Latest Bond shakes and stirs, but where’s the old humour?
(Rated 3/ 5 )
James Bond is back for the 22nd time. The story carries on where Casino Royale left off. Bond (Daniel Craig) is still smarting over the death of Vesper Lynd and desperate to exact revenge. Frenetic, full of chase sequences and sudden switches in location, the film has a demented energy about it, as if it’s taking his feverish tempo from Bond himself. He – we learn early on – is “running wild”.
Barely five minutes into the film and we have been whisked from Siena to Port-au-Prince via London. Cars have screeched round mountain-top roads. Bond has been shown racing through gutters, alleyways and over rooftops. We’ve seen him in a motorbike and on a boat. Not much later, he’s in a plane.
In interviews in advance of the film, the director, Marc Forster, had talked about Bond as if the secret agent was a latterday Hamlet – a character who beneath his hard shell is vulnerable and repressed. The way he explores the tortured psyche of cinema’s favourite spy isn’t through lengthy dialogue sequences – it’s through action. There is something desperate about Bond. Craig plays him with a gimlet-eyed intensity that makes his first turn in the role in Casino Royale seem lightweight. David Arnold’s rousing score seems to be driving him on.
The drawback to the frenetic approach is that the chases risk merging into one another. Comic relief is in short supply. We don’t have any boffins introducing new gadgets.
Craig’s Bond may still sweet talk receptionists, but he doesn’t spend much time about it. Nor does this Bond have much time for womanising. As Camille, Olga Kurylenko isn’t just Bond’s lover: she is his mirror. He’s cut up about Vesper. She is equally traumatised by incidents involving some wicked Bolivian general during her childhood. It isn’t sexual attraction that brings them together. It’s a shared desire for revenge. The plot, reassuringly, is sheer hokum – a far-fetched yarn about rogue environmentalist Dominic Greene’s plans to topple the Bolivian government, put a military dictator in power and gain control of most of Latin America’s water supply. Greene is really working for the shadowy organisation Quantum, which has secret agents everywhere, including – as M (Judi Dench) discovers – at the heart of the British secret service.
Among the main pleasures of an uneven Bond movie is Dench’s wonderful performance. She is more in evidence here than in her previous Bond movies and has a relationship with 007 that is maternal and flirtatious. Nothing flusters Dench’s M. In one tremendous scene, we see her running her bath and dabbing at her face with wipes as she gives orders to operatives around the world to curb Bond’s movements.
Gemma Arterton is also good value as Agent Fields at the British consulate in Bolivia, a siren with a touch of St Trinians about her, saying “oh gosh” when she sends one of Greene’s henchmen flying.
There is a tension at the heart of the movie. On the one hand, this is an out-and-out action flick. On the other, Forster (the director of arthouse hits such as Monster’s Ball and Stranger Than Fiction) is trying to show us the paranoia and loneliness of a homicidal spy’s life. The set-pieces are supposed to be exhilarating but also reveal Bond’s anger and bereavement. One of the film’s most ingenious scenes is when Bond interrupts the villains during a performance of Tosca at the Bregenz Festival House in Austria. While the performers are singing about love and vengeance on the stage, Bond is in the wings, fighting with Greene’s henchmen. Opera plots are often far-fetched and illogical. We shouldn’t be surprised that Bond movies are the same. At their best, they provide us with the same excitement and escapism.
Quantum Of Solace doesn’t seem like a major entry in the Bond canon. Well under two hours long, it’s shorter and more frenetic than most of its predecessors, and an often-jolting experience to watch. Loose ends about. What it does have, though, above all, is vigour. The franchise hasn’t run out of juice quite yet.
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