Underwhelming, soulless, incoherent, a wasted opportunity, misspent good will. This is a choice selection of descriptors that I’d use to describe the 22nd bond movie. I actually feel angry with this one. Why? Well Casino Royale had set the bar so bloody high. Here we had a movie that had become something more than the sum of its parts and had successfully achieved putting some soul and danger back into the franchise. Craig’s snark and cold demeanour had elevated the movie out of being just another Bond in an increasingly tough franchise to be original in. The reboot and decision to focus on character and story was an unqualified success.
So what happened with QOS then?
First of all the choice of director; Marc Foster may be a great director, but his handling of action is an incoherent mess. I love the Bourne franchise with a passion, but Greengrass knows what he's doing with jumpy, jittery, jelly camera shots. In QOS Foster is doing a piss poor job of imitation and for franchise of this calibre this is a cardinal sin. Directors copy Bond not the other way round.
The movie opens with what is supposed to be an ear bleeding head fuck of a car chase, I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time due to the fast cutting and incoherent establishing shots. Compare that with Casino’s stunning construction site chase and you’ll see exactly what I mean, coherence even in the confusion of combat and chase is a necessary story telling tool and here its sorely lacking.
But that is only a part of the movie’s problems. The main problem is story or the lack of. Seriously the plot here is wafer thin, even a bad Bond movie had a more creative story than this one. In this movie Bond has to do two things, uncover the nature of the hitherto unknown terror organization, and find solace for the betrayal and suicide of Vesper. Sounds like a rather compelling storyline right? Yet what we are given is, well, not very much. I felt like Oliver Twist who dared to ask for more and then got fucked for it.
Lets deal with the main story first. After one unnecessary chase and Bournesque fight after another we find Bond in South American territory tracking down Dominic Greene who plays the role of an unlikely Eurotrash villain. Like we haven’t seen enough of those recently. It stinks of PC in the fact Bond’s villains still can’t be based on the contemporary terrorists who Bond should be taking out. Not only is this guy a whiny little shit but also he doesn’t even have any distinguishing marks that designate him evil. Seriously, not even a scar? Even Casino Royale had the gumption to give the villain a weeping eye of blood. And what's he doing? Well apart from destabilizing some Bolivia, he wants to buy land not for oil but for water. Yawn, I’m asleep already. Seriously, aren’t Bond villains supposed to want to kill lots of people in pursuit of their own twisted version of Utopia? Does Bond even care about the business deal Greene’s making? Not really, he just wants to find our the name of the organization, big hint, its in the title. What should have been dealt with in the first act of the movie ends up being a damp squid of a third act revelation.
And what about Bond’s emotional journey? You know the one the producers had been harping on about in the pre-release publicity? Well, quite frankly I couldn’t find it. Sure he spends the movie pissed off for the most part, preferring to kill first and look for clues later. But this is part of the problem, Bond is actually supposed to enjoy his job, well you couldn’t work that out from watching this one. In Casino Craig had ample opportunity to show his flair and ingenuity in the role with lots of great little scenes that allowed for a lot of naturalistic humour. Here all those opportunities are passed over for the most part. We should have had a fun interrogation scene with Mr White, instead our hero stands passively and acts reactively to an utterly unbelievable betrayal by one of M’s bodyguards that ended up making MI6 look like bloody idiots. The only sequence that stands out with any merit and sense of ingenuity is at the opera where Bond finds some of his lost creativity and gets the bad guys to reveal themselves in a remarkably brilliant set up. It’s also the only time when the action shows any flair or originality.
Most of the so-called character stuff is shifted onto the Bond girl, Camille, who incidentally will go down in history as the one who got away. She is on her own revenge mission to kill some stereotypical Latin American general stock action figure. We get to hear her whine about her pain and misery, not to mention her ambivalence concerning the Greene character. All in all it makes for an uninspired plot line that waters down Bond's own revenge arc.
Another missed opportunity is the dogfight scene. The trailer made that out to be something really special with what looked like Bond in an old fighter plane going against a modern one. No such luck. Instead of an encore echoing back to Tomorrow Never Dies pre-title sequence we get another underwhelming set piece climaxing in some CGI chicanery that looks as laughable as the one in Die Another Day. Before watching this I saw The Spy Who Loved Me, possibly one of the best Bond movie’s of all time, here was a film with a sense of fun emoting a thrilling adventure, and more importantly believable stunts – check out that brilliant set piece at the beginning which ends with a parachute jump of that cliff, you’ll see what I mean.
A lot of the advance press had talked about how Bond had never gone this dark before, which makes me wonder whether they've done their research particularly well. That shouldn't be a particularly difficult task considering the exposure Bond has received. What I want to say is that this movie stinks of déjà vu. Twenty years earlier Timothy Dalton made a Bond movie that was set in Latin America, had left all his humour behind with Moore's arched eyebrow, and took part in some vicious fight sequences to avenge Felix Lighter's wife. Much of the mood of QOS harkens back to that albeit with a post modern, post cynical sheen and polish, but nonetheless we aren't in what you'd call uncharted waters here.
QOS shows us exactly how we don't want Bond to be. There is no sense of fun here whatsoever. On the press junket circuit for the upcoming Defiance, Craig went on record saying this story is finished and that he wants to spend the first half an hour of his third Bond lying on a beach in the Bahamas. Its a candid admittance that the franchise needs to remember that a Bond stripped down to shaky cameras and vicious brawls is actually less interesting than Bourne. Why is this the case? Well, with Bond there isn't any mystery about who he is, we know his name, we know what he does, we have fifty years of historical knowledge about this man. There is a sense with the producers that QOS is supposed to complete his origin story. Yet when you consider the close of Casino you already understand who Bond is we didn't need another movie to labour the point home.
The next Bond needs to be an epic that is textured in hues of light and dark. Bond needs to save the world again just like he used to in the old days when after he did all the hard work the Calvary arrives and we're treated to a spectacle of an imaginative battle sequence between terrorists and commandos, again check out the final reel of The Spy Who Loved Me, you'll see what I mean. The stakes need to get higher in the Bond movies. The world has got to be on the edge of destruction and there is only one man who can stop it. That's called a hero's journey, something QOS was not.