Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Made you feel it, did he?"

In the 2006 movie of Casino Royale, James Bond reveals to his target that he has already made the first of two required kills to become a double O agent thus acquiring a license to kill. We are shown in fast, grainy flashbacks, that it was a hard kill. Violent, painful, hands on.

The second target, a British agent selling intelligence secrets, asks Bond the question above, moments before Bond shoots him.

In Quantum of Solace, it is the audience that is made to feel it. Every crash, every punch, every kick. This Bond gets the shit knocked out of him since Casino Royale and there is no simple smirking and wise cracks and all is well. Bond is bruised and cut through half the new film though he never needs hospitalization as he does in the previous one. He is gritty and pained on the outside just as he wrestles with the bruises and cuts on the inside.

Quantum of Solace is the second in what seems to be gearing to a trilogy of sorts. And it shows. It's a strong film in many ways, but like most 2nd parters (Empire Strikes Back, Godfather II being among the exceptions) it falls a bit in complexity and relies too much on chases rather than story.

It also suffers from the director's (the for the most part terrific Mark Forster) penchant for quick cuts and shaky cameras during action sequences that make it impossible to follow the sequence of events. Boats suddenly crash into other boats without us having an inkling as to how the they got so close, a fist lands on a face we don't recognize, cars chase through roads and avoid crashes but we can't tell what car is what, so we don't know which is a crash we should feel good about or not, because it seems more important for the camera to shake harshly and telegraph the chaos of violence. The result is a confusing mish mosh that robs the audience of the ability to follow along. It seems more like a way of covering a lack of coherent cinematic choreography than a style. As I said, we feel it, but we don't follow it. It is more Daniel Craig's excellent performance that allows the pain to go deep for us.

Forster chooses an interesting stylization during one sequence that alternates between the action of a modern staging of Tosca to the chase backstage between the villain's henchman and Bond. It is well done, smooth and tense and yet very self conscious.

Despite these faults, Quantum of Solace, in my opinion, (and this is MY blog after all. :-) )is still one of the best Bond films of the series. Paul Haggis, the main screenwriter, clearly knows the Bond of both film and book and he has taken elements of each to build the rebooted character. He has, thankfully, done away with the plethora of gadgets, relying on only a single, very souped up mobile phone. Gone too are the annoying SONY product placements that riddle the otherwise excellent Casino Royale. Much has been made in some reports about the lack of trademark Bondisms. To my surprise and pleasure, I didn't miss them and one trademark is given to us eventually.

I don't do spoilers but you will know what I mean when and if you have seen it, that in this film there are events with clear elements of Goldfinger, The Living Daylights, License to Kill and From Russia With Love, among others. Haggis takes key events in these stories and gives them a deeper emotional impact in Quantum. Bond feels these events to the point that it lasts and colors his actions.

Since we can presume there won't be remakes of the previous Bond films, Haggis has chosen to incorporate these events, bit by bit into building Craig's Bond. A kind of parallel universe that will be a combination of stories from the Connery/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan incarnations with the Craig take that is in many ways closer to Ian Fleming's original characterization. Though here we seem more focused on elements of Connery and Dalton (who happen to be my personal pre-Craig favorites...well Sean Connery will forever be Bond for me, but Craig's films have to be taken on a completely different level)

I do find myself hoping for some kind of remake of On Her Majestys Secret Service, a great Bond film with a weak Bond (The underexperienced but not untalented George Lazenby) and even weaker Blofeld (Telly Savales plays Blofeld as a common Mafia hood).

The consequences of Bond's seductions are driven home to him by a stern and tough love mothering M, once again brilliantly played by Judi Dench. The decision to keep her in the series after releasing Pierce Brosnan for the reboot remains inspired. It gives us a new relationship that neither book nor film has ever really explored.

Rather than becoming politically correct or having M call Bond and misogynist dinosaur as she does in Goldeneye, she simply forces him to face the consequences. And he takes it and learns from it.

Quantum is a vengeance story and like most of its kind asks the question whether vengeance doesn't ultimately leave you empty, but it goes a step further in suggestion how one handles that emptiness in the end when Bond consoles the girl who is his parallel (again, no spoilers, so giving you little to go on).

Quantum of Solace is rough around the edges, a bit of a loose cannon, like Bond. Too many chases, but even these lead to important story elements and so are forgiveable. I enjoyed this movie immensely. I was not disappointed as some recent reviews seem to be and I am as anxious for the next Bond film as I was after Casino Royale.

I have been a lifelong Bond fan, both film and Fleming books, but for awhile I went to the movies more out of loyalty than passion.. The vast majority of the Moore films annoyed me to the point that I never bothered to see View to A Kill until it was on network television. Living Daylights gave me hope. A pretty tight script, Tim Dalton's very excellent take on the character. Then a long gap and the ridiculous License to Kill. The Brosnan films had decent elements, but they started making Bond into Superman (diving after falling airplanes, swimming so far deep into the sea that any human being would be killed by the pressure, but not our Pierce)which undermined the characterization Brosnan was trying to give. For me his work started to come together in Die Another Day, an overall silly if reverent script with some excellent elements taken from Kingsly Amis' Colonel Sun. But Pierce was starting to feel like Bond to me, and not like someone who was almost Bond. So I was actually disappointed when they decided to not give him one more. Casino Royale changed that for me, Quantum solidified it. The passion is back.

Oh...and the new trailer for the new Star Trek film is making me rethink my hesitations about it.

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