Sunday, November 4, 2012

Quantum of Solace

I am really excited for "Skyfall" on Friday. So much so that I've been watching the previous installments of the franchise to review for this blog. First, a little background. I got home from my mission and remember seeing advertisements for this movie thinking it must have been referring to the previous Bond movie my friends had told me about. It seemed odd that there would already be a sequel to the extremely successful "Casino Royale". However, after seeing the movie it isn't surprising at all. When I reviewed "Casino Royale", I talked about how much of an improvement it was in comparison to its predecessors. As much as I like James Bond, particularly Daniel Craig's incarnation, this is not going to be as positive a review. Again, as this movie has been available to home viewing for almost four years, I am going to be spoiling certain plot points as I explain the plot. If you haven't seen "Quantum of Solace", please skip the next three paragraphs.

James Bond starts the movie racing his sports car on his way to question Mr. White with M about his employer, the leader of the operation known as "Quantum". However, in the middle of the interrogation, one of the MI6 agents reveals himself to be rogue and  after killing a fellow agent, flees the scene, hotly pursued by 007. Bond kills the double-agent, much to the chagrin of M, who intended to question the traitor following Mr. White's escape. 

Bond tracks a lead named Slate and ends up killing him as well. He eventually winds up with Camille Montes, an attractive young woman who Slate was hired to murder by her employer/lover. Following her, Bond discovers she is working for environmentalist Dominic Greene. Apart from trying to kill Camille, Greene is helping an exiled Bolivian general in exchange for a seemingly worthless desert property. Bond rescues the girl from what he assumes will be her certain death, and follows Greene to an opera in Austria. There, Bond identifies several co-conspirators in the crowd though the mission is thwarted by the public death of one of Greene's security team. Bond is blamed for the death and all of his credit cards are immediately cancelled. Later, while under the close scrutiny of a fellow member of MI6, Bond attends a party held by Greene where he once again rescues Camille and takes her with him as they survey the recently purchased desert land by air. However, they are attacked midair by Greene's men and are forced to eject, skydiving into a sinkhole where it is revealed that Greene has not purchased the land for oil, as was previously assumed, but for water. He has built dams that have forced the area into an unprecedented drought. Greene is planning to monopolize the water supply in the area and doubling the price.

After learning that the woman keeping an eye on Bond has been drowned in oil, Bond and Camille catch up with Greene at the disaffected general's home, and the poorly placed fuel cells in the house cause the entire building to explode. Camille gets her revenge on the general, who had killed her family in front of her when she was a child, and Bond fights off Greene before helping her escape the flames. Bond later catches up with Greene, stranding him in the middle of the desert with nothing but motor oil for hydration. Later, Bond corners Vesper's old boyfriend in Russia, allowing him to be taken into custody after answering his questions. M is impressed he didn't kill the man and Bond admits to her that she was right about Vesper - she had given the money to Mr. White to spare Bond's life after all.

This is, yet again, a very convoluted plot. Unlike the last film, however, this film didn't quite have the exhilaration and the organic storytelling to keep it afloat for me. Daniel Craig is as good as ever, and I appreciated returning characters and plot threads from "Casino Royale", but this movie was clearly rushed in production following the critical and financial success of its predecessor. The story is serviceable, but nowhere near the previous installment. I was really hoping for something complex and thought-provoking rather than confusing and dumbfounding.

The movie instantly had me at arms length, with the rapid-fire editing of the first thirty minutes preventing me from connecting to any of it. While the cinematography had just as much going for it, I feel the editing style really did it a disservice by not lingering on anything for more than a couple of seconds at most. There were also several plot contrivances that were incredibly frustrating. For example, isn't it convenient that they just happen to parachute into a sink-hole where Greene is hiding part of the water supply? Does it seem odd that the architects who built the General's house installed large, unprotected fuel cells in clear view? It might as well have had an arrow pointing to it saying "architectural flaw, shoot bullet here to exploit". It wasn't helped by the fact that characters are literally spelling out the ending of the movie by saying stupidly obvious things like, "I hope those fuel cells aren't damaged or it could destroy the whole house." The laziness of expository dialogue like that is infuriating to me.

Regardless of the film's many flaws, I also found a lot to enjoy in "Quantum of Solace". The action scenes are still well-done, and the connection to Vesper Lynd's story was somewhat satisfying (even if I didn't wholly understand her boyfriend's role in her death). I also appreciated some of the script-writing flourishes such as Bond offering Greene motor-oil at the end, though these kinds of moments are few and far between. Overall, though, this seems like a pale imitator of the last film and wasn't nearly as good as I was expecting/hoping. Perhaps if they had taken a little more time to polish some of the script's weaker elements this could have rivaled "Casino Royale", but instead it falls into the already crowded category of disappointing sequels. I am giving "Quantum of Solace" a generous three stars.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.