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Quantum of Solace (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 106 minutes.

When “Casino Royale” came out in 2006, I said it was the best James Bond film since “Goldfinger” (1964), after which they drifted into special effects drivel. This is better than “Casino Royale,” but it is also very different from the genre created by Sean Connery James Bond genre. The Connery Bond films were sophisticated comedy. Connery played Bond for laughs, and always had a disbelieving smirk on his face, the current Bond, Daniel Craig, has about as much sense of humor as Attila the Hun. True, he’s not given much comedy with which to work by screenwriters Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (multiples, which signal problems). Still, there are a few lines that delivered well could have produced some laughs. Alas, Craig doesn’t have the wherewithal to deliver them. In addition to a woeful lack of timing, he just isn’t a funny guy. So don’t go expecting Connery-type bons mots. Even post-Connery, pre-Craig bonds like Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan weren’t up to the task. There hasn’t been a really funny line delivered in a Bond film since Connery hung up his 007.

Connery was also a ladies’ man. This film is about James getting revenge for the death of his girlfriend, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), in “Casino Royale,” but there are still a couple of Bond girls around to interest James. Craig, whose Bond doesn’t jump anything with a skirt, as Connery’s Bond did, has expressed interest in having Bond engage in gay sex in a future movie. Watching him unconvincingly try his only on-the-lips kissing scene in this film, maybe there’s a reason why he is advocating James having sex with a man.

But that doesn’t mean that this film is no good. On the contrary, while there are lots of special effects that go into the multitude of chases, this is just a straight, down-the-line, action picture with Bond out for revenge. It’s just not James Bond as created by Ian Fleming and refined by Cubby Broccoli and Connery. His actions elicit doubt about his loyalty in M (Judi Dench, unfortunately, back for her sixth stint). But he’s still out to get Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) for killing his lover in the last film. In the process he comes across Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who is out to get revenge, also, and another Bond girls, Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton) later. But Craig’s James clearly isn’t interested in sex with women. Having Dench, who is almost as funny as Criag, play M throws another wrench in maintaining the comedic aspect of the Bond films. As long as Craig and Dench keep their roles we can forget about reclaiming the charm of Connery and Bernard Lee, who was as iconic as M as Connery was as Bond. Also gone are Q, always played by Desmond Llewelyn, and his ingenious weaponry, and Moneypenny, M’s secretary, played by Lois Maxwell, but they were dumped earlier. Clearly the new Bond films have no interest in clever humor, which was an essential part of the Bond appeal.

But what’s past is past. Given his cast and script, director Marc Forster wisely eschews the light-hearted Bond of Connery’s day, adapting the film to Craig’s talents as an action hero, loading it up with stirring chases and a slightly better story than we’ve seen in decades and avoiding much physical contact between Bond and the Bond girls.

The opening chase scene is more realistic than the ludicrous chase that director Martin Campbell used to open “Casino Royale.” But, even though it’s obviously impossible, it’s more involving and sets the stage for what’s coming. Subsequent chases are much better than the silly stuff with which Steven Spielberg burdened the last Indiana Jones fiasco.

Not all of the romance has been cast away, however. In a nice touch, Forster pays homage to “Goldfinger,” in a scene near the end of the film. The locations are always part of the fun and this one is no different as the film takes us to Bolivia (actually shot in Panama and Chile), Mexico, Italy (Lake Garda, Carrara, and Siena), and Austria.

November 12, 2008