Review: Quantum of Solace

Posted: November 30, 2008 in Idle Nonsense, Narrative, Taste

Fans of James Bond films are constantly chattering about which Bond, and with each new actor, how to recreate Bond or update him for the new millennium or make him more relevant or some such nonsense. They all labor under the delusion that a Bond flick is meaningful cinema rather than noisy, escapist fun. Probably no other film franchise has a bigger built-in box office, so the danger of a bad Bond film losing money or sending fans fleeing into the waiting arms of Batman, Spiderman, Jason Bourne, the Transporter, or some other is pretty limited. Bond has carved out its own niche very effectively and only a series of really bad misfires could doom the franchise at this point.

Starting from that premise, Quantum of Solace is a fairly successful Bond film. Based on reviews, I expected significant disappointment, but then, my threshold may be lower than those of most critics and cineastes. Quantum employed many of the familiar elements while dispensing with others. I rather enjoy the repeat characters even when the actors change, and fulfilled expectation of some of the formulaic bits, like the gadget scenes with Q, is pure fun.

So why, for example, does Quantum dispense with Q, Moneypenny, the gadget scene, punning character names, and most of Bond’s dialogue while retaining the stylized title sequence, M, a Bond girl or two (neither a love interest nor sheer lust object in Quantum), the tuxedo, scenery-chewing villains, and outrageous architecture and set design? Hard to say. Somebody decides, seeing how such omissions can’t be mere oversights. Take the GPS-enabled cell phone. Bond uses it several times in the course of Quantum, but without the gadget scene, the phone is so … ordinary. I don’t see how depriving fans of the obvious fun to be had imagining how some clever tech device will save Bond at the propitious moment makes for a better, more enjoyable film.

Similarly, one of the strengths of the genre is the self-contained plot and set pieces that paradoxically rely on familiarity with past outings of the players. Quantum‘s plot borrows heavily from the preceding film, but gains in depth are paid for by unintelligibility, except of course in the case of repeat viewing. Yet one element happily brought back is the evil syndicate, like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of previous films, that will likely occupy Bond for several more films. Thus far there is no Blofeld-like mustache twirler, but one might emerge.

Two further developments intruded on my enjoyment. First is the rather obvious, even labored reaction to the Jason Bourne trilogy in the way the action was filmed: all fast cutting, kinetic, and rather thuggish. M’s dialogue has by now established Bond as a blunt instrument, but there are loads of thugs in movies. The real fun is watching someone with some panache, ridiculous repartee, and a bit of suspense. Bond as rogue agent disobeying direct orders was a wasted effort this time out and added nothing to the tension. Although everyone knows the good guy in action movies always prevails, Bond no less than the rest, it’s the mechanisms of success that prove interesting. The second intrusion was the rather offhand acknowledgment of ecological problems in the real world, namely, disappearing fresh water. While that minor plot point makes the villainy slightly more relevant, nothing about the inherent escapism of a Bond film need be too concerned with real-world matters. As long as Bond isn’t too glib (Roger Moore erred that direction), the profligate waste of life and resources doesn’t reconcile too easily with dilemmas we actually face as history shuffles on.

All said and done, though, I enjoyed the film. Lots of things were expertly done, and I was propelled forward as I expect to be. Except for the title theme, the music was a return to form and Daniel Craig has established himself in the role handily despite the lack of any real acting he was asked to do. Like all the rest, including the noncanonical Never Say Never Again, I’ll buy Quantum of Solace on DVD and recover some of the dialogue and plot nuance missed in a theatrical viewing. Perhaps the bonus features and repeat viewing will enable the film to grow on me in time.

  1. Vilon says:

    I did not know motels in Africa were built with 2 feet thick armed concrete walls, floors and staircases, and with water pipes made of explosive plastic. You have to see that place blow up. You light up a match, and kaboom! Cement slabs dance while Bond moves around like a bad character in a 1970’s video game.

    Bond here wears a tux and god knows he looks unconfortable in it. It is a wonder he speaks instead of grunting. Ask Daniel to play a card game, my guess is he will eat the cards and kill the dealer.

    Bond on Steroids I say! Have him race the Tour de France, he would win!

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