'Quantum of Solace'

Get out of there Bond! This thing is gonna blow!

By Steve Burgess 14 Nov 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess reviews films and other aspects of culture every other Friday here on The Tyee.

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Craig as 007: back to the '70s.

Question: What is a Quantum of Solace?

Answer: One hell of a songwriting challenge.

Jack White had the unenviable task of penning the new Bond theme, facing perhaps the greatest lyrical conundrum since 1983's Octopussy. White opted for an entirely different title -- Another Way to Die -- while throwing the word "quantum" in somewhere.

Why not? Even Daniel Craig recently admitted that the title of the latest James Bond adventure, taken from an Ian Fleming short story, is essentially meaningless. The real title of the 22nd Bond flick is Casino Royale II. The new story aims to pick up from the last episode, with Bond seeking revenge for the death of his lady-love. And with good reason. Craig's 2006 debut as Agent 007 succeeded in rebooting the entire franchise, giving new life to a tired series with a grittier hero, more tactile action scenes, and some actual plot in place of consecutive speedboat chases.

Alas, this time around it's back to the boats. When folks start ripping around Haitian waters with outboards a-revving, it's a clear indication that Quantum of Solace will follow Casino Royale's step forward with two steps back. Heavy on the stunts, light on the screenplay -- welcome to Quantum of Same-Old.

Tree huggers, the new villains

Things start pretty well, though. A rip-roaring shoot 'em up car chase shows once again the influence of the Bourne series on the new Bond flicks. The film scores points with me by opening in Siena, Italy in the midst of my favourite spectacle, the Palio race. But Siena and the Palio serve no purpose whatsoever other than background colour, and that's indicative of what is to come. There's an intriguing plot kick-off -- the revelation of a super-secret organization that even M (Judi Dench) is unaware of. And eventually you'll be unaware of it too, since that angle amounts to pretty much nada. Hope you like boats.

Quantum of Solace does offer us the innovation of environmentalists as villains, albeit only because they're actually venal hypocrites. It offers up a morbid and misogynistic tribute to Goldfinger with a sexy corpse a la Oilfinger. But by the time things wrap up, the filmmakers are relying on that oldest of 007 cliches, the escape-from-a-gradually-exploding-complex. Some customers will still care.

Bond movies had never been my cuppa, but after Casino Royale I was actually anticipating the new one. I won't be doing that again anytime soon. It's a mystery why the managers of this valuable brand, who clearly wanted to capitalize on their fresh start, decided to change the director (from Martin Campbell to Marc Forster) and shuffle the writing team. Last time around, Paul Haggis received only the third screenwriting credit behind Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; this time around Haggis is listed first. Considering Haggis's prominence in creating Million Dollar Baby and Crash, I am going to go ahead and blame him for this flick. Casino Royale reminded you of the potential for fun and intrigue that this series has always held. Quantum of Solace just reminds you of the 1970s.

Quantum of Solace does have Craig. Even with less-than-first-rate material, he is still a superior Bond -- feral, frightening, always watchable. He's the ace-in-the-hole for the series now. Having squandered the considerable goodwill generated by Casino Royale, they'll need one. While they're at it, why not do the songwriters a favour? Bond #23 should be called: "Hey Baby, Let's Spoon."

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