Saturday, November 15, 2008

james bond: "quantum of solace" movie review

i went to see "quantum of solace" yesterday - an opening day rarity in my viewing habits. i anxiously anticipated daniel craig's second appearance on her majesty's secret service, and wasn't disappointed. i had read a batch of luke-warm reviews, the "bloom is off the rose" variety that bent over backwards to point out this was just a "revenge" movie. wow, calling "quantum" a revenge movie is about as insightful as those reviewers who found "casino royale" a romance - love story, was an even more hilarious description.

hence the naturally easy, and facile, label to this first ever bond sequel as a revenge flick - bond gets the bad guys who killed his true love. don't fall for that lazy shorthand. first off, this is the shortest bond movie in the franchise. i clocked in at just over one hour and forty minutes. it is a sparse, lean, minimal bond. it jettisoned all the accumulated detritus of bond cliches and left the action, and while occasionally muddied - a decent storyline.

the action picked up an hour after casino royale ended, with a car chase across the narrow, traffic filled italian roadside (with plenty of cliffs). but the car chase was a prelude to the real chase - on foot - which owed plenty to matt damon and his jason bourne running across the roof tops of north africa. while the parallels to bourne are real, it doesn't take much of leap (excuse the pun) to retrace bonds footsteps to the incredible construction site sequence that opened casino royale. if anything, the action sequences - purposely stopped, like visual punctuation marks - as bond continued his cross seina chase of the bad guy that took a shot at m, works beautifully.

aside from the bourne action comparisons, the tension between m and bond seems to be at a franchise high throughout the story. while bond could be ignoring all the typical british restraint (and find himself vaguely cast as a rogue agent - even to the ludicrous point where m observed that the americans would stop him if they didn't) in an angry effort to find vespers killers, the same holds true if one wants to see him searching for m's attempted killer.

therein is the ambiguity of "revenge." the easy answer - and doesn't require much probing - is to see bond avenging a lost love. the grieved lover seeking vengeance. but, it doesn't take much to see bond can easily be seeking to avenge m - and to extend the metaphor a bit, his "mother" country. that's a much easier analysis since bond refuted the vesper connection directly to m - whether believable or not. and, like it or not, bond endorsed the m/mother view directly to camille when she question him about his motives! but let's leave the psychological insights to college lit/film majors :D

as to the length, quantum is much tighter, all around, than casino royale. the only drawback to casino was the extended poker playing - which could have been cut by 10-15 minutes. there was no such dead weight in quantum. nor were there any miraculous gadgets (thankfully). the only high tech is the rather impressive briefing given to m via the smart computer graphics (something familiar to viewers of csi). it's the people, not the toys, that make it effective.

to bring home the moral ambiguity (aside from the cheap political tripe to such effect by the cia and ministers in the film), when bond admits, as an aside no less, to m that she was right about vesper - one is left wondering. that, too. is in direct contrast to bond dumping mathis' body in the dumpster minutes after mathis' last words to bond were about how vesper gave her life for bond. and bond let the instrument of vesper's death live - how "surprising" to use m's word, when bond seemed to kill everyone else.

was that finale an indication that bond had regained his cool? is quantum merely the second instalment of what could be a trilogy - what does the "okay" bond (if there is a standard of normal for 007) do for an encore? it would be a lot of fun to see that sort of follow-up to quantum - especially since the true "bad guys" of the story (not the nominal "killers") were somehow left unpunished as the credits rolled?!

a few odds and ends - homage to "goldfinger?" don't miss the oil covered lady draped on the bed! echoes of "dr. no" - a wayward geologist and the results of his secret sampling. a morally bankrupt cia agent that looks so much like mr. kidd from "diamonds are forever." and does anyone remember a bond woman motivated to seek revenge because she witnessed the murder of her family? shades of "for your eyes only?" plenty of these little tidbits in the movie :D

update: quantum of solace pulls in $70.4 million opening weekend, record open for a bond movie! from the associated press:

"James Bond's quantum of the weekend box office: $70.4 million. "Quantum of Solace," with Daniel Craig returning as Bond for the first direct sequel in the spy franchise, pulled in nearly $30 million more over opening weekend than its predecessor, 2006's "Casino Royale," according to studio estimates Sunday"

revised update: according to the ny times, the final weekend box office was a bit less than originally reported: 67.5 million versus 70.4 - but still record breaking.

check out deborah lipp's review.

and for earlier bond coverage: the "bond bound" exhibit and the "devil may care" book.


media boy said...

Quantum of Solace is entertaining at least... a lot of high quality visuals, but the movie as a whole could stand to lose six or seven fewer chase scenes

Dawn said...

I enjoyed the movie, although I did prefer Casino Royal, in comparison. I think the film could have been better had the plane sequence been cut out.