Joe’s Blog

Quantum of Solace (2008)

March 27, 2009 3:23 am

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“Impress me”, M in Quantum of Solace

I should really have reviewed QoS back in October when it opened, but due to a combination of the usual month-long Bondmania (where every TV presenter and z-list celebrity declares their undying passion for Bond but probably couldn’t name one actor who’s played Blofeld, let alone all seven eight [props to harry Webshiter, see below]) and a rotten cold, I felt I couldn’t give the film a fair crack.

After two subsequent viewings, and a period of grace, the time has come. And I have to say it’s not great. And what follows may contain spoilers (if it’s possible to spoil the story of a Bond movie).

As someone who has long championed the Fleming-esque route to Bond movies over the space lasers and world domination world that tarred Roger Moore’s tenure (go and watch them again, they are not all like that), Casino Royale was the film I thought I would never see: a perfect mix of well-directed, exciting action, a decent story, good acting and a film that didn’t rely on outdated cliches.

QoS was suppossed to continue this trend. The hiring of Marc Forster, a man not normally regarded for his high-octane action films, to direct seemed to be a step in the right direction. Oscar-winning screenwriter (as we are CONSTANTLY reminded) Paul Haggis was retained from Casino Royale, along with Bond alumni Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, the men who are were rather cruelly blamed for Die Another Day‘s excesses, and then recieved no acclaim for Casino Royale.

The film begins just minutes after the end of Casino Royale, with Bond having captured the mysterious Mr White. he is being tailed, presumably, by White’s men in a hair-raising car chase opening, before Bond arrives at his rendezvous with M in Sienna. A traitor is revealed, White escapes, and so begins a hunt for the ‘organisation’ that White works for (“The first thing you need to understand about us is we have people everywhere”, White chillingly informs M), whilst Bond still tries to come to terms with Vesper’s betrayal and death at the end of Casino Royale.

Oh, yes. This is a proper sequel. If you haven’t seen Casino Royale, you will have no idea what the hell is going on for most of the film’s running time. But you won’t be alone.

The first of QoS failings is it’s length. Bond films have been criticised in the past for having too much padding, and regular run over two hours. Casino Royale was the longest ever, clocking in at almost 2 and a half hours. QoS by contrast is 45 minutes shorter, and the shortest film in the entire series. This means the film moves at such a relentless speed, it doesn’t have time to breath. This is fine for a high-concept film like …erm… Speed, where the plot is simple, and the film is all about the next action set piece. But QoS has an incredibly complicated plot, and factor in the baggage from Casino Royale, and you’ve got a lot of story to tell, mixed in with the action scenes (of which there is probably too much after the leaness of Casino Royale), and the whole thing feels like an over inflated balloon waiting to burst.

As a consequence important plot details get lost in the mix. Expositional dialogue is often played out over other scenes, competeing for your attention. In one particularly annoying scene the viewer is asked to read two seperate subtitled conversations at the same time while having no idea which on is the important one (one is completely superfluous, and is merely ‘ominous’, a nice touch that would have worked better in islolation).

As with Casino Royale, the casting is brilliant. Mathieu Amalric is a superbly odious villain, perhaps due to his terrifying resemblance to Roman Polanski. He’s a small chap, always flanked by larger bodyguards, but he fight’s dirty, and is a worthy adversary for Bond. Olga Kurylenkois a fine replacement for Eva Green as chief Bond girl. As usual, there’s the standard guff about she’s ‘not a dollybird, she’s Bond’s equal’, and to be fair, she is certainly a lot tougher than usual. She’s waging her own vendetta, gunning for the corrupt general (and secondary villain) who murdered her family when she was a child.

It’s also great to see Giancarlo Gianni and Jeffrey Wright reprising their Casino Royale roles, but sadly both are criminally neglected again. And of course Judi Dench steals every scene she’s in, and this time she is particularly grumpy.

As always though, there is one weak link, and in this case it’s Gemma Arterton. She claims to have based her portrayal of ‘Strawberry’ Fields on the classic Bond girls Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg. But to me it seems she based it more on Britt Ekland and Talisa Soto. She doesn’t have a great deal to do, just turn up wearing a Graham greene-era spy raincoat and awful suede boots (and, it’s implied, nothing else), sleep with Bond, go to a party and die. That’s all she’s there for. She doesn’t advance the plot or assist Bond in anyway. And she can’t even do this well. She has all the charisma of a wet rag, and less acting ability. It’s interesting that despite how little dialogue she has, most of it is obviously, and painfully, re-dubbed afterwards.

But what really grates, what really annoys, is the fact that this just doesn’t feel like a Bond movie. I know, it’s a statement as old as the hills (I remember my dad saying it when he saw The Living Daylights years ago), and it’s a bold claim to make because everyone has their own idea of what exactly a Bond film is.

When I say it doesn’t feel like a Bond movie, I don’t mean little things like the lack of a gunbarrel at the start, the loss of Q and Moneypenny, or even the absence of the Bond theme (again). These are really inconsequential when you consider the fact that you could substitute Bond for a generic secret agent, or any other man-on-a-mission type character, and it wouldn’t alter the film one iota.

The presence of so many Bourne crew members over the traditional ‘Bond family’ demonstrates a decision to move Bond on, which is fine. But into what? Bond movies have always been distinctive; they’ve always stood out from the crowd. How else to explain why the films kept on going when all those late 60s interlopers died out? Quite simply, Bond offered something that no-one else was doing, and sadly, that is no longer the case.

The producers (a finer pair of individuals than you could wish to find, alright, I fancy Barbara Broccoli…) may claim that the ‘traditional’ Bond movies wouldn’t work in our ‘troubled’ times, whilst the popular films at the box office are comic-book adaptations who do a fine job of making the most ridiculous scenarios believable. (Did any of the millions who flocked to The Dark Knight complain it wasn’t realistic?). Bond was never rooted in reality, that was part of the charm. By dragging him kicking and screaming into the 21st century they have stayed true to Fleming, but neglected their filmic roots.

What a don’t understand, is Casino Royale did an almost perfect job of straddling both stools, so it seems to me the fault lies at the feet of the director, and the unfamiliar crew. Bond fans would note that beyond the writers and producers, the only prominent Bond family members are SFX man Chris Corbould, composer David Arnold (doing his best Bond work since Tomorrow Never Dies) and casting director Debbie McWilliams, and all do sterling work.

Beyond that everything else is servicable, professional, but strangely generic. Forster is clearly no action director, and in combination with some of the worst editing in the series, most of the stunt scenes (mostly in-camera for a change) are rendered unintelligable. For instance, early on Bond chases an assasin across some Italian rooftops (in a neat reprise of a lost scene from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). It’s easily the most exciting sequence in the movie. At one point Bond slips on some roof tiles and has to make a leap across to the next building. In the making-of documentaries, it clearly shows Daniel Craig performing this himself (on a wire, but still…), but in the film the scene is cut to shreds so you can’t appreciate the full magnitude of it. There’s at least four or five cameras, and everything is so shot so close, you get no sense of how high he is or how far he’s lept.

There’s a boat chase too, of which most was done for real, but for some reason the best shots again, only appear in the documentaries. The moment that Bond pierces one of the pursuers motorised dinghies replaces a spectacular shot of the boat somersaulting over Bond’s boat, with a ghastly shot that looks like poor CGI. It’s infuriating.

QoS isn’t a bad film. Not by a long shot. It’s a perfectly adequate action film. But that’s all. The proposed ‘character arcs’ are rather lumpen affairs realised through the use of deep and meaningful (and ultimately complete toss) dialogue, while you’re waiting for someone to explain what the bloody hell is going on.

My wish for Bond 23 would be for Wilson and Brocolli to beg borrow and steal to get Martin Campbell back in the director’s chair, give Bond a meaty story (it appears the QUANTUM organisation will continue to be the villains) and another worthy adversary. But give the film the room to breathe. Bond fans are not the same impatient teens who want their films beamed directly into their brains because they can’t deal with a shot that lasts longer than two seconds. You’ve proved a serious, mature Bond film can work, then gone and created a happy-meal version of it.

Sorry, but M will not be impressed with that.

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