© 2008 Ray Wong
Picking up where Casino Royale left off, the second Bond film starring Daniel Craig continues to chronicle James Bond's transformation into the Bond we all know so well.
The story begins with Bond (Daniel Craig) in hot pursuit of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the man responsible for the death of the woman Bond loves. After capturing and interrogating White, Bond and M (Judi Dench) understand there's a secret organization called Quantum, something even the MI6 does not know, behind all this. A infiltrator tries to kill M, but Bond eventually catches and kills him.
Bond's ruthlessness and disobedience put M in an awkward position. She doesn't know if she can trust Bond either. Meanwhile, Bond follows his leads to Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who leads him to one of the members of Quantum, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). It turns out Greene is supporting a local tyrant in exchange of a piece of dessert. But there's no oil there; so what is Green after?
When M realizes Bond is out of control, she suspends him. That doesn't stop Bond from going after what he wants -- he asks for help from former agent Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). It turns out Felix is after Greene as well. Armed with personal vengeance, Bond goes after Greene with or without M's blessing.
Daniel Craig (Defiance) surprised everyone with his gruff, rough, and ruthless portrayal of the world's most famous spy. Here, he continues with that personality but adds a bigger dash of charm, soul and slickness -- we can certainly see the savvy Bond emerging from that gruff exterior. Craig again delivers a tour de force performance, especially considering he performed most of his own stunts. It'll be interesting to see where he takes Bond (he's under contract for one more film).
Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal) reprises her role as M and acts more motherly toward Craig's Bond. Dench is always great, and the relationship she develops with Craig is what makes the film works on a personal level outside of all stunts, pyrotechnics and high-tech gadgets. Italian star Giancarlo Giannini (Casino Royale) brings class and heart to the production, with a small but important reprisal as Mathis -- Bond's friend and mentor. Jeffrey Wright (W) also reprises his role as Felix and has a few good scenes with Craig.
But what's a James Bond movie without the Bond girls and super villains? As Camille, Olga Kurylenko (Max Payne) is gorgeous, of course, but she can also act. She's a good compliment to Craig, and her role is more substantial to the plot than just a window dressing. Plus, her character doesn't sleep with Bond. Gemma Arterton (RocknRolla), as Strawberry Fields, does sleep with Bond. It's a great role, albeit short and tragic. The weakest link of the entire cast is French actor Mathieu Amalric (Munich) as Greene. The villains in Bond films are usually either weird or larger-than-life. Amalric is simply too plain, uninteresting, and outright wimpy. Greene is definitely one of the weakest villains in any Bond films.
The screenwriting team includes pedigrees such as Paul Haggis (Crash), Neal Purvis (Casino Royale), and Robert Wade (Casino Royale). They don't disappoint. Granted, the plot is a bit convoluted with a lot of different characters and various twists, but no one goes to see Bond for the plot anyway. The writers give us sharp dialogue, great action sequences that take us to exotic locations, and interesting espionage scenarios. What impresses me, however, are the relationships. Haggis and company really turn things up a notch by more fully developing Bond's character and his relationships with others, especially M. His friendship with Mathis is particularly well rendered and carried out; yet, it doesn't reduce Bond into a sentimental puddle -- that is very remarkable.
This is director Marc Forster's (The Kite Runner) first Bond film, and likely his last (he declined to direct the next film). His direction is taut and well executed. The stunt work, in particular, is stunning. There are key sequences -- for example, through the streets of Italy -- that are breathtaking. He's also slick when the action calls for it, such as the sequence at the opera house. Sometimes, however, the action is too tight and confusing -- it's really difficult to discern who is doing what to whom. Obviously, Forster's taking cue from Paul Greengrass and the Bourne series, what with the fast cuts, the super close-ups, and the shaky camera. It's no secret that Jason Bourne is now the number one competitor to the Bond franchise, and one must adapt. Still, there are scenes that remind us the Bourne series, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
Still, this is Bond, and this film has everything: beautiful women, exotic locations, supreme stunt work, great chases, stylized violence, machismo to spare, fashion, sex, and martinis. Combined all that with solid performances from the key players (with the exception of the villain), what more could we ask for? We should take solace knowing that at least in the fantasy world of cinema, James Bond is still alive and kicking ass.
Stars: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, Jesper Chrsitensen
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, sexual content and brief nudity
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total – 8.1 out of 10