By Clint Morris
Remember when you were at school and youâ€™d finish, what you believe, to be the best looking project or assignment â€¦ only to have mum or dad leave a coffee stain on the front page of it on the day you have to hand it in?
”Quantum of Solace” is that coffee stain. It still looks good, and you can still see the work that has been put into it, but itâ€™s still been slightly mottled.
In this case, itâ€™s that Marc Forsterâ€™s direct sequel to Martin Campbellâ€™s terrific ”Casino Royale” â€“ the first direct sequel in the history of the 007 movie franchise â€“ feels like itâ€™s caught in a tug-of-war between the super-ridiculous old-school James Bond movies and the rugged and realistic Bond reboot of 2006. And by filmâ€™s end, you wonâ€™t be quite sure which incarnation of the Bond series youâ€™ve watched.
At the end of ”Casino Royale”, 007s beloved Vesper Lynd – after having been revealed to be in bed with the baddies – was dead and Bond (Daniel Craig) had set off on his vengeance mission to find the guys responsible. Bond and M (Judi Dench) interrogate Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who reveals the organization which blackmailed Vesper is far more multifarious and dangerous than anyone had imagined. Forensic intelligence links an MI6 turncoat to a bank account in Haiti where a case of mistaken identity introduces Bond to the beautiful but feisty Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman who has her own vendetta. Camille leads Bond straight to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a hard-nosed business man and major force within the mysterious organization,
Whilst Daniel Craigâ€™s first foray as the iniquitous MI6 agent was grounded in some sort of reality, the sequel seems to be set the same place the Brosnan Bond movies were â€“ fantasy land. Once again, dense action takes precedence over story, and Bond, once again, starts to show signs that heâ€™s returning to the superhero-type we know him bestâ€¦.
At the same time, itâ€™s Craig who manages to pull the film back whenever it goes too over-the-top. Out of everyone thatâ€™s played the super agent, the Brit actor plays the most authentic and normal (what is normal anyway?) incarnation of Bond ever â€“ and itâ€™s the man you want to watch, not necessarily his actions. And in this, James is still a bruised, battered, demon-fighting tough-guy whoâ€™s not so much interested in bedding every girl in town as he is just doing his job well. Itâ€™s rather refreshing.
Having said that, Bond seems to have picked up some super-powers between the last film and this â€“ and considering this film picks up only an hour after the last one, it mustâ€™ve been Wally West that delivered them to him â€“ because heâ€™s unstoppable. In Casino Royale, he was left bruised and battered in near every scene – in this nobodyâ€™s a match for his fighting skills. Even the Bond vs. Villain skirmish at the end of the film feels a little underwhelming â€“ if only because the rogue canâ€™t seem to compete with the much faster, much stronger agent.
If only ”Casino” director Martin Campbell had returned to direct this one, for as good as Marc Forster is, the ”Finding Neverland” and ”Monsterâ€™s Ball” to director does seem a little out of his depth here â€“ which could explain his precedence to put pop! above plot.
Besides it being more ”Tomorrow Never Dies” than ”Casino Royale” in tone, ”Quantum of Solace” still works â€“ and thereâ€™s undoubtedly a lot to like about it. Most of all, itâ€™s fun â€“ itâ€™s good, old-fashioned escapist fare. They mightnâ€™t have introduced the gadgets yet â€“ nor is the gadget man, Q â€“ but there still enough silly spectacles to draw the popcorn-munching action fan in.
In addition, thereâ€™s an intriguing array of supporting characters â€“ Denchâ€™s motherly boss-figure M, Jeffrey Wright returning [from ”Casino Royale”] as CIA agent Felix Leiter, the wonderful Giancarlo Giannini as the mysterious but handy Mathis (revealed to be a traitor in Royale), and the very pretty Olga Kurylenko (from ”Max Payne”) as a Bondâ€™s new female friend who, like Lynd in ”Royale”, has a lot more going up top than 007s previous leading ladies.
But most of all, ”Solace” succeeds because its lead character is intriguing again â€“ you canâ€™t say that about the chap in the tuxedo from ”A View to a Kill”, can you? â€“ and you just canâ€™t help but see the man under the mask.
The question is : Can this rebooted series sustain itâ€™s gritty, realistic tone without succumbing to silly ”Die Another Day”-style antics for Bond 23?