Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Different Bond is Still a Good Bond

For fans of the 46-year-old James Bond film series the release of a new installment is much more than your average theatrical release, it’s an experience and an event no other film series is able to create. 2006’s Casino Royale, which is seen as a reboot for the longstanding series, cemented Daniel Craig as a more than capable James Bond player and introduced a new gritty tone to the Bond series. Quantum of Solace, the newest addition to the series, looks to pick up right where things left off.

Solace, which is the first direct sequel in the series, has James Bond battling Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a member of the secret Quantum organization. Greene poses as an environmentalist who is attempting to take control of Bolivia’s water supply.

While it’s surely arguable, the James Bond series is one of cinema’s most storied and legendary film series. Solace is the 22nd “official” Bond film where official means it’s an EON Productions produced James Bond film. The series has seen six different actors play James Bond from the original Sean Connery to the current Daniel Craig. With this kind of extensive past the large fan base of Bond fans, comprised of both diehard and casual fans, always have lofty expectations for each new release. Solace, which is directed by Marc Forster, does as much justice to the Bond series as it needed to do.

Say hello to the new James Bond. This isn’t the gadget-wielding Bond of past. He sure as heck isn’t the same Bond we’ve seen stop evil genius after evil genius from taking over the world. This is a rough, rugged Bond brooding with emotion. While some fans may hold bitter over the change from over-the-top to a realistic and serious tone, it’s time to face the facts and realize there comes a time for change. The new Bond films themselves are highly indicative of modern filmmaking in general. As far as I can tell, change, in this case, is good.

Solace, which is far more action-oriented than Royale, is an exhilarating and fast-paced experience. My only criticism of the action is the way it was handled by director Marc Forster. While the action scenes are not at all poorly thought out or unimpressive they were noticeably disorientating. Each high-octane action sequence is made up of quick cuts and edits, hyper-edits as they call it in the business, leaving the viewer with no sense of the surroundings and at times no clue as to what exactly is happening. On occasion this leaves location unidentifiable and can be extremely distracting. Royale’s parkour-style chase is an example of how to handle things properly. The scaling of the construction site features smoother and longer shots and truly conveys the grand scale of the chase where as Solace’s tight shots and quick edits does little for the action. Action scenes can be intense and exuberating without the camerawork being all over the place and jumpy. That said the action in Solace is still conceptually impressive and ultimately thrilling.

While Solace’s plot won’t particularly amaze it’s still a solid one. Solace is hell-bent on revenge. Both Bond and Bond girl Camille (Olga Kurylenko) are seeking to close the doors on past events. I was very impressed with how this emotion was handled in both characters. In fact, the characters in general were a typically impressive facet of the film. Returning characters Felix Leiter and Mathis were both terrifically handled and make for some of the best Bond-character interaction moments in the film, complete with signature Bond style dialogue. The building relationship with Bond and M (Judi Dench) is absolutely fantastic. Mathieu Amalric is easy dislikeable and despicable as Dominic Greene.

If you find yourself disliking Solace immensely you might be stuck deep in the past. Fact is this isn’t a James Bond film of the past. The main villain doesn’t pet a cat all film nor does he have a pond of man-eating piranhas in an underground lair. Hell he doesn’t even have a bleeding eye like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. It’s no secret that while Solace isn’t a perfect film it’s a more than acceptable entry into the Bond canon.

If Daniel Craig’s first two films as 007 are any indication of the future Bond fans are in for a treat or two down the line. Solace features tons of action, plenty of thrills and memorable characters. Cynics may call this a very un-Bond-like generic action film. I’ll call it an enthusiastic and bold approach that’s a step in the right direction for this historic and legendary series.

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