein in Bond and keep his eyes on the intelligence prize.

There are problems with the title, however. In most James Bond films, you know what you’re in for. For instance, in a movie called CASINO ROYALE, you’re going to get a casino. In MOONRAKER, you’re going to get a moon. In THUNDERBALL you’re going to get thunder, and a ball or two.

So here we’re getting…what? A tiny molecule and some grief counseling?

Perhaps a larger problem is that new Bond director Marc Forster is one of many current action helmers who just doesn’t know how to helm action. (He does know how to shoot opera, however, as a terrific sequence set against the closing moments of Tosca shows.) From the opening scene it’s shaky cam chaos cut city, and if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a dozen times — the only times that worked was Paul Greengrass’s two Bourne movies. Much of SOLACE seems warmed-over Bourne, alas, from the teeth-jarring car crashes to an exotic rooftop chase complete with ample leaping from parapet to balcony. Dispensing with the luxury product placement set pieces that so often provide Bondian eye candy, SOLACE blasts from chase to chase on land, sea and air, as Bond keeps bumping off people he’s not supposed to be bumping off in search of something or other. Along the way he meets Camille, a shapely lass whose horrible burn scars don’t prevent her from wearing backless sun dresses. Sporting sexy bangs and a lithe presence, Camille, played by Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, is, in the modern Bond tradition, a girl with her own agenda and excellent skills at getaway driving and marksmanship — both big plusses for anyone who hangs around with a superspy.

Spurred on by his emotional emptiness and relentless quest to fill it with vengeance, Craig’s Bond is even more of a dick than he was in the last movie. He carelessly lets one of the few people he can trust fall into enemy hands, with tragic results, and blows another character’s shot at a long-planned vengeance by being a meddling busybody. (Also, while one doesn’t expect actual tradecraft in a Bond film, when you’re on the lam from your own country, using your real name all over the place seems pretty moronic.) The relationship between Bond and M is at the center of the film, as M gets called on the carpet by her superiors for Bond’s messes, but has to stand by him, even with all the heat. In the movie’s best line, someone asks if M is his mother. “She thinks she is,” Bond replies.

While there are the usual pleasures of a James Bond film here — some good action, exotic locales, beautiful women — the biggest problem with SOLACE (as in so many “updated” Bond movies) is that its faux-complex and worldly plot is just so much thin twine holding together a lot of explosions. During the film, since it was clear early on that nothing anyone said was going to have any consequences, I found myself pondering shot selection and wardrobe choices — when Bond sets out for the day in white canvas trousers, you know they will be badly soiled by noon, at the very latest. One example of the sloppy storytelling: Much is made of how MI-6 doesn’t even know what this sinister organization is and who is in it. However, that thread is just left lying there, with no gotcha moments that I could catch.

The villain, played by the busy, fish-eyed French actor Mathieu Amalric (also seen in MUNICH), is the kind of sophisticated modern baddie whose villainous plans involve global economics and water rights. Bruised Republicans will appreciate an ecological terrorist as villain, although scenes of water-starved Bolivians give some sop to conscientiousness. In the final battle, this desk jockey turns out to be adept at hand to hand combat, but apparently when you get the key to the executive evildoers’ washroom, it comes with a gym membership, as well.

In the end, the plot is a mere hodge podge of random bits with a MacGuffin so disposable that it doesn’t even have to be named. Overall, we’d rate this as a Dalton-level Bond movie. Craig’s dour, lethal hitman is fun to watch, but the setup is far too perfunctory.

Fun fact: The inventive opening credits were designed by MK12, the design studio co-founded by Matt Fraction. (Fraction left the firm in 2006.)

Unfunny fact: The song accompanying the credits, by Jack White and Alicia Keys, is by far the worst Bond song ever. Ever. I’d rather listen to Madonna than this. Please God and/or someone named Broccoli, just let Goldfrapp do it next time.

  1. Considering that NOTHING is worse than Madonna’s “Die Another Day” song and that the Jack White/Alicia Keys song is actually okay albeit not stupendous, I have to logically conclude from this backwards review that I will love QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

    Can’t wait until tomorrow night!

  2. 75% on RottenTomatoes.

    I prefer the more comicbook-y versions of Bond… beautiful women cast from Playboy (so that they will do a “Women of…” feature), cool lethal gadgets that any male (and some females) would love to buy, weirdo henchmen, a bizarre, mad scheme to Take Over The World, an opening sequence that is over the top, and a silhouetted nude dancing during the opening credits to a passable pop tune.

  3. Well, I saw the previous Bond movie and LOVED it. I will see this one and probably LOVE it. Action, drama, fast paced. For me, 90 minutes or so of that that is well worth 10 bucks.

  4. Nice review, Heidi.

    In a nutshell, it was fun. It wasn’t big (at 106 minutes, it’s the shortest Bond movie thus far) and it wasn’t too clever (the most expensive 007 installment, intricate structure is largely out; insane amounts of action in) but it served its purpose to some degree: it entertained. But lacking the slick direction of its predecessor, as well as the defined narrative, it just seems rather…unpolished.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s well worth checking out. But it’s more of a poor man’s Jason Bourne movie than a great addition to the James Bond saga.

  5. Gee, I wonder if in 40 years people will be discussing the latest installment in the Batman franchise in much the same manner, where the newness had worn off and people pine for the more pulp/comic aspects of the earlier films. A snarky part of me looks forward to the day when the George Clooney Batman is regarded as better than the newly released “Batman X”.

  6. …and in OCTOPUSSY, you’re going to get…pussy?

    As long as we live in a reality where there is a Bond movie called OCTOPUSSY, there will NEVER be a stupider Bond movie title. (Well, maybe TOSSED SALAD.)

  7. As a typographer and graphic designer, I must mention this: was it anybody’s intent that the gun symbol of the OO7 in this type treatment is aimed/pointed directly at Bond’s crotch?

    Or is it a clever device to make us all think about sex more, and thus want to see this film?
    Just askin’…

  8. So say that they do ” Portrait of a Lady ” next – do you think will there be action scenes taking place in a SoHo gallery? Will there be a lady present?

    Will there be a cameo of Paul Pope be taking cover as the bullets fly?



  9. LEA: See, that’s what I was thinking; it was either a “Hey Ladies, there’s something for YOU in this film also, in case you’re getting dragged to it by your action-junkie boyfriend or husband…” or “SUBLIMINAL PENIS ALERT!”, just like we got in the last WATCHMEN trailer.

  10. I liked it but then I saw Casino Royale again last night and realized it didn’t even pick up the cliffhanger. But I won’t get into a re-re-review. Very nice review.

    I read the title as a thesaurized version of “an ounce of rest” or something like that, i.e. no rest for the wicked as it begins soon after the first.

    I’m a fan of all Bonds and have to say, M-Dench is the best. Only she can apply moisturizer for five minutes in a Bond film and it’s good stuff. That was a def. point for this director.

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