Bond Begins

 

qos-poster1

 

Below are some thoughts I’ve been mulling around concerning Quantum of Solace.  Be advised it contains spoilers for Casino Royale, Quantum, and the Bourne trilogy, so if you haven’t seen any of those films, I’d exercise caution.  I wouldn’t call this a full review, even if it’s long enough to be one; I do not comment on much of the acting, or cinematography,  or any formal element, really.  It’s just what I’ve been thinking over since viewing it.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Directed by Marc Forster
With: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Gianni Giancarlo, Gemma Arterton,

Thoughts on the film by Nathan Douglas

Rating: ***1/2 (out of 4)

            Quantum of Solace begins with a dreadfully edited car chase, stumbles along for a while, and then somehow finds its legs.  And what legs they are, indeed.

            Let’s get the plot summary out of the way (as if you haven’t read enough of them by now): picking up ten minutes after Casino Royale (2006) ended, Quantum of Solace dives headlong into the brutal journey of vengeance and rage that was instigated by the death of Vesper Lynd, James Bond’s lover and betrayer from Casino Royale.  Bond (Daniel Craig) careens from location to the next, barely stopping to breathe, sniffing out the mysterious organization known as Quantum, a group of shady and powerful individuals who are responsible for Vesper’s demise, and a host of evil plans for world domination of one sort or the other.  Chief in Bond’s crosshairs is slimy businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an eco-warrior CEO up to no good in Bolivia; along the way Bond crosses paths with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a firebrand out for revenge of her own.  Storylines converge.  People die.  Things blow up.

            Quantum of Solace is best viewed as “Casino Royale: Part II.”  Put the two of them together, and you have an epic four-hour “Bond Begins.”  This is the first direct continuation of a storyline between films in the Bondverse, and you will need to brush up on your Casino Royale before heading out for Quantum.

Let’s look at some of the complaints against Quantum of Solace:

1) Too much action; not enough plot.

My response: There is a plot.  A lot of it is framework for the action, but there is a plot, and it’s a pretty decent one.  This film is all about two things: Bond’s pain, and Bond’s rage.  The two are manifested in an effective manner through the brutal action sequences.  The plot that exists is not the typical “Let’s take over the world,” plot, but then neither was Casino Royale’s, and everybody loved that one.  Quantum’s plot deals with a much more realistic, prescient scenario than a madman planning to nuke the world from his volcano base.  Instead we have a greedy industrialist trying to take over a nation using control of a valuable natural resource.  Still far-fetched for anyone who doesn’t listen to Coast to Coast AM, yes, but also more likely than the usual Bond villain scheme.

2) Too much action; not enough character.

My response: Hogwash.  This is one of the rare films where most of the action scenes do not play as gratuitous attempts to entertain.  Instead, the fights and chases are the character development.  Bond is in vengeance mode, and the film is about getting him to the point where he realizes that his path of violence and revenge is not going to bring him even a quantum of solace.  With every punch, with every bruise, Bond’s inner state is exteriorized in a display that is heartbreaking to view.  It’s one of the more powerfully depicted visions of brokenness on the big screen this year.

3) Where’s the humour?

My response: It’s there, albeit subdued and in less quantity than previous installments, but it’s there to be found.  I find it pleasing that less time is spent on throwaway lines and more attention is given to integrating humour into the main threads of the story, such as Bond’s verbal ambush of Quantum’s opera house meeting (and Mr. White’s hilarious reaction).  But once again, this is not supposed to be a fun movie.  It’s all about pain.  It’s about how Bond turned from what was something of a human being into a cold shell of a man, ground into the unbreakable agent that we know from 45 years of films.  This is the transformation process, the natural follow-up to the devastation of Casino Royale.  And tonally, I think Quantum hits almost every note perfectly.

Quantum is being panned because of what it is not, rather than because of what it is.  Some critics seem to have forgotten how much of a change Casino Royale was to the franchise, mainly in its omission of various Bondian elements including Q, gadgets, obligatory sex, and cartoonish schemes.  It stripped Bond to almost the essentials and audiences loved it.  Quantum takes the next step.  No, Q is not back.  No, the gadgets are not back (though there is a silly and terribly distracting computer screen straight out of Minority Report that should have been left out).  The obligatory sex is present, but not for very long, and it does sort of serve a plot point.  The scheme is far-fetched but carries a shred of credit in the corporate climate of today’s world.  Quantum, being the immediate continuation of Casino, does not resurrect the missing Bond tropes.  It’s as though folks enjoyed the uniqueness of Casino Royale, but expect the franchise to return to its familiar format.  Newsflash: it isn’t happening.  What we get instead is better than that.

What surprises me about Quantum, is how far it is willing to go in offering redemption to Bond, and in turn to others.  Casino ended on a somewhat troubling revenge-driven theme, and Quantum plays off of that with a powerfully redemptive decision on Bond’s part.  It’s the fulfillment of what Casino promised: the humanization of Bond.  He can be in charge, he can be wounded, and he can realize the cost and the pointlessness of his actions.  Why is this a bad thing?  Why are audiences and critics demanding that we return to the old days of Bond?  I’m as fond as the old movies as anyone can be, but I don’t miss them.  They don’t break new ground for the character; they don’t connect with viewers emotionally; really, they just aren’t as satisfying film experiences as these new films are.  Bond learns, he grows; he suffers, as we do.  For now, Bond’s days as full-on escapist entertainer are finished.

Far too many comparisons are being drawn to the Bourne franchise.  I submit that Quantum of Solace takes Bourne’s territory and owns it better than Bourne does.  For all of its back story, I found the Bourne series to be emotionally distant.  They are, and remain, very well-made action films, and not much more.  Bourne’s relationship with Marie seemed driven by the usual Hollywood convention of guy-needs-girl-to-hook-up-with, and her death was never as emotionally impacting for the audience as Vesper’s was.  Vesper and Bond seemed to have a real thing going; their relationship seems more natural than Bourne’s.  While the Bourne films were frameworks for extraordinary and perfunctory action sequences, Quantum’s fights are coloured by an emotional complexity, a careful mixture that has been brewing since the first frame of Casino Royale.

There are elements to complain about: the opening chase is a shameful, visual mess; the airplane chase is gratuitous time-filler that belongs in a deleted scene from Octopussy; the title song is one of the weakest of the series; the addition of a bit of sex is forced, tonally out-of-place, and inconsistent with Bond’s state of mind; Forster highlights the Goldfinger homage over and over with sledgehammer lightness.

All of these complaints pale, however, in the overall achievement of the film.  I consider it a success, and a very good success, not because it gave me a good time at the movies (as the usual Bond flick would), but because it moved me.  I never thought a Bond picture would move me, but Forster and his writers have succeeded in doing so.  The emotional hurricane that Bond experiences is manifested to the audience in a very effective way, and his path to realization, and a bit of grace is an inspiring journey to behold.  For perhaps the first time ever, a Bond film has lessons to teach — and they are worth learning.  For this, I am grateful.  By the end of the film, Bond may not have a quantum of solace, but I certainly have more than that as this franchise evolves into better and better things.

Content guide: Quantum of Solace contains frequent, sustained intense action scenes that include brutal (but relatively bloodless) fistfights, semi-graphic shootings, and all manner of vehicular destruction.  Sex between Bond and a woman is implied.  A few s-words are uttered, and Bond drinks alcohol frequently.

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3 Responses to “Bond Begins”

  1. There’s a lot of subtleties that you picked up, which is good. However, there was a lot in basic execution of a film that just made it very hard for me to enjoy. You seemed to be able to pick it apart after watching it and enjoy it more. I’m rather the opposite. I had a good time during the film and as soon as the credits started rolling, I was suddenly aware of so much that was wrong with it.

    We’ll need to set aside 60 mins to discuss this.
    I agree with most of your insights though. It’s just that you didn’t at all bring up some of the blinding issues that film had.

  2. Like I said in the disclaimer above, I wouldn’t call this a full review, or even a half review. I put in the star rating because that’s what I think the film deserves, but I agree that the piece doesn’t give much time to “blinding issues.” (save for that one laundry list). These are the thoughts that were foremost in my mind in the 72 hours following my viewing of the film, and while I intended to finish this writing as a full review, I got sidetracked by life and decided to throw up what I had before Bond fades into the background again.

    The bottom line is, I liked it, wrinkles and all (even some of the herky-jerkiness).

  3. I agree with you that a lot of the action was sloppy. It was easy to lose track of exactly what was happening. Once the viewer gives up like that, the movie losses buy-in.

    I also agree that the plot was convoluted at best. I think the humor is one of many classic Bond elements that seem to be lacking. It is too much like Bourne. Bond, be yourself and snap out of it.

    Here is my take (with pics). I would appreciate your opinion.

    http://fortresstakes.wordpress.com/2009/04/04/quantum-of-solace-2008/

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