Saturday, December 27, 2014

Quantum of Solace

  *Given that I actually reviewed Quantum of Solace, publishing it backdated, about two months ago, well before I started this 007 marathon, some portions of this review will be taken from this review. Simply because I feel like that review almost perfectly captured my feelings on the movie, which have barely changed since. However, given that part of my objective with this, and with any, big marathon is to update one's views on a movie. Watching all of the 007 movies in release order has given me a unique perspective on them, which extends into Daniel Craig's era as well. So I have written fresh material for this review which delves into my thoughts on how this one stacks up against the others, what it takes from them, and what it avoids.

  After the massive hit that was Casino Royale, people were eager to see how Daniel Craig would handle another go-round as the eponymous James Bond. Was he a one hit wonder? Was the appeal of his brand of 007 all but gone? Well, when Quantum of Solace hit the screens in 2008, everyone got their answers. For better or worse... The good at least? Daniel Craig was still a damn effective James Bond. The movie around him? ...Not so much. Quantum of Solace plays more as a direct sequel to Casino Royale than anything. Though you'd be forgiven for not keeping up on current events, Quantum of Solace is haphazardly plotted and only seems to really care about it's predecessor in a couple standout moments. Otherwise... it's only a shadow of Casino Royale. Let me break it down for you.

  First, I said in my review of the previous movie- a Bond movie's strength should be able to be determined by whether or not you can market the film entirely around the villain. In that case, let's look at the villain. Dominic Green is the chief bad guy this time, played with gusto by Mathieu Almaric. Unfortunately, this guy is about as interesting as a cardboard cutout. His unique Bond villain endgame is to control 60% of the water in Bolivia so that he can like... I dunno. Swindle then out of paying double for water. So... evil. And yes, while it is evil, it falls flat in a 007 movie. The guy himself has none of the on-screen presence of a proper villain, and comes across more like a greedy business mogul than anything. He has no unique traits about him, and all in all is uninteresting.

  Marketing the movie around him would've been disastrous. He's horribly boring as a character, as a villain, and doubly so in the wake of the profoundly sinister, Le Chiffre from Casino Royale. That's just one issue with this movie. There are plenty more. Secondly, things just seem to kinda... happen? The story is muddy, and the plot is too. Not to mention the Bond girl is entirely dead weight. She actually contributes nothing to the actual story aside from just tagging alongside Bond for the last act of the movie. Compared to how absolutely crucial Vesper Lynd was, this is just criminally disappointing. The movie seems content to be technically competent and only technically competent as he plot is advanced with one bloody action set piece after the next.

  This is wrong. This is a bad formula. Bond should not be reduced to being Jason Bourne in a suit. He has his own brand of suspense and danger, one that is only glimpsed here is a few scenes. Otherwise there is little to separate Quantum of Solace from being an entry in any action franchise. This is the first 007 movie to feature a foot chase, car chase, boat chase AND plane chase. Yet does this abundance of action make for a good movie? No. Solace is thematically weak, and stylishly inept. Director Marc Forster makes some mind bogglingly bad choices here, visually. Cutting to superfluous footage during action scenes, horrible shaky cam, and specific instructions to Almaric to not make any attempts to give his character any memorable visual attributes.

  On top of these issues, the first rough draft of the script was completed right before the writer's strike. It got so bad that Daniel Craig himself would have to re-write scenes, dialog, and even write entire new pages, on the set. It really shows too that the script was sort of thrown together. It's the kind of weak blockbuster formula of fill in plot holes with action scenes. Also, I've yet to find a movie with Olga Kurylenko in which her character has any intrinsic value to the movie itself, at all. Craig's character has little to do besides get shuffled along and swept up with the lackluster insanity around him. Aside from a promising opening, which is properly thrilling, Bond himself is wasted.

  The character we saw built up in Casino Royale has been hopelessly reduced to something with the emotional dimensions of an action figure. Daniel Craig must be commended though because you can see him trying to act right through the confines of this script. The direction was dire, but Craig tried very hard to breathe life into 007 again. And lucky for us too because we eventually got Skyfall, which was a superior effort in every way imaginable.  I cannot fully recommend against Quantum of Solace, because if you've seen all the James Bond films, you know they can get much worse than this. If anything, it scrapes by just enough on a wink and a bullet to be marginally entertaining.

  Watching it this time, I think I actually respect it a bit more. Olga's character may have no direct ties to the plot, but she makes an interesting foil for Bond. Her backstory has led her to a situation which directly mirrors Bond's. It may all be paper thin and underdeveloped, but it interesting on a superficial level. Also interesting, and on anything but a superficial level, was a scene in which another Bond girl turns up dead. The manner of her demise was a visual throwback to Goldfinger, which isn't clever or anything. It's just another nod that these movies keep doing. However, the scene around the girl's death was actually fantastic. M is there, and she has a dialog with 007 about his charms with women, and how it always turns out badly.

  In any number of previous iterations, a dialog like this could've been played for jokes believe it or not. It would've been an off the cuff remark and had the characters shuffling along to the next scene. I won't pretend that they managed any lasting effect after this one or two minute scene, because it was over and that was that, but... it did point out something which is largely skirted around in these movies. Bond is a deadly person to know whether you're an enemy or a lover. Especially if you're a lover. They might treat this as a tragic part of his character now, yet one can't help but wonder if there wasn't (as a friend of mine put it) an 'ugly misogynistic center' behind this at one point in the franchise. The movie grapples with this idea in a few short moments, which is altogether too brief, but it's also a few moments more than you'd find in any other Bond movie.

  In retrospect, the movie isn't that bad. It's certainly in the lowest tier of Bond movies, but despite the forgettable villain, the action scenes are on fire. They're directed with confidence and style, ending up being one of the sole highlights of the movie. However this does present a dilemma. This was to be the movie that wraps up the rather emotional loose ends from Casino Royale. It does this... almost as an afterthought. Instead of continuing with the tone and feel of the previous movie, this feels like a gritty throwback to GoldenEye. Which feels largely out of place and uncomfortable in the Daniel Craig era of Bond movies. The movie carts 007 around from one rapid-fire action scene to the next. Even the interludes seem intense and always fast-moving. There's no time to breath, and in a movie like this, we needed it.

  Nevertheless, I must give credit where it is indeed due. The camera manages to capture beautiful locales, stunning action sequences, and even some moments which teeter on artistic beauty. I'm willing to give them that much. Despite the fact the movie is a terribly disappointing misfire, it's a pretty looking one nonetheless. I suppose this movie works about as well as a car wreck. Something you can't take your eyes off of even though you really should look away. It's sleek visual style is somewhat captivating. It's sort of like the fact that anything in extreme slow motion is interesting to look at. Whether it's a water balloon being popped, a fly landing on a table, or someone falling off a bicycle. To watch the intricacies of such things, whether they are mundane or painful ends up being fascinating. I am hesitant to call Quantum of Solace fascinating per se, but it pays close attention to the mundane, and ends up being painful. Take that for what you will.

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