Friday, November 14, 2008

Quantum of Solace (2008)

I agree with about 90% of what comes off of Roger Ebert's keyboard, but not this time. The man doesn't get Bond. At least, not the literary one. Or, if he does, he doesn't think the movie version should be anything like him.

Obviously, I disagree. Timothy Dalton's Bond is one of my favorites and I'm a much bigger fan of Dr. No and From Russia With Love than You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. For Your Eyes Only is the only Roger Moore film worth seriously considering. There are two kinds of Bond fans: those who like the silly quips and gadgets and world-conquering villains, and those who prefer the deadly, driven, but weary agent who relentlessly pursues his targets for no other reason than that M has told him they need pursuing. I'm the latter kind of fan; Ebert is the former (he quotes elements from You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker as making up his idea of the quintessential Bond). We'll probably never agree on what makes a good Bond film.

I've read some reviews talking about how Quantum of Solace is so different from Casino Royale, and then sort of apologetically acknowledging that Quantum of Solace is still very good. I get why the writers are doing that. Casino Royale was so well-done; so well-received that no one wants potential movie-goers to be disappointed that Quantum of Solace doesn't repeat it exactly. But really? Screw that. This movie shouldn't be a repeat of the last one. Who wants that?

Quantum of Solace is amazing. Taking nothing away from Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is five times more brutal and unrelenting in its action, it's more artistically directed (easy to see that it was made by the man who brought us Finding Neverland), and its emotional impact (though owing everything to the set up from Casino Royale) is greater. Some specific things I liked need to go beneath a SPOILER WARNING. If you haven't seen the movie and don't want to know stuff, skip everything after the picture of Bond and Agent Fields. Once you see Bond with Camille, you can start reading again.

Bond doesn't sleep with The Girl. There's an emotional connection between him and Camille, much like the connection he made with Vesper in Casino Royale, but that's precisely why he doesn't have sex with her. He's still in too much pain.

That doesn't keep him out of bed with Agent Fields though. They both know that's just sex and besides, he's using her to get something he needs.

Though she refuses to reveal it in the movie, the credits let us know that Agent Fields' first name is Strawberry. Awesome. That's almost as good as Bond's joke in Casino Royale that Vesper's cover name was going to be Stephanie Broadchest.

Fields is played by Gemma Arterton, who also played Ludacris and Jeremy Piven's assistant in RockNRolla (which was really frickin good, by the way). She's gorgeous in both movies, but you'd never know that the same actress played both roles, she's that cool.

Camille is played by Olga Kurylenko whom I kind of fell in love with in Hitman. She was also in Max Payne, but I'm trying to forget that I saw that one.

My one, nagging complaint about Casino Royale was that it left Mathis' true loyalties unresolved. He was one of my favorite characters in the novel, so I hated the suggestion that he'd been turned into a bad guy for the movie. Casino Royale left it open to interpretation, so I chose to believe that Le Chiffre was lying when he referred to "my friend Mathis," but I could never convince non-Fleming readers that my interpretation was correct. Quantum of Solace clears that all up, for which I am deeply grateful. (It also includes a snippet of dialogue from one of my favorite parts of the Casino Royale novel. I wish they'd followed that discussion further like Fleming did, but oh well.)

Even though this is the spoiler section, I'll be vague about the identity of a dead woman who turns up in Bond's hotel room. But I want to mention her because - blasphemous as this may sound - the scene succeeds at hitting the emotional impact of an iconic scene from the novel Goldfinger more than the movie Goldfinger was able to do.


I should also mention in a non-spoilery way that Quantum of Solace picks up about fifteen minutes after Casino Royale leaves off. You don't need to have seen Casino Royale to enjoy it on some level, but doing so will dramatically enhance your experience. Also, if you haven't seen Casino Royale in the last year, it would be good to watch it again before you go. There's some stuff you'll miss if you haven't done that. Not vital stuff, but stuff nonetheless.

I may have more to say about the movie after I've seen it again and read some other reviews. I know there were some points in the exposition and Bond's investigation that I didn't thoroughly follow, so I want to go back and pick up on those.

What I do get though, is that Ebert is wrong. I'm not going to quibble over whether on not Bond is an "action hero," because I'm not sure how Ebert's defining the word. But I'll argue until I'm dead that Bond is a tough guy and a deadly force. He's the cold-hearted bullet in M's gun, not - as Ebert put it - someone for whom "violence ... is an annoyance. He exists for the foreplay and the cigarette. He rarely encounters a truly evil villain. More often a comic opera buffoon with hired goons in matching jump suits." I don't care if I never see another movie featuring Ebert's ideal Bond again.


Anonymous said...

Spot on WRT Ebert's review. He's the Touchstone Of All Reviewers in my opinion, but he got this one way wrong for exactly the reasons you mention. Your picks for best Bonds are my own, as well. I never got into the fanciful B.S. that was the hallmark of so many of the movies so full of ridiculous, improbable and unbelievable contrivances. Good for you for picking For Your Eyes Only. That's still one of the Best Bond Movies Ever and, maybe, the only Roger Moore Bond to qualify.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I halfway agree with Ebert. His heart is in the right place, but using tired Bond cliches to explain his stance was not the wisest choice. Regardless, the bottom line is that Bond *should* always be a cut above- and a step ahead of- his peers.

Fleming's books weren't considered realistic spy fiction upon release. They were exotic and fantastical. Bond fought giant krakens and gambled with government money. Readers couldn't get this stuff from the latest John Le Carre.

And of course, the Connery films were unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. Nobody did it better.

So I do think there's a middle ground that the (latest) Bond producers consistently seem to miss. I agree that Fleming's Bond was more than a smooth operator in a tuxedo, but he was also considerably more than a robotic killing machine. He didn't even enjoy killing in cold blood.

But "Quantum" limits Craig to one aspect of Fleming's Bond, and doesn't give him much to work with in the process. I seriously doubt Craig would have accepted the role of 007, had the producers presented him with this particular script back in 2005.

And the script for Bond 22 was reportedly nearing completion back in 2005. Or, at least, that's what EON revealed when they announced Craig as Bond. Then Paul Haggis wrote a second script in 2007 that the producers rejected completely. It would be interesting to read what both of those stories contained. The script we ended up with was born (no pun intended) when The Bourne Ultimatum opened with nearly $70 million. It's why Dan Bradley was hired, "Quantum" feels so similar, and M was given an expanded role (ala Pamela Landy).

I'd actually like to see someone new get the chance to make Bond films, because I feel Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are too limited by their own history. The only reason we are even getting a more serious Bond is because of their open respect for Paul Greengrass' work- not Ian Fleming's.

I think Dalton and Brosnan both understood Fleming's character far better than the filmmakers did at the time. But the producers were so overly cautious, they placed more faith in tired cliches than the character itself. The franchise is a huge business that needs to sustain itself by any means necessary. It's too bad they still need to sell dvds of the old films, otherwise, we could've gotten a more faithful adaptation of Live and Let Die.

Overall, I think "Quantum" had tremendous potential, but was ultimately let down by the filmmakers. It's a step in the right direction, when it could have been a (no, I'm not going to say it) leap.

Michael May said...

I think I see where you're coming from. While I certainly don't think that QoS was let down at all, I also wouldn't want every Bond film to be like it. I appreciate it as a step towards something else and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what that something else is, but I also enjoyed the heck out of it for what it is.

One thing we agree on completely though: I dream of a world where Daniel Craig could star in faithful adaptations of the other Fleming novels with Quantum replacing Smersh in the early ones.

Anonymous said...

I do think we'll get faithful adaptations...some day. It's just not going to happen as long as Bond is a $200 million product.

This is one reason I'd like to see Bond being produced by more than one group of filmmakers.

We could still have the film series...just augmented by a series of cable adaptations. (Much like Grenada's Sherlock Holmes series.) It's really the only way to do stories like The Spy Who Loved Me, Quantum of Solace or The Hildebrand Rarity without worrying about the lack of action.

Anyway, the Bond producers have definitely put themselves into an interesting position. On one hand, there's a reason the Bond movies have endured for nearly five decades. Several generations of fans actually love the cinematic bond, and this new approach threatens to alienate them.

But at the same time, the producers now have fans that expect the films to be extremely serious every time out. Consider that when Bond 23 finally rolls around, nearly a decade will have passed since the last 'traditional' Bond film.

Craig and Michael Wilson have each suggested that their original plans for a trilogy have been scrapped, and that "Quantum" ends the story arc that began in Casino Royale.

So it will be interesting to see where they go from here. As always, I'm hopeful that they will find a happy medium...just as I was during the Dalton and Brosnan eras.

But I also feel like Indiana Jones at the end of "Raiders": "They don't know what they've got there." Just as I felt during the Dalton and Brosnan eras. :)

snell said...

Hell, Fleming himself insisted they couldn't do an adaptation of the actual story of The Spy Who Loved's in the contract!! And a faithful adaptation of the Quantum of Solace story? Good gravy, friend, have you read it? Not every bit of ink from Fleming's pen is capable (or worthy) of big screen (or cable) adaptation.

The history of the Eon series is a pendulum. You Only Live Twice is followed by OHMSS is followed by Diamonds are forever. Moonraker is followed by For Your Eyes Only is followed by Octopussy. What was different this time around is that Casino Royale was the first time that a "serious" Bond didn't tank (relatively) at the box office. That fact was just as responsible as Bourne's box office for continuing the approach.

But the critical pendulum has already begun to swing back. Go re-read Ebert's Casino Royale review and compare it his QoS. Many of the things he praised in CR he disdains in QoS--there was no Q or Moneypenny or cute Bond Girl names in CR, either. And you'll see that in a lot of reviewers, not just Ebert...which is not to (too harshly) accuse them of being inconsistent, but to point out that tastes change. Whatever your opinion, the "Bourne thing" has been done and redone and redone, so even if the next thing is well done, they're tired of it.

And that critical backlash will seep through to Eon, who will likely retrench a bit for the next movie, and then be hailed for "saving the franchise" yet again. It's the Bond Circle of Life.

Anonymous said...

I've read all the stories- as I'm sure most fans have. Let's face it, you can read the entire canon in, what, a week? It's not as though we're talking about War and Peace here. :)

And there's a surprising number of fans who *would* like to see a faithful adaptation of all the stories. Even ones like The Spy Who Loved Me. Fleming knew it wouldn't work on the big screen, but it could easily be done on a smaller scale.

I agree that EON is a pendulum, but unfortunately, they usually force the extremes upon themselves. Everything or Nothing. So we go from invisible cars to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

You could easily have both the escapism of Goldeneye and the brutality of Quantum of Solace- especially in today's market. The filmmakers of the 1960's Bonds had no trouble balancing these aspects, but the current producers simply don't appear to be as talented. Remember, these people gave us BOTH Die Another Day and Casino Royale. They also think a new approach means you have to get a new actor.

Ebert's main problem with Quantum seems to be that Bond is now playing Bourne. Critics praised Casino Royale, because it managed to take a cue from Bourne- but without coming across as a blatant copy. This is how the franchise has typically operated- acknowledging trends without completely following them.

Actually, the harshest review I have read was via 007 Magazine. Huge Bond fans. Huge Fleming fans. Huge Casino Royale/Daniel Craig fans. Yet they basically shared Ebert's view that Bond had been turned into too much of a generic action hero.

But as you say, EON will certainly retool before the next outing. It's why they are in a very interesting place right now. Do they swing back towards a more traditional approach? Or do they continue along their current trajectory? Two factors worth noting: Craig isn't really interested in the former, and Bourne 4 will be released during Bond's absence.

It will certainly be interesting to see what results.

Unknown said...

I just saw it on Sunday night Mike and it was expecting it to be somewhat bad from reviews I read prior to the movies release in the US. (I specifically did not look for your review prior to seeing it)

I really liked where this movie went. The fact that is really is the 2nd half of Casino Royal was a pleasent surprise (I tried to stay away from spoilers) This dark side of Bond is not his entire character like so many reviwers (Ebert included) seem to ignor. Take the movie for what it is.. revenge for Vesper and Bond dealing with keeping his emotions in check enough to do his job. He had to be dark and ultimately go rouge to survive and protect another women he cares for, M.

I had one major and one minor complaint about this movie. First the major, the initial action scene and some of the other action scenes were too choppy and not using a steady cam almost made me sick. We were on a huge screen and sitting close. The cutting of the action was almost too quick epsecially with the jiggling cameras. I know that the motion was being used to convey the action as quick and unpredicatble but it bothers me that too many directors are using this today rather than planing out the action and filming it in just a few takes.

Second was the absense of Q. I get why he was not there and that it really would not have added anything to the movie other than producing the use of a needless gadget. I was expecting him to admonish Bond with the semi destroyed car after the 1st scene. That would have even been enough for me.

Overall, I agree with you Mike, this movie is faithful enough to the books and is a good action film. Bond is a killer and the booze and women are vices to help him cope, nothing more. I hope that they keep Craig for more than just one more film and that they do not go to the lighter Bond of the Moore era.

Michael May said...

Hey, Jermiey!

I totally get what you're saying about the jiggly-cam. As you know, I like to sit close too, but enough action films are using that technique that I'm starting to rethink my spot in the theater. I may have to move back a few rows for action movies.

Like you, though, I'd rather keep my seat and have the directors ease off a little. :)


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