Review: Quantum of Solace

We Malaysians are a privileged lot. No, it got nothing to do with the decreasing petrol prices, but we Malaysians got to witness the latest Bond adventure a full whole week in advance compared to the Americans. See, they are not really Umero Uno in everything. In a twist of marketing fate, we get to witness the highly anticipated follow-up to the excellent ‘Casino Royale’, in my most humble opinion was one the greatest, if not THE greatest, James Bond film that ever graced my lifetime. ‘Quantum of Solace’ promises so much more of the sophistication and elegance from the first installment in this quantum of Bond cinematic rebirths. I was so hoping this follow-up was better, if not at par, to its predecessor.

‘Quantum of Solace’ being the only true sequel ever to be produced in the history of all Bond films, it continues directly from the conclusion of ‘Casino Royale’. In a sweeping opening sequence of a car chase set in the exceptionally beautiful Siena, Bond escapes from the clutches of his enemies in his latest edition of the Aston Martin DBS (which they crashed for a complete total of 6 cars while shooting this film. Well done cost cutting) with the nemesis Mr. White locked up in the car. Upon witnessing this opening first 15 minutes of frantic electric action, immediately it is clear that the tone and stylishness that ‘Casino Royale’ played so well with is a thing of the past. In comes new helmer Marc Forster of the ‘Finding Neverland’ fame and his assistants Richard Pearson and Dan Bradley which were involved in the Bourne films, an immediate sensation hits the viewer right smack in the face: it’s Jason Bourne all over again. Rapid-fire editing and in-your-face functionality that just wants to push the movie on to the next action sequence rather than relishing the moments in between is the obvious, if not disappointing, departure from the more traditional Bond motive. The look and tempo is much higher octane as the camera zooms in and out from place to place, shattering the elegance that Martin Campbell, the director of ‘Casino Royale’ built so beautifully in the first installment. Even the music by David Arnold pushes the cadence to a higher state of adreline, making the whole rhythm of the film a wee bit too pulsating to be a Bond film. The Bond Ultimatum anyone?
Much to my disappointment, this disillusionment did not end there. While the action sequences are satisfactory (that is if you like the Bourne film’s style – tightly welded and claustrophobic), in between them are moments that leaves a gapping black hole. Gone are the mischievous one-liner’s that served such a distinctive signature to the character of Bond. Gone also are the charisma that those Bond girls usually provide, but most importantly, gone are the distinctiveness that Ian Fleming’s character provided that distinguished itself so well from the rest of the other action heroes. In ‘Quantum’, Bond seems to have suffered a personality bypass but Daniel Craig still manages to portray the cool Bond character that is always in control (but notably less muscular and less flesh bearing). Stripped of all humor and warmth, Bond is a sulking and dry character this time around (if not more from ‘Casino’) which is a challenge to provide any sort of emotional attachment or care.

But part of this different feel I guess is simply due to the film’s short duration: At 105 minutes, it is the shortest Bond film of all time, four minutes shorter than ‘Dr. No’ and a whopping 45 minutes shorter that its predecessor, ‘Casino Royale’. This diminutive length is immediately evident: hitting just at the 40 minute mark of this film, Bond goes from a car chase scene into an interrogation shoot-up and then efficiently jumps into a roof-top man hunt, this relentless action is crumbling the very foundation that ‘Casino Royale’ tried so hard to build: that he is no Vin Diesel in ‘xXx’, he is Bond, James Bond. The old-school stylishness that Bond revered in ‘Casino Royale’ is thrown out the window, and what is left is the plot of ‘Quantum’ (which I will not reveal, as always). But even the plot is simply rudimentary and cheesy, more in line to the Roger Moore days of Bond in the 70’s and 80’s.

The Bond mis-Identity (HA!) does not end there. Even when we do find Bond and the newest Bond girl Kurylenko (playing the role of Camile) together, there is no spark whatsoever and does not even generate the slightest ignition of onscreen heat. At times I wondered if she had wandered into the wrong movie set, ‘xXx 3’ on Stage 2 perhaps, Kurylenko? There is only a brief glimpse of hope from Gemma Arterton’s extended cameo as a field agent with orders to take Bond home (playing the creatively named ‘Strawberry Fields' – which we get to know her full name only at the end when the credits are rolling - a refreshing throwback rendition of perky Bond women of the 60’s) but surely, is this that is all that can be provided from a distinction like a Bond girl? Whatever happened to the Ursula Andresses, Halle Berrys or even the Eva Greens?
The rest of the characters are played fairly well but not outstanding. Mathieu Amalric portrays the bad guy satisfactorily in this film, a mildly physical proportioned man but with flourishes of evil glistering of hardness in the eyes. We get to see Jeffrey Wright return as CIA agent Felix Leiter, but he holds nothing more than just a bit role in this film. However, Judi Dench gets much more screen time this time around, appearing in most unlikely of places and confronting/engaging Bond in the most of situations. But I think this increase in screen allowance actually demised the quality of the character that is M, who is supposed to be this mysterious individual that is only wants to be seen at the most necessary of times.

All in all, being the shortest of all Bond films but most action-dense with lesser humor, ‘Quantum of Solace’ plays with a cold, mechanical efficiency perfect for a Bourne film, without any emotional hooks to engage the viewer. ‘Quantum’ will find solace in the rapid-fire thrills that is fitting for the action style that is so prominent today, but I honestly think it will not occupy a royal spot in the hearts of any die-hard Bond fans out there. Nor will it garner any new fans either...

And here’s a tip: Refreshing your mind with the events and characters from ‘Casino Royale’ would be a good idea to avoid total confusion in this direct sequel that continues approximately 1 hour after ‘Casino’ ends.

Oh, and do look out for a naked dead woman lying 'artfully' on Bond’s bed. A commendable testimonial perhaps to the gold-plated Shirley Eaton from 1964’s ‘Goldfinger’…

Verdict: 7 / 10

Reviewed by: Raymond Choy


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