I finally got around to giving Daniel Craig another shot. For those of you may not recall, I have a deep-seated hatred for Casino Royale and was United Artist’s, excuse me, MGM’s choice for the most recent Bond from the moment I learned Clive Owen was passed over for the job. It took me almost exactly three years to get around to it, but I finally got around to giving Craig’s second Bond installment, Quantum of Solace, a go. We’re off to a bad start with the poster. When’s the last time you saw Bond with a submachine gun as his primary weapon? Still. Everyone repeatedly said it was a great movie. They were not wrong.
We open, like so many great Bond films, with a car chase. This one seems to be lifted from the night-time musings of Jeremy Clarkson himself between the Alfa Romeo’s and the DBS. But Craig’s Bond is a re-imagined Bond. He is the Christian Bale of the 007 universe. He’s gritty. He’s down to Earth. He’s not invulnerable and he’s not afraid to get his tuxedo dirty. This translates to a rather dicey car chase and a beat up Aston Martin. That’s no biggie. It adds to the excitement. Following the opening car chase we have one of the best Bond credit sequences I’ve ever seen featuring the slightly over bearing musical duo of Jack White and Alicia Keyes. Another clear appeal to a younger generation. It is worth noting that the song’s title is merely a rewording of one of the worst Bond songs of all time. White’s is “Another Way to Die,” not to be confused with “Die Another Day.”
The plot is a deviation from tradition in that it is a direct continuation of the storyline introduced in Casino Royale. As a refresher, Royale was the first Ian Flemming novel and in the 2005 movie Bond is just coming into his own as an agent. In Solace he continues to be molded into a cold-blooded patriot who puts service to Queen and Country above all else while leaving behind a trail of bodies. Solace’s blood trail is particularly thick and includes just as many friends as enemies. Not to mention a significant number of innocent bystanders. The end of Royale re-introduced Bond’s archenemies Spectre, I mean Quantum, and he continues to pursue them and learn their secrets in Solace.
The action is more intense and better choreographed than any of the previous 24 films. The hand to hand combat is fierce and frantic while the gun play is full of stereotypically bad aim and trick shots. At times Craig more closely resembles Bruce Lee than Sean Connery. The movie is so keyed up that at times the pacing feels rushed and the story becomes disjointed. Solace relies heavily on the assumption that its viewers have intimate knowledge of very specific details of Royale’s plot line. At times it seems completely disjointed. Between Bond’s shaky relationship with his soon to be old friend and CIA confidant Felix and his personal vendetta against the girl he loved and those that murdered her it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on.
The real kicker, the one detail that pushed me straight over the edge was the complete and total lack of Q. Granted, Q himself has been dead for more than 10 years, may Llewelyn rest in peace, but the MGM masterminds knew that day was coming and gladly gave us John Cleese as his replacement. Now, the producers of Solace were not crazy enough to give us a Bond film without sufficient gadgets. Only Peter Hunt and company were that daft. Still, Craig’s gadgets feel like little more than advertisements for Microsoft’s Surface. Between the fancy tables and the product placements for Land Rover and Ford, which are once again two separate companies it was a bit abrasive. I’d include the Aston in that but Ford sold that company two years before the film’s release and I’d rather chalk it up to one of many nods to 007’s past.
The nods range from subtle to dramatic and I’m not certain I caught all of them. Let’s start with the obvious. The DBS is of course a tribute to the classic DB5 first used by the manhimself in Goldfinger and won in a Poker game by Craig in Royale. Continuing on the Goldfinger theme we have the death of the lovely Miss Strawberry Fields who is draped over Bond’s bed in Jill Masterson fashion and covered from head to toe in oil. Solace ends the way a classic Bond begins, with Bond entering stage left framed in the barrel of a gun where he shoots the screen. You know the one. The final nod I noticed during the car and bike chase in Haiti. A crash at an intersection spills coffins all over the road for Roger Moore’s trip to Haiti in Live and Let Die. One could argue that some of the choreography during the boat chase is also derived from Live and Let Die. The Bond Girl, Olga Kurylenko, is probably my favorite post-feminism Bond Girl. Her sex appeal is ever-present but never given direct attention and she is a perfect match for Craig’s emo bad assery. It’s a bit strange that she plays a Bolivian given that she is in fact Ukrainian. You may recognize her from such other gory, nerdy action films as Hitman and Max Payne. Bond also continues his tradition of drinking martinis shaken, not stirred, but like Royale he relies on the bartender to deliver his catchphrase.
Director Marc Forster, whom you may know from Finding Neverland, seems to go out of his way to pay homage to his predecessors in subtle and arguably clever ways, yet when it comes to using brand staples he can’t be bothered. In addition to Q, Moneypenny is missing though that’s not a big loss. The villain Dominic Greene, played by French actor Mathieu Amalric, is significantly creepy with his bulging eyes, but isn’t quite as maniacal as we’ve come to expect and Bond fails to dispatch him with a catchy one liner. Though Bond does at least emphasize his death in a justified manner.
No, what we have with Craig truly is the Batman Begins of the Bond universe. It’s edgy, gritty, and a reboot of the series. Is it what the young hip Bond fans of today want? Well it is the highest grossing Bond film ever so there’s that. Clearly the greater emphasis on Hollywood-esque action played a large role in the film’s success. It is an amazing action film. But is it an amazing Bond film? When it comes right down to it I never get that Bond vibe. Craig isn’t smooth and debonair. He is exceptionally charming and he maintains his unwavering devotion to Queen and Country but he’s just not quite there. He’s never looked like a Bond. He wears a tuxedo but doesn’t seem to fill it full of British class. He’s not as ugly as Timothy Dalton, but that sort of grotesque casting error is a once in a lifetime experience.
I feel like I’m talking myself in circles so let me say this. Quantum of Solace was a vast improvement over Casino Royale, and while I’m still not ready to accept Daniel Craig into the fold I am eagerly anticipating the next Bond film and its progression of the
Spectre Quantum story line. Unfortunately MGM‘s financial woes have nixed the series indefinitely. Just my luck.