Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Updated, see bottom.

I saw Quantum of Solace on Sunday with Carson. It was ok. I give it a FOT on the FOTIS scale.

Here's the quick rundown of my complaints:

One of the things I liked about Casino Royale was that it de-cartooned the series. No invisible cars or nuclear scientists played by Denise Richards. Also, I liked the fact that for the most part, the plot from the novel was intact. It had been fleshed out a bit, but it was all there. The fights felt realistically brutal, like the violence in Ian Fleming's books. And with that came the real sense that Bond could be hurt or die. Quantum director Marc Forster seems to have decided that brutal hand-to-hand combat and chase scenes were what made the first one work, and he amped those up. My main complaint is that the movie's action got a dose of the fast cuts and shakycam used in the Bourne series. Chris Orr, in his generally favorable review in The New Republic, put it best:
Following the temper of the time, Foster presents the movie's many action sequences in a wash of choppy, hyperedited shots, but he pushes the tendency to such extremes that he makes the Bourne films (on which Quantum is clearly modeled) look like Rope. The result is a near-total lack of spatial continuity--I have fifty dollars for anyone who can put salt shakers on a table and show me what took place in a particular boat chase--but an unmistakable visceral intensity.
In general, any given Bond movie could be improved by subtraction or simplification of some sort, and Quantum is no exception. Cleaning up the direction & editing of the action scenes would have made them much more interesting. The opening song by Jack White and Alicia Keys would have been better for the absence of either performer -- doesn't matter which. Also, everything that graphics house MK12 did could have been done less distractingly and better. For starters, the opening credits sequence they did was far less interesting than the playing-card-suits-meet-fractals opening of Casino Royale. It felt like they'd asked: ok, what's this movie got in it? A desert? Is it sandy? It isn't? More of an antiplano? No, wait, screw it, we're going with sand. Now throw in some naked ladies and DONE! They also apparently did all the iPhone-on-crack table/wall display interfaces in the film, which were too cute by half and served only to distract from and thereby muddy the expository dialogue going on.

But the thing that struck in my craw the most as a needless flourish was that every time there was a change in location, the new locale was announced with a country-appropriate font. "Siena, Italy" is displayed in flowery script. "Bregenz, Austria" is rendered in a modern, geometric face. "La Paz, Bolivia" looks like it just fell off the poster of The Wild Bunch. Again: distracting. Again: doesn't serve the story. Just a bunch of graphic designers needlessly dicking around.

So, although the film is a highly competent and enjoyable action film with some cool spy touches, and Daniel Craig is fantastically cool but also makes Bond seem like he does, in fact, have a soul, I liked it much less than its predecessor. The Bond series has always been in tension between efficiency and intrigue on the one hand, and over-the-top spectacle on the other. The films that lean more towards the former (the earlier Connerys, the first two Brosnans, Casino Royale) are pretty great. Those tending toward the latter (uh, most of the rest) are, as far as I'm concerned, utterly disposable. Please keep it together, EON, and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Now, on to the next movie. Will they, as they did with Quantum of Solace, mine the remaining Ian Fleming Bond short stories for an unused title? If so, Bond 23 , starring Daniel Craig and with a song by The Killers, will be called one of the following:
  • Risico
  • The Hildebrand Rarity
  • The Property of a Lady
  • 007 in New York
My money's on Risico.

Update: in his comments on the film from a geopolitical/intelligence community perspective, Matthew Yglesias brings up something else that bothered me. In the film, all the conspirators in the Quantum group, who seem to be plotting regime changes as a means of locking down private control of natural resources, wear little lapel pins of the letter Q in the font of the movie's logo. That'll make it easier for Bond and M to clean up the rest of them, eh? Idiotic.

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