Thursday, November 20, 2008
Remember how wonderful “Casino Royale” was, how it added a liberal splash of Jason Bourne to the Bond cocktail and made something that fit in the modern era as well as holding true to the classic character? I don’t think any of us stopped and considered just how lucky they’d been to get away with it. There is perhaps no better proof of this than the latest Bond film, “Quantum of Solace.”
Picking up moments after “Casino” ended, “Quantum” explores Bond’s response to Vesper’s death and uncovers a highly connected worldwide crime syndicate known only as Quantum. Along the way he teams up with a Bolivian spy Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and takes down environmental terrorist and Quantum member Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Greene proves to be a big problem to the film; a lot rides on a Bond villain, but Greene strives to be a realistic villain and utterly fails to work in Bond’s world.
The villain’s dastardly scheme? Take control of Bolivia’s water supply, and sell it back to Bolivia for exorbitant prices. Huh, how does that stack up to other Bond villain plots? Destroy almost all life on Earth and rebuild with a tiny group of servants who worship the villain as king (“Moonraker”). Fire an EMP blast on London to cripple the UK and steal billions of British pounds (“Goldeneye”). Seize water and sell it to Bolivia, a country that, according to Wikipedia, has the lowest GDP per capita of any country in South America. That’s like selling food to Ethiopia; not only is it sadistic you’re not going to turn a big profit.
The script was written in part by bane-of-my-existence Paul Haggis, and it reeks of his stench. “Quantum” tries to introduce the real world to Bond’s world, which go together like oil and water. The film gives us a corrupt CIA, one who deals with Quantum for a cut of the profit, and Greene clearly represents the untrustworthiness of business executives. Again, this is Bond. Nobody goes into a Bond film for an allegorical tale or a slice of realism; they go to see a guy blow stuff up and make dark puns about it.
And who let Marc Forster direct this? Forster, the talented director of such films as “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Finding Neverland” and “The Kite Runner,” is undeniably gifted, but has no experience with action. The film genuinely looks like the producers came to Auburn, grabbed me out of my apartment, made me re-watch the Bourne films and said, “Direct the next Bond movie. And make it like Bourne.” The dizzying rapid cuts make it impossible to get any bearings in the action scenes, so they carry no weight. Yes, yes, Chris Nolan had the same problem with Batman, but he at least he threw some long shots into the Batpod sequence.
The film’s only saving grace is its actors. Daniel Craig might be able the first Bond actor to be even remotely comparable to Sean Connery’s defining portrayals, while Kurylenko acquits herself nicely. Amalric, a tremendously gifted French actor who finally got his big break last year with “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” does his best to make Greene work, but the character is too subtle, which just doesn’t fly in Bondworld. Dame Judi Dench is far and away the best M in the franchise’s history, but she’s reduced to a one-note character on the verge of a nervous breakdown when leaks spring up in British and American intelligence. Surely the leader of a bunch of spies is mentally capable of dealing with…spies?
But no matter how hard they try the actors cannot buoy such a shockingly dull film. “Quantum” is not a particularly bad film, but it adheres to the classic Hollywood mantra of sequels: “If it ain’t broke, do your damnedest to break it.” All the components that meshed so perfectly in “Casino Royale” are pushed to the extreme, and the result is a mess every bit as boring as the cartoony CGI-fests that defined Brosnan’s later Bond films. Bond is having an identity crisis: he can’t decide whether he wants to be realistic or escapist, and the film never finds its footing because of it. Some critics complained that this doesn’t feel like a Bond film. That’s the least of its worries.