30 October 2008

Quantum of Solace Review

Is it unfair to judge a Bond film on the title music? Because if so, then I could well deliver a very harsh judgement upon Quantum of Solace. But I like to think I'm marginally more 'professional' than that, and despite the fact that it makes a poor impression of itself with the ridiculously overwrought title sequence - coupled with that music, of all things - it does at least attempt to redeem itself.

The story is a direct continuation of Casino Royale - Bond's got Mr White, the man he kneecapped at the end of the previous movie, in the trunk of his car and he manages to get him somewhere where he can be interrogated. The information discovered sets Bond on the trail of the mysterious organisation Quantum and the enigmatic Dominic Greene. Along the way, he joins forces with Camille, a mysterious and beautiful woman who's more than her first impressions might give away.

The story connection isn't the only thing from Casino Royale that this latest Bond movie takes advantage of - it also rides in on an absolutely incredible wave of hype thanks to Casino Royale's enormously successful reboot of the venerable franchise. But the problem is, no matter where you lay the blame - QoS not being good enough, CR being far too good - the fact of the matter is that after the high of Casino, Quantum simply fails to deliver...enough.

In all honesty, the problem is the director. Marc Forster simply isn't an action director, and if it isn't obvious in Quantum of Solace, then it's not obvious at all. Where most action movies have maybe a 60% 'hit rate' - that 'wow that was awesome' factor - QoS scores maybe 33%, with only 3 out of the many action beats bringing real satisfaction. The first, the pulse-pounding opening car chase, is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of vehicular carnage. It's not up there with the greatest car chases of all time, but judged on its own merits, it comes out shining. A rooftop chase through Siena, Italy was pretty difficult to screw up, and the supposed balletic climax that the trailer implied is neatly and enjoyably tossed out the window in favour of a far more amusing and interesting finish. Finally, there's a boat chase which, whilst borrowing heavily from the likes of Face/Off and Indiana Jones, still comes out the other end better for it.

Then there are the other, slightly less engaging ones, and this is where it becomes clear that Forster was riding his luck, and barely got away with it. One in particular is bizarrely intercut with a performance of Tosca for seemingly no reason. If there's dramatic significance to it, it's completely lost on me but even if it weren't, it distracts from what could otherwise be a wonderfully choreographed piece of action, and at the end of the day, that's what Bond movies are - action movies. The finale, too, is simply too pacily edited to keep up with what's going on - taking a page from the Peter Berg school of climax film-making by trying to stitch two entirely separate pieces of action together in one scene. Instead of making us care about both, it instead means that there's absolutely no focus, and thus when we should be caring about one, we’re instead wondering what’s going on in the other part.

It's particularly unfortunate that elsewhere, Forster's direction genuinely shines - because the drama portions are wonderfully staged. Daniel Craig delivers another broody and layered performance for Bond, wonderfully evolving the character to keep up with the progression of the story. Olga Kurylenko completely undermines her terrible performance in the abomination that was the Hitman movie adaptation to bring a tough and genuinely likeable Bond girl that is far more than just a pair of legs in a Little Black Dress. Judi Dench throws in a decent, albeit underused, performance as M, with the woman looking genuinely hard-pressed to deal with the political fallout that Bond's roguish actions produce.

Forster weaves all of the characters and the story together wonderful, and although it does suffer from ‘middle child’ trilogy, seeing as the producers announced plans to release Bond movies in connected triplets, the story is reasonably satisfying.This makes the bum notes in the action sequences all the more disappointing. Had he allowed someone competent in their own right to take charge of the second unit - as Danny Boyle did for 28 Weeks Later - then perhaps better action sequences could've been produced. As it stands, they're troughs in what could've otherwise been a really rather great movie.

At the end of the day, there's still enough here to like that you can't instantly dismiss Quantum of Solace, and if Casino Royale weren't the great film that it is, then this may well have made a better impression on me. However, as the franchise stands at the moment, the very first true Bond sequel adheres to the oft broken rule of sequels - the second one is always inferior.

Ross' Rating: 6/10

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