Quantum of Solace

2.5 of 5 stars

quantum_of_solace_ver4Quantum of Solace, a.k.a. The Bond Identity, is a movie about a secret agent who’s incapable of being hit by a bullet, even at point-blank range, who saves the world all while “keeping the British end up.”

QOS is the first film in the Bond series to be a direct sequel to the previous movie. Most films in the series at most only allude to previous films. Each could stand alone. Watching Diamonds Are Forever, you would hardly realize Blofeld had killed Bond’s wife at the end of the previous film. This has partly to do with the fact the films were made in a different order than Ian Fleming’s original books were published in. This film, however, begins just minutes after the previous film, Casino Royale, left off.

Bond is hot on the trail of an organization tentatively known as Quantum. After their money handler, Mr White, narrowly escapes MI6’s grasp, Bond follows up on every lead he can find on Quantum, quickly bringing him to Dominic Greene, CEO of Greene Planet, a green-energy corporation. Is it a coincidence Mr White is a stereotype of “the Man” and Mr Greene is head of a green corporation? Or does Quantum use a color-based theme for their aliases like Reservoir Dogs?

If you had trouble following the plot, it’s not your fault. Plot points tend to happen too quickly for the brain to process. I saw this movie four or five times before I could make sense of everything that happened in it. In a nutshell, Greene Planet, a front for Quantum, has made a deal with a Bolivian strongman, General Medrano, to further their aims of taking over the world. Quantum will facilitate Medrano’s takeover of the Bolivian government in exchange for a seemingly worthless piece of land. Medrano and everyone else suspects Greene is looking for oil, but in fact, he is interested in taking over Bolivia’s water supply—‘The world’s most precious resource.’ There is also a subplot involving a Bolivian secret service agent, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who’s offered herself up as Greene’s girlfriend in order to get to Medrano, who killed her family when she was a child.

The action scenes are very difficult to follow. The editors followed the Paul Greengrass school of editing, which is all about shaky cameras, cuts lasting less than two seconds and sound effects implying action. In fact, one of the editors on this film, Richard Pierson, also edited Greengrass’s The Bourne Supremacy. Readers of the film review site I cowrote with Nick Keith, Canary Movie Reviews, know neither of us is a fan of the style. The movie lacks enough establishing shots showing who’s driving what car, where the characters are in relation to each other. Movement is hard to make out, no telling which of the falling figures is Bond.

Director Marc Forster seems out of his element helming a big-budget action flick. He had previously established himself as a quality drama director with Stranger than Fiction. The quieter scenes are wonderfully shot. Foster undeniably has a good eye for composition. Unfortunately, the action scenes are muddled at best and unworthy of the Bond series. Forster would go on to do an admirable job, however, with the zombie apocalypse blockbuster World War Z.

Compounding this problem is the plot moves too fast to really comprehend it. This may have been a conscious decision by the writers to keep the audience from questioning the plausibility of the story. In their defense, this is an established precedent in the 007 series. In a memo James Bond creator Ian Fleming wrote to cowriter Jack Whittingham re: Thunderball, he stated, ‘In order to keep the feet of this film firmly on the ground, production will have to be particularly brisk so as not to allow the audience time to worry about probabilities.’

Not that there’s much to gain from fully comprehending the plot. The idea of a Eurovillain using duplicitous means to take over a country’s water supply is like a contrived throwback to the Pierce Brosnan-era Bond films. Some elements that worked in Casino Royale were shoehorned in, but just feel ridiculous given the overall plot. This is especially true of the epilogue, where Bond doesn’t kill the boyfriend who betrayed Vesper in the previous film. The tone of the scene and the dark, snowy composition was a little too similar to the epilogue of The Bourne Supremacy.

I ask myself why the producers would even want to mimic the Bourne films. The 007 series is better and certainly more culturally significant. While the Bourne films seem to establish themselves a little better in the real world, Bond films are more realistic. Why would the CIA create a $30 million-dollar human weapon, only to send other assassins who are also presumably $30 million-dollar human weapons after him to be easily killed off with office supplies after he suffered a very unlikely form of amnesia? Bond is actually a more realistic spy. While not all spies are vodka-martini-chugging douchebags, most of them are motivated by their duty, much like Bond.

Quantum of Solace’s strength is in the actors. Daniel Craig once again livens up the film with his presence. Mathieu Amalric, who also appeared with Craig in Munich, could have been a great villain with his somewhat off-kilter looks and mannerisms. But the idea of the short, doughy man holding his own in a fight against Craig makes the final showdown laughably unbelievable. Joaquin Cosio is spot-on as a bullish, hot-headed Latin general. His character and related subplot should have been given more screen time. David Harbour is perfectly cast as a slimy, amoral CIA officer.

The film also includes fan-service, such as this Goldfinger callback involving a murdered agent named Strawberry Fields:

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The only thing that could have made her death more unpleasant is if Bond had made a quip bout how bad it is to listen to the Beatles without earmuffs.

After a strong comeback with Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace unfortunately took an uninspired plot and dressed it up with some of the grittier elements that worked in the previous film. This raises the question of whether the writers really understood what made Casino Royale such a good movie.

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