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Quantum Of Solace (2008, UK)

04/04/2011

Director: Marc Forster     Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton, Mathieu Amalric

James Bond films are something of a British institution. For decades now the clan Broccoli have been constantly revisiting Fleming’s iconic secret agent in a canon that dips its toe into a variety of genres but largely stays true to the now well established trademarks of 007. You know the sort of thing; vodka martinis, fast cars, faster women and amazing secret agent gadgets. By the end of the somewhat depressing Brosnan years (not a bad Bond was Brosnan, but saddled with some dire films that amounted to little more than very long adverts for very expensive consumer goods) the franchise was in need of a serious shake up to bring it into line with audiences twenty first century expectations. In the wake of the Bourne and Bauer, Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond in Casino Royale was a stripped down, dare I say it, more realistic film than many of its predecessors. Its eschewing of many of the Bond staples divided fans but made for a refreshing change and the most exciting Bond film in a long time. Clearly the gamble paid off and a similar approach has been taken with the follow up, Quantum Of Solace.

Following on directly from the action of Casino Royale, Quantum throws you straight into the thick of it with a gripping pre-credits car chase that puts some of the adrenaline back into Bond. There is no cheesy CGI stuntwork here, the grind of bodywork on mountainside feels real, the chattering automatic weapon fire of Bond’s pursuers is full of menace and the absence of obvious fakery is a welcome sight indeed. The first five minutes of the film are a gripping mission statement for what is going to follow.

Plot wise it’s fairly typical of the franchise. Bond has discovered a shadowy criminal organisation who attempt to assassinate M (a welcome return from Dame Judi Dench for her sixth time in the role). He sets out to find the people responsible in order to exact revenge. The trail leads him to the shady “environmentalist” Dominic Greene who is striking a deal with a Bolivian General to help him stage a coup in return for control over potential oil rights in the country. Typical Bondery ensues. Only it’s not typical. There are no sun loungers and pretty girls in bikinis on this mission, no wisecracks when he dispatches his enemies. By golly, they’ve taken it (more or less) seriously and its all the better for it.

When it was originally released I had heard a lot of poor reports about the film. Having seen it I can only assume that these were from people who wanted the 22nd “official” Bond film to be more like the Roger Moore years. Granted, if you were expecting suave and glib you would be rightly confounded by Quantum Of Solace. This Bond is a professional killer. He doesn’t think twice about taking a life if he has to but doesn’t try to lighten the moment with witty remarks. He’s burdened by the collateral damage of his actions and driven very much by his principles. The villains of the piece, billionaires and politicians, feel all to plausible. You don’t have to look very hard at the current state of affairs in the world to witness the effect of governments and big businesses involving themselves in the affairs of other regimes. Maybe a lot of Bond fans just aren’t ready for a film that isn’t about stealing control chips for orbital laser weapons or making gold radioactive.

In terms of execution it’s superb. For the hand to hand combat and chases they have really been swotting up on Paul Greengrass Big Book Of Bourne but this is no bad thing. Realism (for the most part) seems to be the order of the day. Combat looks and sounds visceral and painful, there is little in the way of discernable CGI (the way things should be, ALWAYS) and Daniel Craig looks to have performed most of his own stunts. The lack of absurd gadgetry (although the fancy-pants touch panel computers and super powered mobile phone threaten to appear absurd a lot of the time) is an absolute bonus in my book. It’s one thing to have a briefcase with a concealed gun in it, another entirely to have invisible cars. Unless you count jamming your elbow into somebody’s eye socket as gadgetry, Quantum is happily bereft of such irritating contrivances.

Yes, it’s a departure from tradition (although no more so than Casino Royale) but there is precedent for this in the series. It’s no coincidence that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Licence To Kill, which are both underappreciated highlights of the franchise, also came in for criticism and both touch on the darkness that is present in Quantum. Personally, I can’t stand tradition. It’s just an excuse to be lazy and a way of avoiding having to change. On the strength of Quantum Of Solace change is definitely a good thing and I look forward to Bond 23 which is now, supposedly, back on after a rocky patch for MGM cast doubt over the production’s future.

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