Written PostA special sneak peek at Quantum of Solace!

A special sneak peek at Quantum of Solace!

Well this is very exciting!  I am quite pleased to welcome our very first guest reviewer to this site.  Josh Lawrence, who is currently making his home in jolly ol’ London, has sent us his thoughts on the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace! This is an special sneak preview, as the film doesn’t open here in the States until Nov. 14th.  (Please note that Josh’s review contains minor spoilers, but nothing that hasn’t already been revealed in the trailers or in the many articles that have been published promoting the film.)

So, what did Josh think?  Take a peek!

To say that Quantum of Solace is the 22nd installment in the Bond franchise is a bit misleading: the new film (already released in the UK) should truly be seen as the second film in a new genre of Bond films starting with the excellent Casino Royale.

In Casino Royale, a quasi-prequel with Daniel Craig in the title role, we see the virtual apotheosis of Bond, from a rough fighting machine who earns his “license to kill” to the determined professional who shows resolve and firmness but also a new humanity in his pursuit of the organization behind the villain Le Chiffre. The film’s closing, with his iconic introduction as “Bond, James Bond” delivered a phenomenal punch, conveying that Bond is now truly a double-o agent and leaving audiences breathless for the next installment and his pursuit of those responsible for Vesper Lynd’s death.

Quantum of Solace, a title that does not any more sense after one sees the film, is sadly a real disappointment in the wake of Casino’s compelling story which marked a new, grittier direction for the series.

The story picks up in the minutes after the previous film’s ending, with a promising fast-paced car chase, as Bond scrambles to transport his prisoner, Mr. White, to a hideout in Sienna for questioning. It is a rough chase, reminiscent in its sheer violence of the porcelain-crushing bathroom brawl in Casino, and could lead one to believe that Aston Martins are an adequate substitute for military-grade Humvees.

Sadly, it is the first of many violent, eventually excessive chases: over 106 minutes the audience is treated to several more car and motorcycle chases, a boat chase, and an imagination-stretching plane chase/dogfight.

If this sounds a bit like some previous Bond flicks—those wonderfully campy films that feature lots of chases, gadgets, booze, beautiful women and sexual innuendo—you are onto one of the central problems of Quantum: while it is unmistakably a dark, fast-paced film in the spirit of Casino, it is as if the producers deconstructed the earlier Bond films and borrowed sporadically, and not terribly well, from the rest of the franchise. Here, what purports to be a serious film is undermined by out-of-place bungling CIA agents, gratuitously exotic locales, throw-away lines, and a direct homage to the most famous scene in all Bond history, none of which individually or collectively do much for the movie or plot. One gets the sense that the director/producers couldn’t decide what kind of Bond film they wanted to make.

The plot, too, leaves much to be desired. In what is possibly the most overused Bond plot-line, 007 finds that his pursuit of the evil organization/real killers puts him at odds with MI-6. And so, to use the parlance of our time, he goes “rogue.”

Bond, of course, never solves a caper all on his own, and must enlist a bit of eye candy to win the day. Enter Camille, the tough ex-Bolivian agent, who is coincidentally on her own personal vendetta after some of the same people Bond is chasing, in her case trying to avenge the brutal death of her family (isn’t this the back story for every Bond girl?). Though we are meant to believe that there is a close connection between Bond and Camille—they understand each other since both are avenging lost loved ones—our hero is still mourning Vesper too much to move on, or get it on, with his partner in pursuit. Again, though, the directors seem to want it both ways: while the story line was best served by a solitary, brooding Bond, he ends up seducing a reasonably attractive girl in a transaction that feels businesslike. The scene, devoid of flirtation or fun, only disrupts the story.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is the poor delivery on Casino’s promise: that Bond is on to a huge, secret criminal organization and that in Quantum he will start uncovering more information about their work. Diehard Bond fans speculated (and hoped) that Bond’s pursuit would lead him to S.P.E.C.T.R.E (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), the bad guys behind everything in the Bond world.

The lead villain, Dominic Greene, is, however, not terribly imposing; his most evil feature—the way you know he is the bad guy—is his really wide, weird eyes. No tears of blood, or special scars, or a preternaturally calm white kitten sitting in his lap—instead he looks like the guy sitting next to you at temple in Westchester. Greene is a fake environmentalist, who builds clever alliances to manage natural resources. Without spoiling the movie, let me just say that what passes for a big twist as his motivations are revealed, is, in a word, stupid.

Beyond the awkward influences of previous Bond movies and a weak plot, there a few other gripes worth mentioning. The dialogue can be heavy-handed and George Lucas-esque. Too often the characters tell what they should be showing. The product promotions, always prominent, are not much fun: seeing the villain entourage move around in Ford Edges is groan-inducing. And some of the references, like a general who only takes bribes in Euros and the environmentally-related theme, seem so three months ago.

Fortunately, there are a few bright spots. In one of his broodier moments, Bond is joined at a bar by a friend who asks the bartender what Bond is drinking. The bartender recites the ingredients of a drink that serious fans will recognize: a Vesper. That bittersweet moment, watching Bond try to dull his pain with a drink named after the cause of his sorrows, is expertly done.

The theme song is also quite good, belted out by Alicia Keys and Jack White (of the White Stripes). It is very much a modern Bond anthem, and it will get you excited for the rest of the film.

Finally the acting is for the most part excellent. Daniel Craig does his best within the parameters, and Judy Dench, as M, is superb—too bad she is in such a flat role this time around.

In the end, though, the film does not meet the very high expectations set by Casino Royale, or for that matter by the Bourne movies or The Dark Knight. If the Bond movies are going to go in a new direction, then they need to compete on that level. The film is not dreadful—this is not a franchise-destroying Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Phantom Menace—but it just is not as good as it could or should be.

And if they can’t deliver a new Bond, I’d just as soon go back to the movies peppered with gadgets, villains, booze, and humorously named female characters (but please, no invisible cars). After all, how else would I know how to dismantle an imminently exploding bomb (cut the red wire), which part of the Caspian to source my caviar (North), or the proper temperature for serving hot sake (98.4 degrees)?

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