Friday, November 28, 2008

Guest Column: Quantum of Solace

Review by KTown

Movies that I hate are fun to critique. It’s more difficult to write a review of a film that I liked, and I did like Quantum of Solace. I couldn’t stop talking for weeks about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because it was so bad and so easy to skewer. Even now, I’m resisting the temptation to turn this positive review of QOS into a negative review of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because it would be sooo much fun — because I hated that movie. OK…let it go…alright. (It sucked)

You can’t really talk about the new Bond film without talking about the new Bond re-launch in general, because Quantum of Solace is really an extension of Casino Royale. I was even stoked about the new title. They were getting so clichéd that they all ran together: License to Kill Another Dying Day Twice Tomorrow.

The new Bond films are like a negative photo image of all the previous films; the basic image is there, you can identify all the parts, but the color and feel is completely different — unfamiliar. But it’s a good kind of different. Gone is the cheesy sense of humor and the need to suspend belief beyond belief. There were only a couple moments that seemed way over the top in the new Bond films. With this new focus on gritty realism, you can feel the filmmakers looking for the line and the appropriate time to cross it. They want to take the audience on an exciting and suspenseful trip but they don’t want us saying “whatever.” Admittedly, the most-cynical will still look for ways to disconnect, but this moviegoer was fairly engaged.

Quantum of Solace starts the day Casino Royale ends and finds Bond burying his grief in his work, and it’s a work he pursues with reckless abandon. He’s a man on a mission. He gives no thought to his own life or limb — which makes for great action. And Craig himself seems to be really getting into it, doing as many of the stunts himself as he can.

Speaking of stunts, there are twice as many here as there were in Casino Royale, which for some films might be overkill, but it works. There were a couple times I felt almost like I was being moved through the story just to get to the next stunt but, thankfully, that pattern did not persist.

In QOS, Bond is without all the old contrivances. The Aston-Martin has only one scene: the opening. There are no story-foreshadowing, uncannily-useful gadgets. He doesn’t bed the heroine and when he does get promiscuous, there are negative consequences. Really?

Even the villain has no strange physical manifestation of his inner “evilness”.
There seems to be a dedication to story and character in this film that makes it refreshing. They aren’t afraid to put up on the screen something that is shocking or unexpected. They let the story flow naturally, letting the characters be who they are and grow organically rather than looking for places to fit some kitschy dialog or ridiculous love scene. It ends up being more of a character study than the script of a two-dimensional, sexy super-hero.

Where Casino Royale still enjoyed some sophistication and color reminiscent of the older films, QOS is bleaker, angrier, and meaner. With all the action, Craig doesn’t get quite as much time to “act” but having well-established his Bond in the first film, he’s able to delve into the darker places of the character without having to say too much.

I’ll admit, the new Bond is a bit more amoral than I’m comfortable with, but honestly, that’s what makes it interesting. I do tend to like my heroes with a bit more good-guyness and Bond here is played more like a tool of the British Government, but there are moments you can see a soul under the exterior that gives idealists like myself hope.

The only real negative thing I could say is that it seems the writers are determined to introduce us to a new “international network of political/corporate criminals” that seems like too much of a throwback to Spectre. In retrospect, even some of the dialog seemed a bit forced in order to prop up this malevolent menagerie. M retorts, “How can this group be so large, and we have never heard of them?” Hmm, I’ll play along for now.

It’s interesting how things change over time from one generation to the next. I’ve been checking out some of the Connery 007 films because they were a little before my time, and I have to say they are a little disappointing and really a product of their sixties, free-love environment. I felt like I was watching porn but without actual nudity. There was so much emphasis on sexuality, it’s almost obscene. Yes, today’s Bond is still a ladies man, but he uses women, and it’s not pretty.

So it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Quantum of Solace feels like a transitional movie; like part 2 of a trilogy. What will his relationships be like? Will he grow up? Will he get a steady girlfriend? Remember, this is a young Bond. He’s just gotten his 007 status. Will he remain the callous killing machine?

I know for some, Connery will always be Bond. I personally grew up with Moore but am one of the few who really like Dalton. When they tapped Brosnan to play Bond, I said it was about time. But to no fault of any of the players, Bond’s movie veneer was growing thin and time was running out. Fans might not have even been able to vocalize what they wanted... until they saw Casino Royale and said, "Oh, yes. I’ll have another, please. Shaken, not stirred."