Quantum of So-So

This is my review of the new James Bond movie ‘Quantum of Solace’ which I saw (just now) on the first night of its General Release. I haven’t read any other reviews so, hopefully, I feel differently about it to how everybody else will. That always makes me feel good.

I won’t give away any spoilers (not deliberately anyway) but I can’t promise not to colour your expectations. So if you’d like to see the movie ‘clean’, as I just did, leave now but come back another day.


Okay…

‘Quantum of Solace’ can be summarised in one sentence. ‘Not as good as ‘Casino Royale’’.

Need I say more? Well, yes, I should.

More than anything, this movie confirms what a wonderful movie ‘Casino Royale’ was and still is.

The brilliantly fresh Daniel Craig, the engaging story, rippling action, taut dialogue and beautiful settings all added up to the very best latter-day entry in the Bond canon.

The new film constantly suffers by comparison to the first one. It is ‘less’ on practically every front – not always much less but ‘less’ is still enough.

Personally I think there is lots to respect and enjoy in this new release but it is clear to me that the film is scuppered in the first thirty minutes and it struggles to recover.

Those first thirty minutes give us relentless action – chases, fights, crashes – they all come at us in rapid succession. Rapid-fire, outstanding, eye-popping – these are all things that the first half-hour is not.

Simple truth? This director can not 'do' action sequences.

For all the boom, bang and carnage - the action remains unclear and often downright frustrating. Fashionably maniacal camera movements, coupled with multiple cut shots, slo-mo's and God know what else, only serve to leave the audience disenfranchised and wondering what the hell just happened.

One needs only to look back to the first Craig Bond to see how a completely thrilling chase sequence can be kept clear in narrative and characterisation without ever slowing the pace. The action here is all wham bam but with no emotional content. After each of these sequences, the audience was left silent and bewildered – a little lost.

After that, the movie gets better – it really does. But it’s a little too late then, the damage has been done. Subconsciously, we fear the moment when the director will take up on another poorly staged action sequence– his failed opening gambits have lost us.

Which is a shame because Craig does brilliantly again. The story is good. The girl is beautiful (really). It’s just we got left behind in that opening 'Post-Bourne' frenzy and now we can’t quite get back in.

Interestingly, Bond seems to have much more going on with Judi Dench’s ‘M’ than with any of the ladies he comes across (no pun there, you’re on your own with that one). There’s some kind of Oedipus action going on there that still slightly eludes me.

There’s something else too...

All through the film, I was haunted by a pervading notion of Déjà vu. Some view, glance or twitch was always reminding me of one or another of the earlier Bond films. It’s like the producers were playing these Bond trivia tricks to keep the anorak fans entertained. I thought I was imagining all of this until one character turned up covered from head to toe in a black substance – killed by it – and suddenly we were in Goldfinger all over again.

This confirmed for me that my earlier suspicions were not entirely imagined – that the opening moments had clearly evoked the opening of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ that the Opera has a Roger Moore quality to it, that the bad CIA man looked like ‘Mr. Kidd’ from ‘Diamonds are Forever’. Oh and didn’t the lady envoy feel just like a contemporary ‘Mary Goodnight’? And on and on.

A game was being played and, for me, it betrayed a lack of confidence in the basic material. Casino Royale seemed to stand defiantly on its own, saying ‘Like me or not, do I look like I give a damn?’ This all feels more like a committee-driven attempt to please.

One final in-joke - or is it just my over-active imagination again? The rather insipid bad-guy reminded me so much of Roman Polanski from the moment I first saw him – not so much the actor but rather the role he was playing. Then it is revealed that a major plot point (the McGuffin, if you will) was something which Polanski’s most iconic movie also concerned itself heavily with (you know what I mean) – was this again a co-incidence? I think not.

There is a lovely sequence in the centre of the movie, set in and around a spectacular modern staging of Tosca. I loved it. For me the movie gets much better during and after this. The locations become more ‘real’ and 'explored', the characters take some more room to breathe and the action is entirely more convincing.

The compulsory climactic sequence is jaw-droppingly well staged with high levels of surprisingly unsavoury-but-good violence and some really genuine sense of threat for the main protagonists.

Craig is simply a wonderful Bond. I hope he stays on to do more.

I also hope they find a director who can handle the action a little better.

Next time…

(It's twelve past midnight… two hours since movie end and that's what I thought of it.)

‘Night!

21 comments:

Margaret said...

Hrmmm, so will it appeal to the non-Bond aficionado since presumably they won't catch all those allusions to previous Bond characters?

Since you went to this movie with all those previous examples under your belt I wonder if they didn't color your reactions to it somewhat.

It won't do me any good to review it as I, too will be colored by my memories of the Bond's of yesteryear. And then, too, I'm not a huge fan of jerky, flash around cinematography -- it makes my head hurt. I only enjoyed the parts of Bourne where they were shooting normally.

Great review, Ken and you didn't spoil it at all. I'll be watching it with a practiced eye, though thanks to your well written critique.

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Jim Murdoch said...

I haven't seen a Bond movie since Roger Moore and I've only ever seen two in the cinema, one involved a set with a nuclear sub in it or it might have been two or three nuclear subs (we're talking thirty years ago) and the other was OHMSS and I liked Lazenby's performance; Diana Rigg was a nice addition to the cast too even if she'll never be anything other than Emma Peel to me. So, I really can't get excited about new-new-new-new-new Bond in the same way I'm desperate to see who the next Dr Who will be.

A few weeks ago Carrie and I watched a couple of old ones that were being shown on Sunday afternoons, not sure why, and it really just underlined the fact that I'm never going to get excited about action film. This is not to say I wouldn't watch a good spy film, and I just heard yesterday that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is being filmed again although I shudder to think who'll they'll get to play Smiley.

Glad you liked the film, of course, and, for what it's worth, that does seem to be the bottom line for this film. I'm afraid I haven't seen the original Casino Royale despite the fact I've seen just about every other Woody Allen film appearance; somehow that one slipped by me.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Margaret: I think people who come back to Bond with this one will tend to say, 'Nothing changed here from ten or fifteen years ago, just more modern'. Which is a shame because Craig's 'Casino Royale' really shook it all up quite splendidly.

Hi Jim. OHMSS was by far the best book, in my opinion, and the film was unusually faithful.

It was my first experience of JB promotion - I collected the Bubble-Gum cards avidly but wasn't allowed see the film at the time (too young). I just don't think Lazenby was ever right - he looked like an upper class twat and his dubbed voice only added to the effect.

Jim, if you get a chance, watch the recent 'Casino Royale' I really think that one showed how it should be done.

*Is* there a hunt for new Dr Who? I know our boy is down to make a few specials. Are we officially looking? Who would you like?

Without knowing anything, I predict that Ian McKellen will play Smiley. What an excellent triptych of books that was.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Ken. Tennant has now confirmed that he's stepping down. I think we've done well to keep him this long. I have no one I'd really like to see. The reason for that is that I'd like it to be an actor I'm not already familiar with. People are talking about someone like James Nesbitt but we'd have the same problem with him as Eccleston, itchy feet.

McKellen as Smiley? Yes, I could see that and Patrick Stewart could still play Karla.

As for Bond… I appreciate the recommendation but there are too many other films that would come before that one. When it comes to TV, maybe then.

Lidian said...

I haven't seen a Bond movie in a long time, not since the 80s...We used to watch them at lot when I was younger as my dad loved the old Bond movies. Your review was really interesting - and I love your title, it's perfect.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

See, the thing I really hated about the last Bourne movie were the disjointed action sequences. It seems as if Hollywood is trying to repeat Bourne's success in the worst way in the new Bond. A pity. As are all the in-jokes. While amusing, they detract from the movie. Looking forward to the Tosca sequence. Great opera. Great music. Can't wait to see how it fits in with a Bond movie.

Ken A,rmstrong said...

Thank Lidian, every Bond movie is nothing if not 'of its time' some have aged worse than others but they all fit to some extent in their own era.

I agree Matt - and the Bourne movies carried off those 'NYPD Blue' camera jumps a darn sight better than the director of 'The Kite Runner' does.

Although his 'Finding Neverland' is a little firm favorite of mine. In real life, I am *so* like Johnny Depp in that movie. :)

cleo said...

Thanks for the review. Have heard that you need to see casino royale before you go to see quantum of solace.

hope said...

Okay, I liked "Finding Neverland". Does that excuse me from having to see the Bond movie? I appreciate how your review summed it up nicely: babes and bombs bursting in air just don't interest me. Heck, the only reason I went to see the last "Bourne" movie is because I love actor David Strathairn's work... and danged if they didn't make him the bad guy! Sigh.

Ironically, on the cover of my "Entertainment Weekly" magazine which I received on Halloween of all days, was Daniel Craig. I'll give you this...the photo made him look more "Bond" manly and less pretty boy. You can read the article at www.ew.com. Look for the This Week's Issue on the right hand side.

Again, you leave us in our individual versions of shaken and stirred. ;)

jena isle said...

I still want to see this Bond movie. Craig is a great James Bond- ruggedly handsome - lol. I got the whole picture of the movie by your post so I know I won't get disappointed.

Thanks for sharing.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Strange, I don't remember Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland having anger management issues. ;)

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Cleo I watched CR the night before I saw this and it really drove home how superior the first outing was.

Hi Hope: Finding Neverland touches a particular chord with me - as a writer who's be lucky enough to stand in the wings and watch my writing - odd bits of my own life - performed on stage, I relate to it. The fact that it's good helps.

Yeah Matt: I won't dwell on that one at the mo if you don't mind ;)


I did just want to add this to the review. Five years ago I wouldn't have been bothering my arse reviewing a new Bond movie. I was convinced, through the whole Brosnan era that I had got too old for them. Don't get me wrong Pierce did great and brought a lot to the show but I felt detached from them. CR pulled me back in. I think I'm back out again now... we'll see. :)

Dave King said...

I haven't seen a Bond film since I watched them with my son - that was in another life entirely. They are (were?) not my sort of escapism, but I do wonder about the wisdom (morality?) of selloing something as a XXX film whil deliberately flouting the conventions of XXX.

Drew. James Drew said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the kind comment you left me on Picturenose.com - do you know, I was also scratching my head as to who the treachorous CIA chap reminded me of, and you have definitely hit the nail on the head with Mr Kidd. And, as far as *that* reference goes, you are also spot on - yet, despite the fact they were numerous, didn’t all the nods work so much better than when they last tried it (with crass reference after crass reference) to celebrate 40 years of Bond, in Pierce Brosnan’s appalling final installment, Die Another Day (2002)?

Was wondering whether to mention the Goldfinger set piece in my review, but decided against it - the image is so striking, in its rejuvenated form, that I wanted to leave it as a surprise for as many viewers as possible.

Well, we have Craig for at least two more movies, as per his contractural agreement - hooray say I!

Thanks again - nice hearing from you.

JD

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Dave, it's a good point - selling XXXX as something other than XXXX. The thing about James Bond (and I know I've said this before elsewhere) is that he is largely a blank canvas for each generation to paint their own requirements/expectations on to. That is also why the Bond's who are most of their time seem to fall out of fashion/favour so quickly.

Hi Drew, I enjoyed your review and will certainly be back over there for more - thanks for dropping back.

Fiendish said...

Never really was a Bond fan; it's all a bit cringingly macho for me. Saw "Casino Royale" on a bus with patchy sound quality and thought it deserved a re-watch, but I haven't yet given it one.

What impressed me about this post is your usual clarity of style. If I was trying to get across the idea of the review, it would have taken several much longer paragraphs. Nicely done.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Ken,

Just finally got to see MI: III last night. It was entertaining, wasn't horrible. Implausible in about a thousand ways, but if you suspended disbelief to watch it, it was genuinely enertaining. 3 Stars out of 5.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Fiendish Thingie!! You are always so nice to me. :) I'm glad you're posting a little of the work-in-progress. Everyone, go see!!

Hi Matt: I was actually wondering this while I was laying the table for dinner this evening? (Sad eh... but quite true). I think you've got it about right - major suspension of disbelief required but I do that effortlessly all of the time.

Canucklehead said...

I'll admit that I'm not a huge Bond fan but was dragged to Casino by my drolling wife and absolutely loved it. Of course, I'll be off to see this one shortly so I wish your review was more positive ... anyway, I'll be there. Cheers!

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Linc!! See? This is the very reason I wanted to see the movie early before some prat like me spoiled it for me.

Sorry about that, mate, really. I recommend you should go and see it. A guy I work with saw it and he thought is was great. I'm sure you will too.

I'm just getting old, that's all...

Jenny Fletcher said...

It was interesting to compare your review of the film with my own (http://www.angrybutton.blogspot.com).

You don't (well, I'm ASSUMING you don't) have the same problem that I do - being madly in love with Daniel Craig - which might have made me see the film through slightly rosier specs 8-)