Reviews

Quantum of Solace

2

Bond ain’t broke. So why are they trying to fix him?

 

And it had all started so well. Buoyed by Daniel Craig’s blue-eyed muscularity, tougher action and a complex, intelligent storyline taken directly from Ian Fleming himself, Casino Royale did the unthinkable – it made Bond cool again.

Whether you put it down to an overdue re-boot, a back-to-basics retrench or a cynical Jason Bourne theft, there was no doubt Her Majesty’s most famous Secret Serviceman had a spring in his step. Where would he go next, we wondered. And would he bring along his trunks?

Bond Ambition

One naff title, two nasty Italian car accidents and a resigned director (Roger Michell) later, we all found out.

Yes, Craig’s second Bond and helmer Marc Forster’s first ticked most of the boxes when it made its eagerly anticipated debut – audiences were sufficiently tickled by the crunching chase on the banks of Lake Garda and body-slamming foot pursuit through Siena to overlook its subsequent narrative contortions. With the benefit of hindsight, though, Forster’s brave attempt to reinvent the Bondian wheel appears less audaciously admirable than clunkily self-destructive.

There’s no denying the Finding Neverland director brings a sleek visual aesthetic to the party, assisted by his regular DoP Roberto Schaefer and a variety of eye-catching locations (Chile’s moon-like Atacama Desert, Panama’s bustling hubbub) and striking architectural finds (the fake opera house in Bregenz, the European Southern Observatory’s futuristic hotel).

Italian and Austrian sojourns apart, though, Bond does seem to spend an awfully long time trudging through various South American shitholes. There was a time this franchise showed us exotic settings we could never afford to go to ourselves. These days, 007 tends to specialise in places you’d hesitate to visit without an armed escort.

It’s not where Bond goes that really matters, however, but what he does when he gets there. And it’s here that the returning script team of Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade really fall down, embroiling 007 in a conspiracy so convoluted even Dame Judi looks confused.

There are some effective moments en route: the aerial dogfight, for example, or the restaurant shoot-out that Forster smartly intercuts with the death scene from Tosca. But the sequence where Bond and Olga Kurylenko’s revenge-seeking damsel are stuck in a hole proves a fitting symbol for a script that never seems sure where it’s going. It’s also chock-full of the kind of rueful self-absorption and hefty emotional baggage that are increasingly becoming the Bond films’ stocks in trade.

Missing a quip

Part of this is down to Craig himself, Quantum’s greatest asset and yet, weirdly, also its biggest liability.

Legitimised by Casino’s success, the actor clearly feels he has a mandate to explore 007’s fractured psyche – the scenes where he cradles an expiring colleague or gets quietly pissed on a transatlantic flight are among the most memorable in the film. But such a rigorous approach precludes any alleviating levity, Craig seeming either unwilling or unable to filter his portrayal with anything approaching good humour.

No wonder Gemma Arterton’s flirty Fields – first name Strawberry, apparently – barely registers in the Bolivian interim, the sort of playful ditziness she represents being as welcome in Forster’s glum universe as Q and Miss Moneypenny. Given how beholden Bond is to Bourne, it’s strange that he hasn’t lifted one of his rival’s defining characteristics – the amusing one-upmanship that always sees Jason one step ahead of his incompetent pursuers.

Throw in a criminally mundane villain in Mathieu Amalric’s blandly monikered Dominic Greene and that weird non-ending in wintry Russia and you have a picture that, in trying to stretch the rigid parameters of a tried-and-tested formula, winds up being something else altogether.

The last time Eon tried something this radical was Licence To Kill, the least profitable Bond of the modern era and the precursor to a six-year hiatus in production. Given Quantum’s record-breaking haul, there’s no chance that could happen again. It is worth remembering, though, that you can only shake and stir the Martini so much before it becomes undrinkable.

On the face of it, a second disc of extras appears a good deal. But the 20 odd-minute Bond On Location featurette was all over ITV last November and the eight crew blogs are still freely available on the official Quantum Of Solace website. The same, incidentally, applies to the Jack White and Alicia Keys music video.

All that’s left are five mini-featurettes, each of which steal material from their longer cousin. Oh, well: at least you get to see composer David Arnold plucking the Bond theme on guitar (“It always gets you in the mood!”) and Keys waffle on about “creating the gumbo.”

Neil Smith

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