Dir. Marc Forster. UK/US. 2008. 106mins
Blue eyes on fire and jaw set to resolute, Daniel Craig clearly owns Bond in Quantum of Solace: but it’s the relentless pace, the quality of art direction and production design - in fact, director Marc Forster’s sheer technical ambition - which raise the bar and make this one of the most remarkable action films ever made. Bond fans may hanker after his gadgets or some of the camp which Craig & co have sofirmly extracted from the role, Casino Royale converts might, justifiably, wish for a stronger story, but one thing is certain: as an action film, this will be a tough act to follow.
Bond is the longest-running film franchise (this is No. 22) with a far-flung, fussy fanbase which may carp at Craig and Forster’s de-cheesing of 007, coupled with a not-entirely-convincing plot. On the other hand, this 007 will undoubtedly continue to bring in new audiences alongside the action crowd which has previously regarded the franchise as quaint. Casino Royale’s worldwide tally of $594m is certainly reachable,and this streamlined film couldattract more American viewers than previous Bond incarnations.Quantum firmly establishes Bond as a reinvigorated, muscular franchise, perhaps, even, closer in spirit to Ian Fleming’s 007, and the ‘new Bond’ box office boost of Craig should continue.
Certainly, the $431m worldwide tally of Die Another Day(2002) seems consigned to Bond’s past along with Q and his gadgets.
Notices will focus - rightly - on Craig’s magnetism as the steely, sexy, murderous MI5 agent, but two other factors weigh in and freshen up proceedings: Forster’s new technical team, led by cinematographer Roberto Schaefer and production designer Dennis Gassner. And the ongoing shift of M, as played by Judi Dench, to front and centre: the Bond girls fade into insignificance as she becomes his moral counterpoint and theirs is the only real relationship on screen.
The plot makes much reference - perhaps too much, for action fans have a notoriously short memory - to the plot of Casino Royale and Bond’s bitterness and thirst for vengeance over his lost love, Vesper. His quest leads him to a sinister organisation, a very traditional Bond SPECTRE-like grouping of crime lords fronted by Mathieu Almaric (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) as Mr Greene, who is using the cover of environmentalism to overthrow the Bolivian government.
Returning from Casino Royale, writers Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade obviously have, with Craig, a strong sense of who Bond is, and their plot peels back to emphasise Bond’s sheer ruthlessness, his brutal killings a punctuation mark on Forster’s elaborate set pieces, which include, memorably, Bond dropping from a plane without the benefit of a parachute. Of course we’ve come to expect the dramatic 007 opening - this time a car chase through the Italian alps - and the credit sequence is particularly nice, but when Quantum of Solace launches Bond over the rooftops of Siena and into the Palio without pausing for breath it becomes clear that this is going to be ambitious, if nothing else.
And the pace doesn’t really let up. The first 45 minutes - of a zippy 106-minute film (Casino Royale came in at 147 minutes) - are an unadulterated adrenalin charge of set piece after set piece. The locations are terrific: Quantum shot in Mexico, Panama, Italy, Austria and Chile, outside its home base of Pinewood. With plenty to chose from, a Tosca sequence shot at the Bregenz Festival House in Austria stands out: using the production’s original sets and cast it leads Forster into a Godfather-style cutting sequence (and is credited with its own crew).
Supporting cast find it hard to make their mark when set against Bond, M and the pyrotechnics onscreen. Olga Kurylenko is servicable asCamille, a Bolivian national out to avenge the deaths of her family. Giancarlo Giannini returns as Mathis, for those who studied Casino Royale - many viewers will remember who he is just as it’s too late. More memorable is Gemma Arterton in the traditional Bond girl role - her character is called Strawberry Fields, and her demise a tribute to Goldfinger. Indeed, this Bond enjoys twisting the legend: a scene where Craig turns the charm on a female airline check-in clerk is delectably under-done; he has to steal his tux; he’s on his seventh martini when we get the ‘shaken not stirred’ routine.
Bond is, as has been previously noted, practically the Martin Scorsese of the BAFTAs: 22 films later, with grosses probably close to the GDP of one of the small nations it depicts, it’s still waiting for that Alexander Korda award. The best Casino Royale could achieve was a gong for sound. Will this be the year that changes its fortunes’
Michael G Wilson
Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Based on the character created by Ian Fleming