' Cinema Romantico: Quantum of Solace

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I broke one of my own rules and read the reviews of my three favorite reviewers before seeing the lastest installment in the never-ending James Bond franchise. It's a Bond movie, I thought, what could they really give away? As it turns out, quite a bit, because all three (read them here, here and here) struck the same exact chord - namely, who is this new Bond and what happened to the old Bond?

I understand my wants in these movies may be different from others and I understand rebooting these long-running franchises is all the rage and I understand people want dark, brooding heroes to go with these dark, brooding times and I understand the original Ian Fleming books portrayed Bond as being a much more dark guy than the movies tend to but it seems to me that they were what they were for so long for a reason. Am I wrong?

I briefly pondered not even seeing "Quantum of Solace" after these reviews but then I realized that was all wrong. I should look at this information as a blessing in disguise. Okay, so he's not the Bond I want. So what? "Quantum of Solace" wanted to be an action movie with a guy who just happened to be James Bond as the main character. Fair enough. Now that I already had my bias out of the way I could watch the movie for what it was and what it wanted to be and judge it on that all alone.

Which is why after all this build-up I'm afraid to report "Quantum of Solace" is not much of an action movie. Oh, there's a ton of action, but none of it is very thrilling. Director Marc Forster is a man with some hard-hitting credits to his name ("Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland") but it seems this genre is not his - to quote a parody of 007 we all know - "bag, baby". It seems he prepped for the film by watching Paul Greengrass's two "Bourne" movies over and over and over and over. The camera takes herky jerky to a new level. I don't mind the hand-held, potentially vomit-inducing camera (roller coasters make me puke, but not hand-held camera - go figure) action but you can't use it solely to confuse us.

The camera wobbles all over the place in "The Bourne Supremacy" but what is so amazing is that you're never confused. I mean, the pace of that movie is relentless but as it goes along you understand what's going on, who's who, who's doing what, why they're doing it, where they're going, etc. etc. etc. "Quantum of Solace" is just moving the camera wildly in a futile effort to disguise a great deal of insipid CGI.

As I left the theater I thought about what one action sequence from the movies I've seen this year that I enjoyed the most, and you know what scene popped to the forefront? The bank robbery at the start of "The Dark Knight". I loved that scene. But then as I thought about it I realized it's not truly an action sequence, per se. There are gunshots but there is not endless exchange of gunfire. No fighting and punching. No leaping across yawning chasms and running away from something seconds before it explodes. I liked that scene because of how it was put together. It's beautiful, well-crafted filmmaking. "Quantam of Solace" is the exact opposite. It's loud and just a huge, sprawling mess.

It's a lot like every other so-so action movie we get week after week. The Bond movies used to stand out because they had Bond. James Bond. The last exchange of the film between "M" (Judi Dench) and Bond is telling. She says, "We need you back." And he says, "I never left."

Is he sure about that?

(Extra Note to Bond Producers: Alicia Keys is not Kylie Minogue. Remember that next time.)

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