I can’t believe I never got around to finishing and posting this on November 6th!!! So here goes:
The sequel to Casino Royale (the first Bond sequel) opens with a ferocious car chase, not even an hour after the end of the rebooted new beginning for 007. Bond has kidnapped Mr White, the man who had Vesper killed (and whom he attacked at the end of the last film) and his shadowy parent organisation wants him back. It’s an explosive start to a high octane movie, directed by art house director Marc Forster (of ‘Kite Runner’, ‘Monsters Ball’ and ‘Finding Neverland’ fame), and the film is subtly shaped by his focus on character and the producers’ oft-stated need to out-Bourne the Bourne films. Where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was a near-satirical but precise engine of destruction, Craig’s has utter disregard for human life and no judgment worth mentioning – this is the Bond people always wanted but were afraid to ask for. It’s one of many parallels with Dark Knight, and perhaps the only substantial failing to affect both films – they’re both so dark they veer into claustrophobia and discomfort, sacrificing the sheer enjoyability of their predecessors Batman Begins and Casino Royale.
In my mind these are small failings, because both films clearly sit within trilogies – Bond’s journey through utter coldness is part of the character’s journey which he began in Casino, and which very clearly ends at the end of Quantum, leaving the setup for a brighter third outing for Bond (and indeed Bruce Wayne). But this is a film about revenge and redemption, and it’s a theme shared by leading lady Camille (Olga Kurylenko), also out for revenge against Quantum and its boss Mr Greene (Daniel Amalric). Greene and Quantum are out to reshape governments and whole economies for profit, are in league with the CIA (with an intriguing turn by Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter), who together are conspiring to overthrow Bolivia. Bond’s and Camille’s shared agendas against Greene and Quantum are the core of the film and are fascinating – underscripted and well acted, and their parallels ultimately teach Craig’s character the lessons he needs to learn from Vesper’s death in Casino Royale and to move on. But getting there is brutal, and noone survives long, not Bond’s minder Strawberry Fields (a ghastly turn by Gemma Arterton, despite being involved in the darkest comic scene in recent Bond history), nor his friend Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini from the last film), and Bond’s icy response to their deaths is no doubt what puts many people off the film. They’re clearly missing the multi-layered approach Craig brings to his role – ice cold yet self-punishing and more unforgiving of himself than anyone else. Where this facet of ‘New’ Bond goes in the next film will be worth coming back for.
The central function of Judi Dench’s ‘New’ M is expanded, and her relationship with Bond is even more important than in ‘Casino’. Her intervention in Bolivia is particularly enjoyable, with her maternal approach very clear, but equally evident is a machiavellian tendency towards Bond. Her previous M with Pierce Brosnan used him largely as a distraction – now he’s clearly used as an expendible weapon who needs constant and subtle manipulation in order to reach her objectives. Given the much more ‘real world’ depiction of MI6 in this film, it’s a deftly written evolution in their relationship, and hopefully will survive in the coming installments. I have to say it’s a terrific film, often high octane to a fault, but consistent in following the terms of the reboot. Some say it’s too ‘Bourne’, and the influences are clear – the rooftop chasing and bare knuckle fighting is pure Bourne, but it works extremely well here, and accentuates the new character’s brutality. One of Bond’s early kills is particularly difficult to watch – not so much for the killing itself but his utter indifference to it. A bit of balance would be welcome in the third film, but it doesn’t come across as out of place this time.
I look forward to a continuing reliance on continuity in the next installment, and it should be remembered that while Amalric’s Greene meets a terminal fate, Mr White does not, and it’ll be interesting to see if whoever takes Bond on his next adventure picks up on this remaining subplot. And as much as I liked the Bourne influences, it would also not go amiss for the franchise to determine its own post-reboot identity. Bruce Wayne/Batman’s is quite clear, less so Bond’s. As much as I’ve enjoyed both new films, Craig has a little too much responsibility put on his shoulders.