Friday, November 21, 2008

'Solace' offers a different kind of Bond

“Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd James Bond film, is the first direct sequel in the franchise’s 46 years. It marks a different direction for the series as it moves away from formula to try to create a new Bond universe.

“Casino Royale” sent the series back to the beginning in 2006. We were introduced to Bond (Daniel Craig) just as he received his double O status and joined him as he went on his first mission.

Since it was the first mission, some things were missing. There was no Moneypenny. No double entendres. There was no Q dispensing nifty gadgets and this Bond didn’t need them. Craig’s Bond was rough around the edges and more physical than previous incarnations. He was also given emotions to grapple with, something new for an actor playing Bond. Craig was excellent the first time around and is just as strong the second time.

Those expecting that with the origin story now out of the way that the familiar motifs would return will be disappointed. “Quantum of Solace” picks up where “Casino Royale” left off with Bond (Daniel Craig) hungry to avenge the death of his true love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).

During his pursuit, Bond stumbles upon a plot of an organization with the façade of an environmental group. The scheme of company head Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, “Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) is just as muddled and unclear as any Bond villain’s plot.

Amalric isn’t a Bond villain with a bizarre quirk or secret lair, although he does have a meeting at a hotel powered by hydrogen fuel cells in the middle of a desert. He is a more standard issue baddie. Amalric does a nice job making the character sufficiently slimy, and when forced into combat his attack scream is laughable and sort of creepy at the same time.

This is one of, if not, the most action packed Bond films. In fact, it plays more like a Jason Bourne movie than a James Bond movie with the action scenes very much tailored in the style of the hand-to-hand combats, foot chases and car chases of that series. This is not a criticism. The action sequences are extremely well-crafted and quite thrilling.

The film looks fabulous because it has a true director at its helm. Director Marc Forester is a chameleon-like filmmaker who seems like he can work within any genre successfully. His diverse resume includes “Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland” and “Stranger Than Fiction.” He is a genuine filmmaker who brings moments of unexpected grace and beauty to the fold.

Although “Casino Royale” lacked the innuendos of its predecessors, the film did have a sharp wit. The largest flaw this new film has is that it is missing that flash of humor. In this film, as was true of Matt Damon’s Bourne, Craig’s Bond is a mostly silent hero. There are laughs, but most come from the raw efficiency in which Bond gets the job done.

This humorless Bond seems like a necessary departure, if only for one adventure. The female co-stars of the series, lovingly referred to as Bond girls, were always forgotten by the next mission, no matter how important they may have been in the context of the film. It is nice that for the first time in the series, Bond cares enough about a girl to want vengeance for her death.

There are naturally two new Bond girls, and although Bond does take one (Gemma Arterton) to bed, the theme is that Bond’s sexual conquests have consequences. One of the biggest criticisms thrown at the series has been that it is sexist and uses women merely as objects. This film, like many recent installments, seems to be trying to rectify that. It helps that Judi Dench has returned as Bond’s boss M. This is her sixth and strongest appearance in the series.

The film’s main Bond girl is played by Olga Kurylenko (“Max Payne”) who, like Bond, is out to avenge the death of a loved one. Rather than any sexual tension, it is this mutual goal that links them. Kurylenko’s character is not as dynamically written as Green’s Vesper in “Casino Royale,” but she makes a strong impression. She is beautiful, a prerequisite for all Bond girls, but is able to play the more emotional scenes well.

“Quantum of Solace” is a good, entertaining film, but there will be much debate to whether it is actually a good Bond film. The series’ new tone may frustrate purists, but thus far I’ve enjoyed the new direction. That being said it would be nice for Bond to find his sense of humor again in the next installment.

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