The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Quantum of Solace

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I took time to see the 23rd James Bond film this afternoon, this after reading only 1 review of it (Anothony Lane in The New Yorker; you can read it here: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2008/11/17/081117crci_cinema_lane). I had confidence after the phenomenal Casino Royale that this would live up to what I expect James Bond films to be and what I now know they can be– I had almost abandon the franchise after the dreadful Pierce Brosnan films, especially Die Another Day. They had become too formulaic, too high-concept, too much of a parody of themselves. It’s nice to see them being steered in another direction.

This is not to say that Quantum is without fault. It has problems, but holds together well for reasons I didn’t expect. I had problems with the editing in at least two of the pivotal sequences in the film. The opening car chase and subsequent pursuit of a traitor were pieced together with so many shots and cuts that they are nearly impossible to follow and appreciate upon first viewing. This seems to be the fad in the contemporary high-concept action genre. There are probably many things to blame for this (rapid-fire realistic video games and speedy MTV music video philosophies come to mind). I complained about the same issue as long as 6 years ago regarding some sequences in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. This could also mean that I’m getting older and my eyes don’t track as well as they used to.

Something that I thought plagued Casino Royale also plagues Quantum, and that is a climatic scene featuring a humongous set piece- an entire building- being brought down around our hero as he deals with the baddies and tries to save his own ass. I was able to forgive it in Casino because of the gritty quality of the rest of the film, but two times in a row is too much.

The good news is that the new Bond films adheres to the basics in the same fashion that Casino did: cars, guns, and cell phones are pretty much it. There are some jaw-dropping MI-6 technologies that add some flash and zing to the international game of technological stalking, but Bond himself sticks to cars, feet, motorboats, and airplanes– none of which are remarkable or bulletproof or gadget-laden or specifically designed to be featured in an extended chase scene. In a way, that’s a shame. Some of the most memorable Bond scenes of all time were created around outlandish vehicular technology (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Living Daylights come to mind), but the sins of the past 15 years of Bond have made those signature elements passe and comical. The invisible car in Die Another Day probably did more to kill that idea than anything else in recent memory.

What we end of up with, then, is something of a character study. Quantum does more to develop the “new” James Bond than Casino Royale did, which seems fitting given that Casino was tailored to reboot the franchise more than anything. Quantum follows Bond along a trail of brutal and bloody vengeance begun in Casino, and thusly works to shape him as a cold, calculating, conscienceless killer who mixes business with his personal vendettas. The savoire-faire of Sean Connery and Roger Moore are notably absent. Daniel Craig spends at least half the film looking like he’s been run over, beat up, dragged around, and pummelled by endless explosions, which he has. It’s not glamorous, but it is effective in creating this new-milleniuim Bond.

While it’s not impossible to follow Quantum without having seen Casino, it is certainly difficult. I read through the wikipedia entry for Casino as a primer (having forgotten several important plot developments over the last two years), and was still struggling with some of the plot twists. Also, it’s worth mentioning that long-time Bond fans will likely appreciate the allusion to Goldfinger about 2/3 of the way through. I spotted an allusion to The Spy Who Loved Me shortly before that.

Now that the loose ends of the Casino plot have been tied up– and Quantum didn’t appear to create any new ones– I’ll be interested in seeing where Bond goes next. The good news is that the franchise is as all-around strong as it has been since Roger Moore’s glory days in the early 1980s, and we only have to wait 2-3 more years to find out.

P.S. Speaking of Roger Moore’s glory days… For Your Eyes Only has to be the most underrated Bond film of all time. After 4 rounds as Bond, Moore struck gold with this gem from 1981. It’s notable for several reasons: it’s the only time that the Moore incarnation of Bond battles Blofeld (even though it’s only for the opening sequence); it’s also one of the only times that Bond’s mission is a failure. There are memorable action sequences on skis, underwater, and in cars (the chase of note takes place on a bobsleigh track). The pacing of the film is noticably different than the two previous films, with the result being heightened suspense for a good 45 minutes at the end. The cinematography on location in Greece is stunning, especially the climatic scene around and atop The Monastery of Holy Trinity.

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Written by seeker70

November 23, 2008 at 2:15 am

Posted in James Bond

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