This entry in the series isn’t great, but it didn’t stand much of a chance, seeing as how production on this movie began concurrent with the huge Hollywood writer’s strike of 2007-8, which means there were no scriptwriters present for rewrites or polishing. The crew was working with essentially a rough draft, and rough it is. Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster worked on turning the script into something coherent, at least, but polished and satisfying it is not.
Continuing where Casino Royale left off, James Bond (Daniel Craig) continues to uncover Mr. White’s mystery organization, following (and killing) lead after lead until he eventually meets wealthy philanthropist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who seems to be highly placed within a powerful and secretive crime organization known as (no, not SPECTRE; that would have made sense) Quantum. Teaming up with Greene’s ex-lover Camille (Olga Kurylenko), Bond attempts to take down Quantum and get some sort of closure after the death of Vesper.
Re-watching it, I was surprised at how completely flimsy the plot is. It’s literally “Bond learns about Quantum and then lots of things explode at the end.” There’s not much else. The one thing that redeems this film slightly are the non-plot moments, especially between Bond and M (Judi Dench). A good deal of Bond’s angst in this film is not the result of Vesper’s betrayal, but an early attempt on M’s life by a Quantum agent. Even when she’s furious at him for his reckless behavior, you can tell that she’s growing to understand how his mind works. In the previous movie, he completely baffled her and it was really only her sense of duty to take care of him that kept her from having him shot. In this film, Bond is less of a mystery to her. By the end, he’s a loyal agent whose trust she has earned completely and vice versa.
It’s a shame the rest of the script is so shaky. Haggis, Purvis, and Wade clearly could have given us a worthy successor to Casino had they stuck around. But no matter how many good moments this one has, it just never gels. I find myself wondering how much of that was also the fault of the director, Marc Forster. Many folks complain about the over-reliance of frantic editing and shaky camera work, and I agree. The first scene, the high speed chase, is dizzying. It has some great moments, but there’s no moment to really go “whoah!” since everything is gone in the next quick cut. Remember in Casino when Bond’s Aston Martin flipped a zillion times and the camera was as still as a shocked bystander while that beautiful car spun over and over? You don’t get that here. There’s one lovely moment where Bond and a fellow he’s grappling with fall down through a glass ceiling and the camera, looking straight down, falls with them, going through the ceiling after them. It’s heart stopping and impeccably shot, but there aren’t many other moments that really stand out the way that one does.
As for the music, David Arnold’s score is beautiful. The opening credits theme, on the other hand…is not good… I feel like, had either Jack White or Alisha Keys sang the song solo, it would have been better, but making it a duet just kills it, especially since both sing in the same register, which makes for some atrocious the-cat-is-screaming-on-the-back-porch moments. The lyrics at one point are literally “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” all done in shaky harmony. The jazzy instrumentation is cool, but the vocals just make the whole thing awkward, which is sad. The credit animation, done by graphics company MK12, is pretty cool and surreal in a Salvador Dali-esque way. Roiling sand, recumbent women, astronomical charts, and a 70’s-inspired aesthetic make for a dizzying but fun sequence that is marred only by the wailing music. I love the entirely of the Bond theme canon, but this is the only one I actively dislike. Womp womp.
But anyways back to the movie itself.
In terms of plot, the characters don’t have a good framework in which to inhabit; however, the characters themselves are pretty good. I think Camille is an able female lead, especially since she seems to hearken back to classic Bond gals like Domino from Thunderball or Melina from For Your Eyes Only in that she is a damaged woman with a vendetta who is only really with Bond because he can help her get revenge on those who wronged her. She’s steely and strong and is only a damsel in distress at believable moments. The character is so closed off, the audience isn’t really offered much insight into her inner workings, but she feels like a fully realized character nonetheless.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). but I really love how he and Bond are able to find a sort of reconciliation after Bond wrongly accused him of being a traitor in the previous film. The two have some really great moments together.
I’m a bit less taken by Dominic Greene. He’s interesting in that he’s a slimy, two faced creep, and does it very well, but he just doesn’t seem smart enough to be highly placed within an organization like Quantum. I do like that he’s not really all that menacing; he strikes one as the nerdy genius who has no social skills, but can plan a government’s destruction in an evening. But someone like that wouldn’t make the silly mistakes Greene makes. I get the feeling this was another casualty of the writer’s strike. They establish the character well, but then don’t know how to get him from point A to point B, so they have him just temporarily make bad choices to speed things along.
But despite its potential, it just never comes together. The climax of the movie (no spoilers) is literally just “Bond confronts Greene while lots of things conveniently explode.” It’s visually cool, I guess, but it just feels like the script at that point was “Somehow, Bond meets Greene and they have a cool fight, because, I dunno.” It’s just kind of blah.
But that’s ok, because after this, we get the masterful Skyfall, which sends us heading towards the upcoming SPECTRE. So this is only a temporary dip in the road.
-no gunbarrel at the beginning *twitch*
-My single favorite M quote of all time, “When someone says ‘We’ve got people everywhere,’ you expect it to be hyperbole! Lots of people say that. Florists use that expression. It doesn’t mean that they’ve got somebody working for them inside the bloody room!”
-A boat chase! We got one in The World is not Enough, but this one really feels like a proper boat chase a la Live and Let Die.
-Poor Felix. He looks so miserable in all his scenes, having to put up with being paired with that corrupt dude. I do like how we get much more Felix in this one since Jeffrey Wright really needs more time to shine and be as awesome as we know he is.
-I loooooove the Tosca sequence!
-Fields is sort of a throwaway character, but her Goldfinger-esque death is very striking
-The desert hotel is beautiful, but it’s literally a million miles away from anywhere. Who in their right mind would visit it??
-Ok ok, now we get a gunbarrel sequence. It feels awkward at the end, though…
See you next week as we wrap this whole crazy James Bond Overdose thingy up with Skyfall! See you then!