Quantum of Disappointment.
Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Marc Forster.
I sat during the credits, waiting for others to leave before I did. A guy and his wife sat a few seats to my right. I turned to him and asked, "Is it me, or was this largely plotless?"
He turned to me and replied, "I think you're right."
"I mean, what the hell was this about?"
He shrugs and his wife looks at me as if I may have an answer to my own question.
"Quantum of Solace" picks up where "Casino Royale" leaves off. Jason Bourne-esque James Bond (Craig) is tearing down a road, being chased by guys firing at him with machine guns. We later find that he has kidnapped a guy we recognize from "Casino Royale" who had something to do with Vesper's death. What we don't know is that he's part of an organization more powerful than the CIA, FBI, MI6, and any other Intelligence Agency known, so much so that before Bond can interrogate him, double-agents within MI6 stop him and run at breakneck speed through the crowd, blindly firing at Bond and taking out a few spectators. This leads to one of the best fight/chase scenes in the movie.
With MI6 now being compromised ("He passed background checks 4 times. He was my personal bodyguard." -M) Bond takes it upon himself to find out who these people are and if possible, get revenge on the death of Vesper. Tracking down a lead he meets and greets (read: kills) he impersonates a guy who is supposedly a geologist supposedly sent to kill Camille (Kurylenko). This altercation leads him to Dominic Greene (Almaric), an extreme environmentalist running a program called Greene Planet. Greene is buying up "useless" tracts of land in order to own all the freshwater in the world. Maybe it's me but if I were heading-up an organization so secretive that the U.S. and Brits have no earthly clue about it, giving funding to an environmentalist who wants to control the freshwater of the world would not be in my budget. But hey, maybe they have other, better nefarious villains. One would hope.
Bond then finds information about other lower-level villains. They're all working together! M strips Bond of his funds and passports, which forces him to gain help from Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Together they fly to Bolivia where Bond is met at the airport by Agent Strawberry Fields (Arterton). Dressed in an overcoat and boots, it's easy to see how she's following the cover story of her and Bond being "teachers on vacation." Yea, right. They all attend Greene's party where Camille shows back up. Apparently, she's still on her mission of revenge to kill the General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), a Bolivian dictator who killed her raped her mother and killed her family, making her watch and then setting their house on fire. More people are killed, Bond is blamed and Camille joins him as they go out to Greene's lair. There the film's climax takes place (which at that point is anticlimactic).
Camille has her revenge, but Bond has to finalize his. Finding the apartment of Vesper's ex, he excuses the Canadian Intelligence woman who is with the boyfriend (Canadian Intelligence? Where have you guys been? What do you do?) and proceeds to deliver vengeance. M and others show and Bond is now back on duty, leaving the past behind him.
The action scenes were great in a lessened "Bourne Ultimatum" sort of way. I like having medium and wide-angle shots for my action scenes over constant shaky-cam, sped-up camera shots. But maybe that's just me. While "Casino Royale" had segments that I thought I would need a defibrillator because they were that engrossing, this movie whisks you from shot to shot to shot until the scene is over and you feel like trying to find a "rewind button" to watch it again. I don't mind being in the middle of everything going on but there is a point where if I feel more confused than the main character seems, something is amiss. And this "Bourne Ultimatum" action-shooting only happens during the action scenes; never before or after.
What hurt this movie moreso than that was the lack of story material. This was the first Bond movie NOT to be based on a novel and it shows. It's not just that fact that revenge movies are hard to do; the story was weaker than the parts making it up. Sure, some of the action was good but by the middle you stopped caring. It's like the screenwriters began with a few really cool concepts (unknown spy agency, revenge on Vesper) then let it unravel to a mess in which they were searching for ways to tie the ending up.
It didn't feel like a "Bond" movie. Yes, we loved "Austin Powers" for skewering the "Bond" franchise, and we loved "Jason Bourne" because he was the gritty, American "non-Bond" spy. But if Bond can't be Bond, then what is he? I'll give "Casino Royale" it's points for re-igniting the franchise and starting to build Bond from the ground up, but no "shaken, not stirred" quips. No Q/R gadgets. And a Bond villain that makes Elliott Carver (Pryce) from "Tomorrow Never Dies" hand down his "Worst Bond Villain Ever" crown. And when the Bond girls seem to be thrown in to serve the story (yeah, I know, but still) England, we have a problem. Maybe I'm being harsh because I had hoped that these signature Bond elements would've at least shown some incorporation, instead of the producers feeling like they should capitalize on what made "Bourne" a great series. Again this is James Bond, not Jason Bourne.
And I know it's petty, but I wasn't overly impressed with the "Another Way to Die," the theme song to the movie. I like Jack White (the White Stripes) and Alicia Keys I appreciate, and they do work well together, but I wasn't overly taken. I know that getting creative on a Bond theme song is getting more difficult to do (referencing death? Check. Referencing women? Check? He's a spy and he may die at any given moment? Check) but still, this theme is only marginally better than Madonna's "Die Another Day," which wasn't even as good as "Beautiful Stranger," the song she did for "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." Maybe Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name" (the "Casino Royale" theme) is a hard act to follow.
One other small note: a theme in the movie was keeping tab on how many people were killed because of Bond. Was this necessary? M constantly nags about every single kill Bond makes. I don't remember this happening in any other Bond film and it's not so much a welcome addition. He's a spy, there are bad guys who are shot and killed... was I the only one to get irritated by this? If you know that most of the ones getting killed were bad guys in the first place, why care? Maybe it's me and movie logic, but injecting too much reality into a Bond movie turns it sour.
Here's to my hopes that since vengeance has been dealt, Mr. Bond will find his way again.
My grade: C+/B-