Quantum of Solace (2008)
Imagine spending six week setting up an elaborate car chase. You plan out everything, but your lead actor still ends getting stitches and one of your stuntmen ends up in critical condition in the hospital. At some point you dump a $120000.00 vehicle into a lake, even before things get going. In the past, as with the chariot races in both the 1920s and 1950s version of Ben-Hur, you would expect that the effort would be worth it, and that you get one of the classic action sequences ever put on celluloid.
Now, imagine, the final result looking like the editor let his 12-year-old son take a pair of scissors to it and reassemble it using Scotch tape and a flashlight.
How about filming during a famous horse race in Italy, with an exciting chase for a turncoat assassin through ancient sewers? Or filming thousands of extras and putting on a performance at a floating opera, sparing no expense - and the final cut of both looking like it was put through a shredder and reassembled by a meth-addled macaque.
Well, then you kind of understand my fury at watching Quantum of Solace, especially since it follows a complete, and successful, reboot of the series with Casino Royale. James Bond needed the freshness that Casino Royale brought, especially after the previous series of movies with Pierce Brosnan ending with disaster that was Die Another Day. Daniel Craig was something we hadn't had since Timothy Dalton - a Bond that was vulnerable, damaged, and more like the character from the books. Much of the silliness was long gone.
What is really frustrating is that, despite having the second-worst theme song in the series (you can't really sink lower than Madonna's "Die Another Day"), the story is decent and works as a direct sequel to Casino Royale. Bond, still reeling from Vesper Lynd's betrayal and death at the hands of the shadowy terrorist organization Quantum, is further shaken by an assassination attempt on M (Judi Dench) that results in losing one of the few leads they have on the organization.
Obsessed with trying to find out who is behind the attempt, James heads off to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, tracing a number of marked bills used by a Mr. Slate (Neil Jackson). This in turn leads him to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric), a billionaire philanthropist who is one of Quantum's front men, and who is currently in the process of funding a coup in Bolivia. In exchange for putting General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) in power, the General agrees to give Greene a supposedly worthless stretch of desert. The MI6 and the CIA decide to go along with it, believing they will get kickbacks from oil revenue they believe Greene may have found in the area. Bond and a former companion of Greene's, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), soon find out the truth.
Meanwhile, Greene and his partners in Quantum manage to spin things to appear that Bond has gone out of control, killing everyone he comes in contact with. M is soon forced to reign him in after the death of Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton), but eventually lets him get on with business.
Daniel Craig's portrayal of James Bond is still one of the best in the series, and is on the same level with George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton as the most authentic to the character. M is given something to do rather than sit in an office, something that also worked well in The World Is Not Enough and is handled even better this time around. Mathieu Almaric portrays a more realistic villain, one that uses his money and reputation to control things rather than some grand scheme and sci-fi gadgets. Even better, Quantum, except for Greene, remains faceless, an unstoppable force that is working behind the scenes and playing world governments like pieces in a chess game.
Even though Fields quickly falls in bed with Bond, she is the only one throughout the movie that does. There are a few quips made, but none of the outright sexual innuendo from some of the previous movies, and less of a playboy. Although listing Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as the main writers, the script was hastily written up right before a writers' strike, leaving director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig to rewrite a good part of it, and to their credit they both get Bond. The story deals with loss and revenge, and the futility of such, wonderfully. Everything on paper says that this should have been one of the best Bond films ever, especially since Forster already had a number of critically lauded films under his belt.
Instead, though the Craig Bond era weaves itself into an ongoing story, Quantum of Solace is simply that film between Casino Royale and Skyfall. Despite everything in place to make this on the same level, or possibly more, than its predecessor, it is undone by some of the worst edited action scenes in a major film. This type of editing is something I expect in a film made with two million dollars, not $225 million. It is typically done to hide either the fact that the director doesn't know how to film action scenes, the actors and stuntmen don't know how to do them, or the budget is just so low that they can't afford to hurt anyone involved. None of this is true and, as I said before, people were hurt, including Craig on several occasions. As for Forster not being able to film an action scene, the final sequence in the desert hotel proves this is complete wrong, as a lot of the editing tricks are abandoned for a more typical action sequence whose only drawback is that a good portion of the fire is too obviously CGI.
The editing is to the point where the camera often fails to dwell on anything for even a full second, in many cases getting to the point where it is nearly impossible to tell Bond apart from whatever bad guy he is chasing. The car chase itself has absolutely no tension, due to the fact that it is impossible to tell what is happening at any point. Even during non-action scenes it gets to the point of being ludicrous, at one time in MI6 headquarters using three rapid cuts just to look at a computer screen. It renders a good third of the movie nearly unwatchable, saved only by everyone you see on-screen doing their best to make a great movie and not knowing that someone after the fact is going sabotage the whole thing.
I do wonder if, floating out there somewhere, there is a version of this movie that maybe shows these sequences the way one would normally expect them to be filmed, or if Forster is a hundred percent at fault and meant it to be this way. After all, at least one of the editors working on this has worked on other movies he has made. It is also unfortunate that since this is the bridge between Casino Royale and Skyfall, and that it deals directly with Bond recovering from Vesper's death, that the luxury isn't there of skipping it like one could with some of the lesser Bond films in the past.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Time: 106 minutes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton
Director: Marc Forster