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Casino Royale: Act Two
on 17 February 2009
Let's be honest, everyone has an opinion on what a Bond film should be like. In terms of 'I would have done it this way' or 'they shouldn't have done it like that' a Bond film ranks up there with how the country should be run or the management of the national football team where everyone is an expert. Too much sex, not enough glamour, ridiculous gadgets, not enough gadgets, the stunts are too far fetched, it's too realistic....and so on; whatever combination the producers put in their films they'd be criticised for any of the above.
Quantum of Solace is no different, whilst still hugely successful Marc Forster's film has split audiences and critics alike. The storyline sees Bond pursuing the organisation he holds responsible for the death of his love Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. It turns out that this organisation, Quantum, is unknown to MI6 yet is highly powerful and internationally connected and Bond stumbles on its plot to control Bolivia's water supply. Like M, we are never quite sure if Bond is on the mission or pursuing his personal agenda, as he gives little away whilst displaying his resourcefulness in following various leads around the world.
Quantum of Solace starts half an hour after Casino Royale and immediately you are into the film. An exhilarating car chase by Lake Garda is followed by an innovative title sequence and then we have a bit of exposition from M before another chase ensues, this time by foot and before you notice twenty minutes have passed and you haven't breathed. The plot proceeds more like a sequence of events as opposed to a structured build-up as Bond, hopping countries, goes from one chase (land, sea and air) or fight to the next, with just enough dialogue in between to balance the tempo. Following the predictably explosive third act the film's final scene lets the audience take stock and breathe out.
The reoccurring criticism levied at Quantum of Solace is its lack of build-up and depth, with Bond too solemn throughout. For me this misses the point, as producers were at pains to point out that this is a direct sequel to Casino Royale. I would go a step further and add that it's actually Act Two of one big film; where Casino Royale is the prelude and Quantum of Solace the finale where Bond, angry, lets loose. Viewing it this way will give you a different perspective.
There are a few downsides. The premise of a secret organisation whose evil aim is to up the price of water is, if not far fetched for today's audience, hardly blood-curdling stuff. And insisting on an explosive denouement is one thing, but to achieve it by having the enemies clash in a hotel powered by ultra flammable pressurised gas is, to say the least, a bit contrived.
The upsides though are many. The action is superb (if a little Bourne-juddery at times) as are the several fight sequences. You actually believe Bond is a highly trained killer and your expectancy doesn't let you blink when he gets into a clash (do you remember watching the Roger Moore fights slightly embarrassed?). The cinematography may not fully capture the pseudo glamour of the Bond countries of old, but you really feel you are in these places with Bond, sharing his claustrophobic world. And I loved the odd retro touch the film endows such as where Bond, all stealth and dressed like Steve McQueen, sneaks around a seedy Bolivian town in the dead of night and actually uses a public telephone.
The characters are mostly all well played too. The highlights being Gemma Arterton's breath of fresh air as Miss Fields and Jeffrey Wright's brooding Felix Leiter. But the plaudits have to go to Judy Dench and Daniel Craig who are both class acts. Whilst deadly serious, Craig delivers his witticisms with perfect timing and reassuring arrogance with a healthy disregard for authority. And the chemistry he shares with Dench's maternal, eternally reproachful M can't be faked.
All said and done Quantum of Solace is a hugely enjoyable film. It might not have the suave assuredness of the Connery films, nor the glamour of the some of the Moore's but what it has is Daniel Craig who, and this is coming from a lifelong Connery fan, is hands-down the best Bond of the series.