The latest Bond outing has already smashed box office records in its opening weekend. It's clear from the film's plot why it's opening in the UK first, but more of that later. This is very much Casino Royale 2, picking up in plot and feel on its 2006 predecessor, and again reminiscent of the Bourne Trilogy: a movie which stands on its own, but makes more sense if you've seen the one before it.
Critics have given it mixed reviews, and here's my take:
Plot: Bond is out to avenge the killers of Vesper Lynd, his love interest in Casino Royale. He claims he's not motivated by revenge, but he spends the entire film pursuing (and killing) a series of contacts around the world who lead him closer and closer to his quarry. On the way he encounters the main baddie - Dominic Greene - who is in cahoots with both the CIA and various South American dictators-in-waiting. He blocks off water supplies, destabilises governments, the dictators step in and take over, and Greene gets lots of land in return. And that's about it: no world destroying megalomaniacs here, but still a nasty piece of work.
Along the way Bond teams up with the obligatory beauty, who's family were destroyed by a Bolivian general who is in league with Greene, and who also wants revenge. He has to slip out of MI5 (or is it 6?) control in order to pursue his vendetta, and yet again we have a Bourne similarity: a spy working against his own people in order to pursue his own agenda.
Style: The film seemed to be almost 50% chase sequences: road by Italian lake going into a quarry, Siena rooftops (brilliantly staged), boats in a Caribbean harbour, car and bike chase, hotel chase, plane dogfight, and probably several others. The camera jumps around so much in many of these that it's hard to keep track of what's going on, but it certainly gives it a faster pace than Casino. It's also very low tech: scarcely a gadget on show (except some whizzy computer graphics at MI5), and some very physical stuntwork. Roger Moore this is not!
Substance: the plot is twofold - Greene's wheeling and dealing, and Bond's pursuit of revenge. Beneath that is there anything deeper? Casino Royale explored Bond's choices over what kind of person he would be, what kind of image of masculinity ('part monk, part killing machine'). Here he seems to have settled on a Clint Eastwood persona: steely and single minded pursuit of revenge.
If there is a moral heart to this film it is about motivation. Bond is motivated by revenge, Greene by greed, the CIA by power (having people they can influence and control in satellite states), the Foreign Secretary by expediency, Bond's companion Camille by revenge again. The CIA subplot probably won't go down very well in the USA, and many of the main characters talk about 'heroes and villains' (a nod to the title of the latest Heroes series? probably not), but refuse to draw moral lines between them. At times it's hard to know which side of the line Bond falls on, he has so few scruples about killing people. Is there, as one character suggests, no real distinction between heroes and villains? Does it matter which side you're on?
A couple of characters suggest that something deeper: Camille wants to 'free you from your prison', and Matthis (virtually his only other ally) encourages Bond to forgive, and to forgive himself. The suggestion that revenge takes you prisoner, and forgiveness sets you free might have carried the day in Spiderman 3, but it doesn't stand a chance in the hail of bullets, crashes and explosions that is Quantum of Solace.
All in all a good spy thriller, but the character development which took us all by surprise in Casino Royale is put on hold for 1 more chase sequence, and Bond is a less complex, less interesting character as a result. It's a good ride, it has the familiar Bond style (lots of dinner suits and cocktails) but is in danger of disappearing into a Bourne Identikit. This iron man needs a heart.