Monday, November 17, 2008

Quantum of Nothing

“Quantum of Solace” is the worst James Bond movie ever, a crushing disappointment after the sublime “Casino Royale” (2006). I never thought I would say this, but I have no desire to ever see it again, and have no desire to own it on DVD. This from someone who has seen all the Bond movies several times over, owns them all on DVD, and has read several of the original Ian Fleming novels more than once. I wanted to love this movie, but it only generated contempt.

What’s wrong with it? Where to start? It’s badly directed, Bond is a charmless thug, the villain is a mope, there are zero laughs (even “Casino Royale” had humor in it), the action scenes are badly filmed and edited, the title song is insipid and the score is mere musical wallpaper. Budget wise, it’s the most expensive Bond film ever, but it sure doesn’t look it. The well-known 007 production gloss is sorely missed.

The only thing going for it is the 105-minute running time, the shortest ever for a Bond movie. Thank God for small favors.

“Quantum of Solace” picks up minutes after the conclusion of “Casino Royale.” Bond is out for vengeance against the group that targeted the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). His investigation leads him to a super secret organization called Quantum and one of its members Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Greene has started a plot to control the water supply of Bolivia (zzzzzzzzzz). Along the way he picks up Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a physically and emotionally scarred woman with an agenda of her own against Greene and his cohorts.

Amalric plays probably the dullest villain in the series history. Bland doesn’t even begin to describe him. There’s nothing memorable or colorful about him, and he’s about as threatening as Captain Kangaroo. Heck even one of Bond’s playthings, Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton) easily cripples Greene’s henchman by tripping him on the stairs during a party!

Probably the film’s most tolerable sequence takes place in Austria during a performance of “Tosca”. It’s stylish, but dramatically stupid. Key members of Quantum communicate with each other during the performance by whispering and receiving instructions via ear pieces. Surely it would have been easier to just meet someplace? Wouldn’t all this talking during the opera disrupt those around them?

For several years I belonged to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and heaven help you if you shifted in your seat or attempted to whisper an aside during a performance. You’d wind up crowned with a pair of opera glasses. That these guys use the opera as a cover just beggars disbelief. I know you’re not suppose to take Bond films seriously, but since they’re scaling them back to make them more realistic, you can’t have your villains hatching plots in the silliest way possible. The sequence ends in a barrage of gunplay shot in a very arty manner, which has no place in a Bond movie. Just one of the many instances where director Marc Forster chose to way over direct.

I will reiterate what critics have complained about - the use of the hand held camera and rapid fire editing of the action scenes. I hated it, especially since Forster has no idea on how to handle action. Some have claimed that the Bond producers are emulating the Jason Bourne franchise, but director Paul Greengass in the last two Bourne films has a fine eye and despite the rapid cutting, one always understood and could follow the characters and their geography with each other during the action scenes.

Not here. In the opening car chase and a later boat chase I had no idea who was doing what to whom and when. Now its possible Forster turned these sequences over to a second unit director, but he still had final say in the editing room. His name is listed in the credits, so he gets the blame.

Bond films always contained great action scenes. Even in lesser efforts such as “Moonraker” (1979) or “A View to a Kill” (1985) you knew you’d see some first rate action. “Quantum of Solace” has killed that tradition.

(Oddly, the first time I can recall seeing fast cutting in an action scene was in a Bond film, during television broadcasts of “Oh Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969). One can only imagine how 1969 audiences felt in seeing such fast cutting. I wonder if the opening fight scene on the beach and the toboggan sled chase at the end caused all kinds of criticism and pleas to slow it down? Still, the cutting was not fast enough that one didn’t know where the characters were at all times.
Plus, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” has a great story, a memorable villain, lots of beautiful women, spectacular scenery, genuine menace, humor and very exciting action…none of which appear in “Quantum of Solace.”)

I liked Daniel Craig’s 007 in “Casino Royale” very much, but was less impressed here. I know he’s still in the process of becoming the 007 we all know and love, and he’s on a mission of vengeance here, but man, is he a sourpuss throughout.

I also wished he enunciated more; half his dialogue is inaudible. I do like the scenes between him and M (Judi Dench). I noticed that when he first talks to her he keeps his eyes to the ground like a chastened schoolboy and only as the conversation progresses does he look up at her. A nice touch, and an action that spells volumes about their relationship more than pages of dialogue could. Well done.

I knew we were in trouble during the title song, a colossal piece of garbage called “Another Way to Die” warbled in screeching fashion by Jack White and Alicia Keys. Have the Bond title songs gone downhill or what? I thought the Madonna song for “Die Another Day” was the worst the series could offer, but this is just as excruciating. The song is so bad it’s bound to pick up a Best Original Song Oscar.

Coupled with a bland title graphics (lots of sand flying about) and you have the most disposable title sequence in the franchise’s history. At least Maurice Binder would have had the sand morph into some, ah, interesting silhouettes, but no such luck here.

(Don’t even get me started on this god-awful techno crap that appears over the end credits. Strictly amateur night.)

In 1979, “Moonraker” became the highest-grossing 007 film of all time, but was met with almost universally hostile reviews. Producer Cubby Broccoli admitted they went too far with the more comic book elements of the 007 universe and vowed to scale back for the next entry and return to a more serious James Bond, which they did with “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), one of Roger Moore’s best.

It is my sincere hope that the next generation of the Broccoli family, daughter Barbara and son-in-law Michael Wilson, will feel the same way for the next one, but in a reverse way. Ditch the gloom and doom, lighten up Bond, and give us a colorful and exciting adventure worthy of the James Bond franchise. And please, please, leave the hand held cameras to someone else. But the fact they offered the next Bond film to Forster has me worried about their judgment. (Fortunately he turned it down).

There are some people who have never seen a James Bond movie. If “Quantum of Solace” was their introduction to Bond, they would wonder what all the fuss was about. They could not imagine what makes this James Bond character so durable and appealing. Fortunately there are more than 20 films over a 45-year period and a wonderful series of novels that explain why.

“Quantum of Solace” is a complete misfire from beginning to end

Rating for “Quantum of Solace”: One and a half stars.


Dees Stribling said...

That's too bad. Worse even than Moonraker? Hard to imagine.

Kevin Deany said...

Yes, Dees, it really is that bad and now supplants "Moonraker" as the worst Bond film of all.

There are some things in "Moonraker" I like. The opening free-fall stunt sequence, the hautning title song (the most underrated in the series, as well as the most sensual) and the final line - "Take me around the world one more time."

It's everything in between that is painful.

Aki said...

Couldn't agree with more about this movie. Personally Daniel Craig does nothing as Bond for me. Like you stated he is in a sour mood through the entire film. His 007 are not James Bond movies to me. They are movies about a spy whose name just happens to be James Bond. There is no good music at all...disappointing.

Kevin Deany said...

Aki: Great minds think alike. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that left me so disappointed as "Quantum of Solace." An acquaintance of mine who has been going to movies regularly since the mid 1950s said it was one of the very worst movies he had ever seen. that's saying something.