Monday, April 20, 2015

Quantum of Solace [2008]

By almost any standard of measurement, 2006's Casino Royale put James Bond back in the vanguard of the pop-culture landscape.  It was a big hit worldwide, and immediately launched Daniel Craig into the conversation as regards who the best Bond of them all might be.
  
Hard to live up to a standard like that, and when Quantum of Solace finally appeared two later, the common consensus was that it had failed to do so.  The common consensus maintains so to this very day, and You Only Blog Twice has no intention of arguing against the consensus in this particular case.
  
But does the fact that it isn't as good as Casino Royale mean that Quantum of Solace is a bad movie?
  
Read on, and find out.
  
  

  
Sidebar: I own both of those posters above, and I like how if you place them side-by-side in this fashion, it almost appears as if the shadow on the one poster is being thrown by Craig on the other.  This is almost certainly an accident -- the shadow teaser poster came out way before the other poster did (take my word for it; I work at a theatre) -- but it's a happy accident.



(1)  Bond ... James Bond

Very few people will argue that Daniel Craig's performance in Casino Royale is one of the very best of all Bond performances.  If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who will argue against that fact, then you are hereby advised to begin backing away from that person whilst looking nervously to either side, and to turn and run rapidly in the other direction as soon as you believe it to be safe to do so.  This is a person who can cause no good to come into your life; they will tell you other inane things, and will quite possibly cause you to go to Hell.
  
Do you want to go to Hell?
  
I didn't think so.
  
Here's a question which is almost as easy to answer as that one: is Daniel Craig as good in Quantum of Solace as he is in Casino Royale?  The answer: almost.  I'm using that qualifier because this movie's screenplay doesn't give Craig as many opportunities to be great as Casino Royale's does.  But apart from the lack of great material...?  Yeah, I think Craig is fundamentally just as good in his second movie as he was in his first.
  
It is at this point that I must sorrowfully inform you that I don't have anywhere near as much to say about this movie as I did about that one.  I took relatively good notes, and a lot of good screencaps, and I suspect this post is going to consist of a great many images and bulletpointed comments.  Speaking of which...
  
  

"It's time to get out," Bond says to Mr. White once the film's opening-scene car-chase is concluded.  Craig speaks this line in much the same tones one would use in addressing a six-year-old who has fallen asleep in the backseat on the way home from Grandmother's house.  Craig can't be funny?  Bollocks.



Not only is Craig better at wearing sunglasses than any other Bond, he is also better at looking suave and badass while wearing a polo shirt.

One of the best moments of the film might be the one in which Bond briefly confronts Greene at the opera...

...and 007's mere presence is enough to make these two villains look like woodchucks in the middle of the road.

This suggests that Greene has a good bit of info about who Bond is and what he can do, and would rather not get roped into that particular dance, thankya very much.




Another strong Craig scene comes when he sees Fields' oil-covered corpse.  You can see about three or four different emotions run their way through him in the course of a second or two when M confronts him about his part in Fields' demise.  He's angry, sorrowful, uncaring, ashamed, and prideful; he flips through them like a dealer shuffling the cards.  None of them stick visibly, but you sense that they all probably stick internally.


We will discuss the problematic editing of this film later, but I thought it might be worth examining a few awesome seconds from later in the movie that the editing arguably dilutes.  Bond is waiting outside the Perla de las Dunas hotel for the baddies to emerge.  He drops onto the hood of this here vehicle...

...assassinates the corrupt police official who caused Mathis's death...

...wastes a nearby guard...

...and is caused to fall to the front of the vehicle by the driver putting it in reverse and reentering the hotel's parking garage.  But Bond holds on to the grille long enough...

...to eliminate the driver...


...and ride the car into the hotel, bringing him that much closer to Greene.

The car, now driverless but presumably propelled backwards by the dead man's suddenly-heavy foot, continues into the hotel...

...(while Bond continues killing people)...

...and collides with a bank of fuel cells.

Bond has killed -- I kid you not -- about three more people by then, and he evades the explosion...

...by nimbly leaping across the roof of a nearby car.

You will never be this badass in your entire life.  Add your entire life up, and if badass is measured by the cup, you won't get close to filling it the way Bond does during the course of this brief scene.  On the one hand, I kind of wish the editing made it all a bit clearer; on the other hand, it IS all clear, which means that the more attention you pay to the scene, the more you get out of it.  That ain't all bad.  Either way, this scene represents Bond at his badassedest.

Craig is channeling Timothy Dalton in this shot from near end of the movie, and doing a fine job of it.
   
   
There is, of course, plenty more to enjoy over the course of the movie than those moments.  A few of them include:
 
  • Craig looks like a right badass during the opening car chase.  He's plainly doing a great deal of the driving himself, and he looks genuinely as if he might have a hostage in his trunk.  Now, here's some honest truth for you: I don't need my James Bond to be a hardcore badass.  Sometimes he can just be Roger Moore, or even Pierce Brosnan.  But I sure do like it for him to be a hardcover badass sometimes, and Craig fits that bill to an extent that even Connery wasn't always successful in reaching.
  • I love the blankness on Craig's face while Bond is waiting for the one dude to bleed out after the hotel-room fight goes wrong.  You can kind of tell that he wants to be upset about it, because he knows M is going to be vexed; but overall he just can't make himself regret what's happened.
  • Bond smacking the motorbike out from under its rider is about as badass as it gets.  Doesn't screencap very well, though, so if you want to see it, you'd better cue the scene up for yourself.
  • Bond calling out the Quantum members at the opera is fantastic.  "I think you people need to find a better place to meet," he says, extremely pleased with himself.
  • Bond drinking on the flight to Bolivia -- is that the first time Bond has been visibly intoxicated during the series?  I think it is.  Craig does it about as well as I can imagine it being done.  You'd hate for Bond to seem like a loser in those moments, and Craig stays on the right side of that fence.

If the performance has a flaw, it's that nobody ever seems to firmly decide whether Bond is actually out for revenge or if he's merely being a good agent.  I do not in any way blame Craig for this, because I think that the screenplay is sending out very mixed signals on this score.  Craig handles this flaw in the writing deftly; he is convincing in each and every scene, which means that when the screenplay and the direction want you to believe Bond is out for blood, Craig convinces you that he is out for blood; and when the writers and director Marc Forster want you to believe Bond is merely doing his job, Craig makes you believe he is a good and proper soldier.
  
The problem with this is that Bond and Craig don't quite manage to have an arc as a result.  They come close; the final scene, in which Bond refrains from murdering Yusef, seemingly makes it plain that Bond is -- and has been throughout -- serving M as a reliable agent.  But I'm not sure the entirety of the film bears this out.  Maybe it does, and I'm just being too picky.
  
Either way, Craig is about as good as it gets here.
  
Again.

Points awarded: 007/007


(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:

One of the areas where Quantum of Solace frequently comes in for a lumping is the category of bad guys.  It is certainly true that this movie's main villain, Dominic Greene, is a step or two down from the previous film's Le Chiffre.  Can we all admit that?  Yes?  Okay, good.

Let's try not to judge this movie solely on the basis of it failing to measure up to Casino Royale.  FORGET Le Chiffre.  How is Dominic Greene judged purely on his own merits/demerits?

I think he's just fine.  Not inspired; not an all-time great, certainly.  But fine.  At no point during the movie do I find myself wishing the role had been cast differently, or that the character had had a peg-leg or something doofy like that.  Greene is sometimes accused of being too ordinary, but leveling that claim at this movie feels like an avoidance: Greene's ordinariness is part of the point the movie is making about Quantum as an organization.  These are people who are so omnipresent that they could be anybody, anywhere; heck, they could even be in the room with you right now.

With that in mind, would it make any sense for Greene to be larger-than-life?  Certainly not.




Instead, let's focus on what Greene brings to the table.  To me, he seems like the sort of guy who probably got told "no" quite a bit as a child and as a young man.  Since then, he has found a line of work which probably doesn't result in his being told "no" very often.  And he's in a position to make the people who refuse him regret having done so.   Greene is a harassed young man turned into a bully as an adult.  But not any sort of bully; he has no interest in barking the way some bullies do when all they want is to hear their own voices at a louder volume than anyone else's.  No, instead, Greene is concerned more with the bite than he is with the bark.  He has become arrogant, but only because his arrogance is repeatedly rewarded.  This guy will have one of his employees fuck you UP.

Greene is a man who has become accustomed to getting precisely what he wants when he wants it.  The best scene for Greene in the movie is perhaps the one near the end when he is talking to Medrano.  After the new leader signs the land away to Greene's company, Greene drops the bombshell about how he now controls the water industry in that country; if Medrano does not feel satisfied by the exorbitant hike in prices, then Quantum will simply find a new new leader for Bolivia, one more amenable to what Quantum requires of them.

Greene clearly relishes this entire exchange, even before it has begun in earnest.  He looks like a man who is very satisfied with his lot in life.  And let's face it: why wouldn't he be?

Greene is played by Mathieu Amalric, who (I would argue) brings a bit more to the role than was on the page.  He wouldn't rank near the top echelon of Bond-villain actors, but at this point it's going to be tough to climb into those ranks.  (Fun fact: Amalric has a small-ish role in the criminally-underrated Steven Spielberg film Munich, which also co-starred Daniel Craig and Michael "Hugo (Moonraker) Drax" Lonsdale.)
  
Points awarded (Main Villain):  004/007
 
Henchmen:

I regret being as restrictive as I've been with some of these categories, because to some extent it isn't helpful to simply have a sub-category called "henchmen."  It probably ought to instead be something like "secondary villains."

Ah, well.  This is a gripe for another day.

The fact is that this movie does have a henchman:




That's him on the right, being glared at by a surly Felix Leiter.  The henchman in question is named Elvis, and is played by Anatole Taubman.  I wish I'd taken a better screencap of Elvis.  But, like, why would I have?  I don't want to say that Elvis sucks; he's just . . . weird.  He seems to have wandered in from some different sort of movie.  He does nothing memorable, apart from fall down the steps when tripped by Gemma Arterton.  He is revealed during this exchange to be a wearer of toupees.  Does that revelation have a payoff?  It does not.  Also: I know other people in the world (at least one Costello, for example) are named Elvis, but . . . I mean, really, that name needs to just be retired.  There is ONE Elvis, and he ain't in this movie.

It's all very confusing and odd.  This was the best they could do?  (I feel bad for Taubman, whose performance is fine.  The whole thing just feels weird and underdeveloped.)





There are a few other random henchmen here and there, and there are also notable secondary villains such as Mr. White, General Medrano, and (arguably) Felix's boss.   Except for the latter, these are all mostly fine, and they help keep the score for this category from being in the dumps.
   

I am not a fan.  I guess the idea is that he's a boorish American.  Fair enough.  Still, not a fan


    


  
Points awarded (Henchmen):  002/007
 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  003/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:

And now, bullet-pointed notes, to be followed by screencaps.
  • First things first: Camille is -- with a few technical exceptions (Wai Lin, Honey Rider) -- the only Bond Girl that Bond never gets in bed.  We assume that he lays both Wai Lin and Honey Rider immediately after the ends of their respective movies; but with Camille, there are no hints in this direction at all.  In fact, Bond makes a pass briefly and gets shot down.  So, the question becomes this: does Camille actually count as a Bond Girl?  I suspect a long and pedantic discussion could be had about what does and does not make a "Bond Girl," and maybe such a conversation might be useful.  If so, we'll have it in the comments.  I say she IS a Bond Girl, and that's how we shall proceed.
  • Is she a GOOD Bond girl?  Yeah, I think so.  She's a self-motivated character who, in some ways, might have been better off if Bond had never even shown up.  The screenplay forces her to devolve somewhat toward the end, but I think you can argue that this works for the character in terms of realism.  She's been traumatized, and is forced to relive several aspects of that trauma; I can buy the idea that Camille would shut down while in a burning room.  But I'd also buy that she would fight through that trauma and emerge on the other side as a new and stronger woman.  I suspect that the movie would have better off taking that route; having Bond save her feels like a bit of a cheat.  The argument FOR that happening is that it strengthens Bond's character to have him do so; but I don't think it actually does strengthen him as the movie continues to play out, and so therefore it is a bit of a rainout.
  • Olga Kurylenko is obviously an exceptionally beautiful woman.  Is she up to Eva Green's level?  That's a matter of personal preference; but whatever the preference you have, I don't think the gap between the two is considerable.  Kurylenko is not as strong an actor, however; that much is demonstrable.  Some of her line readings are rather flat and affectless, and she seems to struggle with English in a few scenes.  Despite that, I buy Camille as a real person in a way I never could with certain other flat and affectless Bond Girls, such as Barbara Bach and Britt Ekland, to both of whom Kurylenko is handily superior performance-wise.  She has life in her eyes that they do not in their movies.








I like Olga Kurylenko just fine, yessir.  As for Camille, her character . . . well, I like her pretty well, too.  Up to a point, that is.

The movie seriously pusses out toward the end as regards Camille.  She spends the entire movie trying to get close enough to Medrano to kill him, thereby taking revenge for her murdered family.  The movie finally gives her that moment, too.  It ought to be a moment of catharsis for Camille, but instead, the writers decided to take the opportunity to require Camille to have to spend the next few minutes cowering in fear, supposedly because of the trauma she experienced in a fire earlier in life.  Medrano, right before getting shot, says "This time, you will burn."  And so she nearly does; any catharsis resultant from her killing Medrano is overridden by the trauma of being back in a position to be immolated.  As if that isn't bad enough, we don't even see Camille shoot Medrano!  We only hear the shot (from Bond's point of view).

Fuck that.  Better by far to have her kill Medrano coldly, then escape the burning hotel room under her own volition, preferably in time to rejoin Bond after he vanquishes Greene.  I think maybe the writers were trying to set up a scenario in which Bond learns from Camille's experience that revenge isn't all it's cracked up to be, so that his decision not to kill Yusef a few scenes later has resonance.  If so, the movie completely botches this idea in its execution; and even if the execution of the idea had worked, I don't think I respond well to the implication that Camille is in the movie only to give Bond a Deep Thoughts moment.  If you take the time to create a strong and individualistic character, then that character deserves to remain strong and individualistic for the entirety of her arc; pussing out and turning her into a weak reflection in the film's climax is misguided and unsatisfying.
  
Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  005/007.  I'm tempted to go a point or two lower based solely on how weak the character's resolution is; but I think that would be unfair to what it, on the whole, a good character and a decent performance.  And, of course, a lovely woman.

Secondary Bond Girls:

With the exception of Mathis's wife (girlfriend?), this film is not overburdened with secondary Bond Girls.  The only one is Gemma Arterton, playing Agent Fields.




  
Arterton is hot as stonking hell, but Fields is a worthless character.  Unless I am mistaken, her only purpose is to give Bond somebody to fuck, lest Quantum go on the books as the only Bond movie in which 007's carrot remains dry.  Okay, fine.  Could it have been done a bit more gracefully than this?  Good lord, even the Roger Moore films handled casual sex in a more graceful manner.

Also...




Why is Fields introduced in a costume that looks like Arteron is playing a streaker?  I mean, sure, she looks great in it; but it's an odd, nonsensical touch in a movie that mostly seems to be striving for realism.

Weird.  In some other version of this movie, Fields and Elvis are off having bizarre adventures and/or confrontations.
  
Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls): 004/007.  Seems like that's a point too high, considering how worthless Fields is.  Her worthlessness is tempered somewhat by the fact that Gemma Arterton is very much NOT worthless; she's very good, and very sexy, and that's enough to make this 004/007 seem earned.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  004.50/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:

The action scenes in this movie are -- and I feel I'm repeating a refrain here -- fine.  Mostly.  I love the opening car chase, and the hotel-room fight between Bond and Slate (highly Bourne-esque, but nevertheless top-notch).  The assault on the Perla de las Dunas at the end has some great moments, too; I don't think the scene works overall, on account of the damage it does to Camille's character arc and also on account of how it kind of fails to resolve anything much for Bond.  But there are very nice moments, such as the force of the explostion shoving Bond up against a wall; Bond grabbing Greene by the hair to prevent him from falling to his death; Greene accidentally chopping himself into the foot with the axe; Camille grabbing Medrano's balls and giving 'em a big, violent squeeze; and so forth.
        

However, many of the other sequences fall flat.  The footchase between Bond and Mitchell after the opening credits is . . . okay.  As for its culmination, the swinging-around-on-ropes stuff?  I get what they were going for, and I give the filmmakers credit for trying something new.  However, it doesn't end up working particularly well; it's a bit too silly for a Craig movie, and some of the CGI blends aren't entirely convincing.

Two other major action sequences -- the boat chase and the airplane duel -- also fail to make much of an impression.  The editing of those scenes is overly frenetic, which is theoretically okay provided that the actual beats within the scene are cool and memorable and distinctive.  I would argue that that is the case with the frenetically-edited opening car chase; yeah, the editing is on meth, but if your eyes can keep up, a lot of cool stuff happens.  This is less true of the boat and airplane sequences; those are mediocre action scenes that have been given a false gloss via hyperkinetic editing.



  
Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 004/007

Editing:

Ask a Bond fan with cinephilic leanings what the problem is with Quantum of Solace, and she is likely to answer "the editing."  It's too fast, too blurry; it obscures the movie's action rather than amplifying it.

I think it's a fair assessment.  The editing on the film was handled by a pair of guys: Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson.  The latter co-edited a couple of famously kyperkinetic films, The Bourne Supremacy and United 93.  I'll say this for Quantum of Solace: at least it isn't as prone to shaky-cam as those two flicks were; those are Paul Greengrass films, and Greengrass films tend toward being the visual equivalent of the contents of a working blender.  Quantum is an improvement on them at least in the ease-of-watching regard.  Still, the movie can be visually exhausting at times, and that is not necessarily to its credit.
  
The consensus opinion on the editing seems to be that it is garbage, but -- as with Die Another Day before it -- there is a LOT of excellence that gets overlooked if you accept that as a default stance.  For example, consider the beauty that is the (as I'm going to refer to it) "overture": including the studio logos, it's about a minute long, and it consists of a long-distance push-in across an Italian lake toward a partially-covered tunnel/roadway cut into the side of a large hill.  As the camera gets closer and closer to the tunnel, brief and seemingly random shots of elements of a car (a tire, the hood, an exhaust pipe) are shown emerging from and disappearing into shadows.  Are there multiple cars?  Is one chasing the other?  Is that a chain of bullets?!?  This is a Bond movie; you know the answer.  Editorially, this is a stage-setting, and it works flawlessly (aided immensely by terrific David Arnold music).  Here come screencaps to illustrate that point:












  
What follows is about forty seconds of extremely fast-paced editing which creates an effect that alienated a lot of Bond fans on the release of this movie.  Not me, then or now.
  
I'll grant you that I'm an old-school guy.  This means that I like my action scenes to be clearly-shot and clearly-edited, so that I am clear on what is happening.  Don't hand me this Paul Greengrass shit, or (worse) this Michael Bay shit, where it looks like somebody has just vomited a bunch of half-second-long images into a chain of shots.  One of those is a good filmmaker and the other is not, but both are essentially hopeless when it comes to constructing action scenes, and the damage they have done to action filmmaking is extraordinary.   Clarity matters; you wouldn't know if from their movies.
  
Thing is, this opening sequence in Quantum IS clear; clear as a bell.  It's just quick.  But all you have to do is pay attention.  The individual bits are clear, easy to follow, and very exciting.  To prove it, and because I think you deserve a treat today, here are a shitload of screencaps of excellent-looking frames from the sequence; I went through the entire forty seconds frame by frame, which took a damn lot of time.  Worth it!






Love it.







I really like this bit, in which some bullets hitting a lorry...

...cause the vehicle (which may or may not actually be a lorry; I just wanted to use the word "lorry") to swerve into Bond's path, nearly...

...crushing him...

...against the wall.

But he expertly dodges the calamity...

...by swerving into the next lane over.

However, a dangerous shard of metal has come poking out of the passenger side of the truck...

...and as Bond swerves around onto that side of the vehicle...

...his Aston Martin is in the perfect position...

...for the piece of metal...

...to puncture...

...the FUCK out of the side of Bond's car.


Bond narrowly avoids being skewered.  (PROPER skewered; not the metaphorical Vesper-esque kind.)

Bond is pissed.

He downshifts (I think)...

...and uses the speed of the lorry to rip the Aston Martin's door off the hinges.


Then, he just uses the Aston Martin's momentum...

...to swing the car in a 360...

...and get himself right back on course.





This is great stuff.  Do the individual shots go by quickly?  My goodness, yes.  But my eyes have no trouble keeping up, because all the beats seem precise and well-measured.  This (as we discussed a bit earlier) is not the case with some of the later sequences, which are composed of fewer memorable moments.  Also, the super-quick pace of the editing in this car chase seems purposeful; it mirrors the speed of the cars, and also the intensity of Bond's need to get away with (as will eventually be revealed) Mr. White prisoner in the trunk.  The later scenes simply don't have the same sense of urgency, so the fact that they are edited in the same way feels a bit less appropriate.

The editing of the movie is not entirely about the action scenes, of course.  You wouldn't know it from my notes, though; they have nothing to say about the editing apart from what has just been said.  Off the top of my head, I know there are some effective moments in the opera scene, and between Bond and Mathis, and between Bond and M.  I also know the story becomes a bit muddled in places; the lack of chemistry between Bond and Fields leading up to their tryst seems like it might be an editing issue.

How, then, should a lowly blogger assess the quality of the editing here?

Points awarded (Editing):  004/007.  Too generous?

Costumes/Makeup:

I've got little to say here.  The movie seems mostly to be focused on making sure that these look like real people in a real world, and in that sense, I guess it's successful; highly so, even.  Camille and Fields have nice dresses during the benefit scene; Bond and Greene have nice tuxes; Felix's Bolivian outfit seems appropriately depressing.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 005/007

Locations:

The movie hops around the globe a fair amount, visiting a few Italian vistas (including a famous horse-race, the Palio) as well as Panama and Chile (doubling for Haiti and Bolivia).


The editors -- I assume it was them -- lay in differently-fonted explanations for where we are at each location change.  Most of them look pretty cool.




  
Plus, the fabulous opera set is an actual place in Bregenz, Austria; it looks dynamite.





London also gets some screen time, and for some reason, I really enjoy these shots of M looking bleakly out at the world from the vantage point of the balcony of Mitchell's apartment.





Points awarded (Locations):  005/007

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  004.50/007
 
(5)  Q Branch


Bond's Allies:

Judi Dench gets another very solid role as M.  She's excellent in the Mr. White scene, and even better showing her frustration in Mitchell's apartment.  Happily, the writers continued to recognize the need for M's involvement in the film to be directly related to Bond's character arc; no silly friend's-kidnapped-daughter nonsense is evident.
  
  


 
Rory Kinnear shows up for the first time as Bill Tanner, M's chief of staff.  From what I recall, Tanner is a relatively frequent presence in the novels (especially the non-Fleming continuation novels), but he only shows up a few times over the course of the movies.  Kinnear doesn't have a lot to do here, but he's good, and his presence is strong enough that it serves to help both M and MI6 seem more real.
 
Speaking of MI6, I quite like the scene in which the boffins use Mitchell's currency to trace Slate.  Is this is intended to be Q Branch?
  
  
   
  
No idea, but I like the scene.
 
I also like the fact that Giancarlo Giannini returns as Mathis; he's very good.  My only complaint is that he is given a poorly-written death scene.  I do not for one second believe that Mathis would use his final moments on Earth to help James with his lingering Vesper problem.  No sir, don't buy it. 

Finally, I guess we need to talk about these two:




I can't honestly say that either Beam or Leiter counts as an ally in this movie, but fuck it, that's what I'll call them.  Leiter certainly is, if only because he ends up aiding Bond at a crucial moment; Beam certainly isn't, because he orders Bond's elimination.  So let's call it even.

I'm not a fan of Beam at all.  I see what they were going for (American intelligence as loud, arrogant, unsophisticated, and embarrassing), but this feels like the wrong movie for this performance.  It's balanced somewhat by Jeffrey Wright, who is very good as Felix.  I like how pissed off he seems to be for the entirety of the movie, and from that vantage point, I suppose David Harbour's performance as Beam works.




Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  005/007.  This had better not be the final time we see Wright as Felix Leiter.

Direction:

I took three notes which I filed under "direction" while preparing for this post, and here they are:

  • Why not begin with a gunbarrel sequence? 
  • The footchase between Bond and Mitchell is indeed what I would describe as overly frantic, and some of this might be attributable to the editing.  However, I think more of it is the fault of the way these scenes were filmed.  The camera rarely seems to be in a place to capture the action from an interesting or satisfying viewpoint.  I'd hoped to be able to illustrate this with some screencaps, but to be honest, it wouldn't work; it would simply look like a confused jumble.  Which, to some degree, is exactly what it is . . . but it doesn't quite sell the idea I'm trying to sell, which makes it pointless.  In any case, that's my view of this scene: it's poorly-filmed moreso than it is poorly edited.  This begs a question: is that a flaw in Marc Forster's direction or in Roberto Schaefer's cinematography?  Odds are that it's both, but since Forster, as director, is ultimately in charge, I'm dinging him for it here. He's also losing some points for the boat chase.
  • I like the shots of M standing on the balcony of Mitchell's apartment, looking out over a gloomy and none-too-glamorous section of London.

This seems woefully inadequate.  Marc Forster has been criticized for his work on the film, and it's probably his approach to the action scenes which has earned him the most ire.  I suppose that's fair.  However, I think Forster also brought a lot of good qualities to the film, first and foremost being an advocacy for as much location filming as possible.  I am a big fan of seeing people move through real locations when possible, so I appreciate this.

Forster also gets very good performances out of most of the cast, and he injects just enough humor into the proceedings to keep the whole thing from seeming like a too-gritty downer.
  
Points awarded (Direction):  004/007.  Does the movie work as a whole?  Debatable, but even if you lean toward "no," I think the screenplay is to blame for most of that.  On a Bond film, that shouldn't necessarily be held against the director, so I have no qualms about saying that I feel Forster did good work on this movie.

Cinematography:

The movie was lensed by Roberto Schaefer, who has shot most of Marc Forster's movies.  Schaefer's work here is beautiful.  It's so beautiful that you would think I might have taken some notes on it, but no, I didn't, because I suck.

So, instead, here are some leftover screencaps which sort of illustrate how lovely a movie this is:












Points awarded (Cinematography):  007/007

Art Direction:
  
I don't entirely know how much of this movie is location and how much is studio, so I don't entirely know how to assess Dennis Gassner's work (as he begins his tenure as what seemingly promises to be the third major Bond designer). 
  
The interiors of the Perla de las Dunas are probably the most traditionally Bondian sets in the movie:
  
  
This has got a bit of a Dr. No vibe to it, but doesn't look overwhelmingly retro.

"Balls, Q...?"

I love the movie's look, so let's give it high marks.
 
Points awarded (Art Direction): 006/007

Special Effects:

A couple of moments of CGI have been criticized by detractors of this film: the fight between Bond and Mitchell on the scaffolding; and Bond and Camille parachuting into the sinkhole in Bolivia.  Fair enough; the seams certainly show in those scenes.  However, in both cases, I think the sequences were maybe a bit overambitious; the VFX teams probably shouldn't have been asked to do some of what they did, because CGI still isn't quite good enough to achieve true realism in those types of scenarios.

Does that mean the effects overall are bad?  Not in my opinion.  One example of how well the rest of them work is that during the airplane fight over Bolivia, Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko were performing inside a set-bound "airplane" built on hydraulics.  Even knowing that, I find it hard to tell that they weren't filmed inside an actual airplane that was flying over South America engaging in fake dogfights.

I'm also very impressed by the tabletops and glass walls which are turned into giant computer screens:




  
Those look so good that I almost believe such computers exist.

Points awarded (Special Effects): 005/007

Gadgets:
As with Casino Royale, a LOT is done with cells and computers, especially toward the beginning of the film.  The elaborate tabletop computer system at MI6 is quite cool, futuristic and fantastic without going too far into cartoon territory.  I love how Bond is able to uncover Quantum with little more than a smartphone at his disposal.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  004/007.  By no means a series highpoint, but the ones which are here are good and are used judiciously.

Opening-Title Sequence:

Daniel Kleinman sat this one out for some reason, and so we are treated to opening title by MK12, whatever that is.  They aren't terrible; Daniel Craig stars in them, which is always a recipe for cool iconography.  There is some interesting stuff with shadows, and some nice gunbarrel references; but there is also a lot of sand, and map-grid stuff, and in the end it all manages not to add up to a whole lot of anything.  For me, this has to rank as one of the least-interesting title sequences in the series.









Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  003/007

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  004.86/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

Bulletpointapalooza commences:



  • This is a full-on sequel, the first in the history of the series.  Nothing wrong with that, but two questions come to mind: (1) "Does it work as a sequel to Casino Royale?" and (2) "Does it work on its own merits?"  I can't honestly say that the answer to either is a yes.
  • "When someone says 'We've got people everywhere,' you expect it to be hyperbole.  Lots of people say that; florists use that expression, doesn't mean that they've got somebody working for them inside the bloody room."  Good M dialogue.
  • Bond films have long been noted for their cartoony villainous-world-domination plots.  This one was a non-cartoony villainous-world-domination plot, which seems to me very much in keeping with what Bond is and does.  Quantum is obviously a SPECTRE replacement, which works for me just fine.  I like all the stuff with Quantum destabilizing Bolivia in return for water rights; this seems both realistic and fantastical, and is a good direction for the series.  So why have so many people shit on it?  I think it's because the screenplay failed to properly balance its component parts; the parts were all fine, but the calibration was a failure.
  • The Tosca scene is great.  Does it actually make sense for Quantum to use this sort of venue as a meeting place?  I'd say it does.  It makes it possible for all these people -- all of whom are presumably, like Greene (and White?), notable figures in some way -- to be in the same place without having any observable interaction.  Pretty good idea, really.
  • "Well, Tosca isn't for everyone."  Stuff like this and Bond breaking off the bathroom door-handle are proof that these movies have not lost their sense of humor.  Not all jokes need to involve a man with metal teeth flapping his arms in the hopes of managing not to need a parachute.
  • The taxi scene in which the driver is hollering in (what I assume to be) Spanish while Mathis is talking to his contact is funny.  However, repeat viewings may prompt one to notice that it is also a functional scene: the cabbie is complaining about water scarcity and about the government.  He's telling everyone around him exactly what the real problems are, but nobody has the sense to listen to him.
  • Why does Fields jump immediately into bed with Bond?  Why does Bond jump immediately into bed with Fields?  Now, I'll grant you that asking these questions seems silly in the context of a James Bond movie review.  However, this particular movie has -- at that point in its runtime -- done absolutely nothing to even hint toward sexual attraction between the two.  They've got to at least shoot each other some glances or something in order for the moment to work.  It doesn't work.
  • Also on the doesn't-work list: the joke about Fields' first name.  It is, according to the end credits, "Strawberry." This is a ludicrous name in any number of ways, although not unprecedentedly so for a Bond movie.  But the movie refuses to ever actually make the joke!  "Just Fields," Fields demurs when asked what her name is.  Why set up a joke and then refuse to actually make the goddamn thing?!?  Because it's a lame joke?  Fair enough, but in that case why bother even setting it up?  Also worth noting: Bond made a derogatory comment about the Beatles in Goldfinger; now, four decades later, a character is named after a Beatles song.  Nice.
  • Does this movie (via "environmentalist" Dominic Greene) have a message about environmentalism being an elitist conspiracy?  Or have I been listening to too much Ground Zero again?  Probably the latter.  I don't personally find there to be much room for argument on the subject of climate change being a legitimate problem (manmade or otherwise), but hey, what do I know?  Not much apart from what I'm told; no sense in denying that.  Still, I think having a "green" guy be secretly part of a world-domination plot is pretty damn tasty stuff for a Bond movie.  I don't know that Quantum of Solace does all that might have been done with that idea; but as an idea, it's just fine.
  • In the airplane-over-Bolivia scene, Bond mentions that he's found out Camille is former Bolivian Secret Service and that she infiltrated Greene's organization by having sex with him.  "That offends you?" Camille says, simultaneously amused and annoyed.  "No, not in the slightest," Bond demurs, seeming somewhat delighted.  Craig is great here, and it's nice to see the series explicitly acknowledging that what's okay for Bond is just as okay for a female agent.
Points awarded: 003/007.  Reference previous comments about how much of a disservice the screenplay does Camille in the end and you'll know why I've given this category a negative score.  Also, the movie doesn't pay off Casino Royale as much as you might wish for a sequel to do.  It feels a bit as if uncovering Quantum needed to be the climax somehow; placing that partway through the film doesn't quite work.  Again, I think it was a balance and arrangement problem.  That said, there IS a lot of good stuff going on here, from dialogue to plot to broad-strokes for the series.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:

I'll tell you now, I think this song is shit.  Very little about it works, and while I like the meat of the chorus (the section running from "A door left open..." to "...someone that you think that you can trust..."), when it gets to the end ("...is just another way to die"), the whole thing collapses.  I don't have the musical vocabulary to explain this, but my idea of a chorus is that it has to build to a satisfying conclusion; it must set up an expectation -- even if that expectation only becomes apparent in retrospect -- and then resolve/satisfy that expectation.  It never happens with this song.  It just deflates.
 
I'm by no means a Jack White expert, but I mostly like him based on the songs I've heard.  Here, though, he sounds wee and shrill and unmotivated; this sounds like an idea he crapped out one morning between naps.  Worse, the song completely fails to take advantage of Alicia Keys' talents.  You don't hire Alicia Keys and then give her THIS to do.
 
The song has virtually nothing to do with the movie.  Sure, the concept of death lurking around every corner for a spy is relevant; and the post-credits scene illustrates that.  But otherwise, this song doesn't reflect the movie very well at all.  Not that it has to; I don't know what "A View to a Kill" has to do with A View to a Kill, either, but that doesn't stop it from being rad.
  
  
 
This gets my vote for being THE worst Bond song.  I'd listen to "Die Another Day" twice to avoid hearing this one once. 
  
Even more damning (either of the song or of me; take yer pick, bub): I actually think the theme song to James Bond Jr is preferable to "Another Way to Die."

Points awarded (Title Song):  001/007. Shit.

The Score:

David Arnold's score is one of his best for the series (topped perhaps only by Casino Royale); he's only gotten better as his tenure progressed, and I wish Sam Mendes had retained him for the next two films.  Ah, well.
A few specifics: (1) that Herrmannesque anticipatory-strings section at the very beginning is exceptional; (2) I love the music that accompanies Bond's arrival at Mitchell's apartment; (3) the Santoalalla-esque music accompanying Bond and Camille walking away from the sinkhole and underground river is striking. 
 
There are lots of nice little grace-notes (pardon the pun) in Arnold's score.  One of my favorites comes in the scene in which Bond subdues the MI6 guards in the elevator and is walking away from the scene; Arnold punctuates the music with a recurring three-note motif that is subtle but still insistent and confident in good 007 style.  It's theoretically possible Arnold is even echoing the title song's chorus; if so, he's making more use of it than Jack White did.  (If you want to look for it, it's around the 1:19:55 mark and runs maybe ten or fifteen seconds.  Good stuff.)



 
Points awarded (The Score): 006/007

Also worth mentioning, although we are not going to factor it into our grades, is "No Good About Goodbye," a song written by Arnold and Don Black and performed by some gal named Shirley Bassey on her 2009 Arnold-produced album The Performance.  (It's a great album; go get one!)  The song is built on a six-note melody which pops up several times during the Quantum score, and when you add this to the Arnold and Bassey connections, it equates to a song many people have speculated was/is a rejected title song.

This is not entirely the case.  What seems to be more accurate is this: the six-note melody WAS written by Arnold as part of a presumptive title song, but one which was going to be performed by Amy Winehouse.  Winehouse's copious substance-abuse problems prevented the song from ever being fully formed, however; much less recorded.  Arnold worked the melody into the score nonetheless, and then later developed that melody into a song for Bassey.

I love the song, personally.  It's not something that would have worked for the titles of Quantum of Solace as they exist now, but thematically it feels like something which is following up on Casino Royale, and as far as I'm concerned, it IS a Bond song.  Period.  Not an official one, I'll grant you, but when I make Bond-retrospective playlists for myself, it usually finds its way onto them.  Bassey was in fine voice, Arnold's melody is haunting, the the players let the song build in intensity as it progresses so that what initially seems low-key eventually becomes quite powerful.




Love it!  But, alas, it earns this movie no points.

Total points awarded (The Music):  003.50/007



Double-0 Rating for Quantum of Solace: 004.41

I am tempted to go back in and massage the scores a wee bit so as to drop the movie down beneath both Live and Let Die and GoldenEye, but that would be cheating.  It lays where it falls!

The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.41 -- Quantum of Solace
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
001.02 -- James Bond Jr
    
You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . Skyfall.

But first, as has become the custom, I present some leftover images:


As we've discussed, I don't think this movie did all that it might have done in terms of putting a pin in Casino Royale's events.  One element where this seems problematic to me is in the treatment of Yusef, Vesper's paramour, who betrayed her as part of his employment with Quantum.  Should Yusef have been the primary villain of Quantum of Solace?  I don't think so, but I believe he should have been much more involved than he ended up being.  I ain't got all the answers, but then again, neither did the screenwriters.



Ah, editing...sometimes it is a thing of beauty.

These two are adorable.  No reason for the screencap other than that.

Looky!  A proper Craig's-Bond gunbarrel sequence!  Alas, it comes at the end of the film and not at the beginning.  I don't mind, especially if the idea is that the end of the film represents Bond actually really-for-real becoming THE Bond we know.  He doesn't, so the idea doesn't work; but other than that, I guess it was okay.


The next few images are from Greg Williams' book Bond on Set: Filming Quantum of Solace, which is lovely, out of print, and hard to find at a reasonable price.  Or at least it was for me; I ended up spending about $50 on it, which is silly.  On the other hand, my lord, Olga Kurylenko...



How one would manage to be on-set for this and not walk around with a hard-on is a mystery to me.  Is there a red pill one can take to prevent priapisms?











NOT from the Greg Williams book; from the good ol' Internet, bless its heart.  I don't know who did this, but they are winners.


Not one.



...sigh...

I'm out!

19 comments:

  1. I'm still on the fence about this film. Although, your review causes me to want to watch it again with fresh eyes sometime soon. I loved the opening car chase and the build-up to it. When I saw it for the first time, I thought I was in for a truly great Bond film. However, the editing was a little too rock-clippy for my tastes, especially in the 'escape from the Opera' scene. And, having worked as a theatre usher for five years, I can tell you an opera audience would not put up with somebody murmuring during a performance, so I always felt that the Quantum guys conducting a meeting in a theatre was a bit silly.
    Aside from the erratic editing, my main gripes with this film were the screenplay (put together during the writer's strike, if I recall correctly) which gave me some "Chinatown" flashbacks, and Forster's direction. I'm not sure if he's adept at action. I liked his ideas of setting big scenes amid the Four Elements (fire, water, earth, air), but I dunno, after CR, we all knew that the next film would have big shoes to fill. And I don't think QoS pulled it off.
    As for Miss Kurylenko, I watched the Pierce Brosnan film, "The November Man" and she was thoroughly wasted in that film. I don't know if you've seen it, but...nah, I can't say anything about it without giving away spoilers, so I'll keep my mouth shut for now. Needless to say, I'm surprised she took the role. She was great in "Magic City", a TV show set in 1950s Miami, so I hope that she gets some better roles.

    Another fine write-up, BB!

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    1. Thanks!

      I'd heard from a few other people that Kurylenko is wasted in "The November Man." I don't believe her name even appeared on the poster, which is a shame given how prominently she is used in the marketing. Another case of the industry failing to know how to use a potential asset, seems to me.

      You make a good point about the Quantum agents talking during the opera. In retrospect, that might be the most unrealistic thing in the movie (them not getting shushed)! I also neglected to mention that weird/funny/weird moment in which Elvis, obviously affected by the opera, turns to share a moment with a fellow henchman, who shoots him down. What an odd bit!

      The WGA strike seemingly did play havoc with this production. It's an explanation, if not exactly an excuse; even if an ideal solution didn't immediately present itself, it can't have been a mystery to anyone that the screenplay had problems. That's big-budget filmmaking for you these days, I guess.

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  2. One more thing I meant to mention. You can replace the title line of "No Good About Goodbye" with both "Tomorrow Never Dies" and "The World Is Not Enough". Next time you play the song, sing over Dame Shirley as she sings the title. They fit.
    Although, I still think "The Living Tree" is a great Bond song without any Bondish lyrics. And I've read in the past few days that she's being mentioned for the "SPECTRE" title track.

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    1. That would be an interesting development!

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    2. Yes it would, but I couldn't help thinking that Tom Jones would be a better fit, since he sang "Thunderball", the other Spectre film. Not sure if he can still hit the high notes like he did in '65. Whereas, DSB will be able to sing a Bond Title Song in her sleep without breaking a sweat.

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  3. DSB for the SPECTRE title track would be pretty wild.

    Camille's end being really poorly thought-out; the alternate ending you mention would make better thematic sense/ cinematic payoff.

    Elvis is lame. I feel heretical even typing those words about a wholly different Elvis, which goes to show re: your other point, it's silly to name such an unremarkable character as this guy "Elvis."

    Gemma Arteron is something. Totally pointless character, I agree (well, her only point is for what you describe). She needs to play Dana Delaney's daughter in something. Like a remake of China Beach but with a more Pan Am sensibility. Or maybe an Orphan Black sensibility.

    Love that 'a fatal kiss is all we need' screencap.

    This song is terrible. If someone named this the worst of all Bond title themes, I wouldn't disagree. And for the record, yeah, Die Another Day might be second-worst.

    I've got to steal that badass screencap of Bond's driver's side rearview mirror. Awesome. Speaking of cool shots, I don't think I properly appreciated that shot of M on the balcony. Very nice.

    And finally, I think the first bulletpoint of your Mission Briefing is key. For me, this is new territory for Bond - an outright sequel. Yet... as sequels go, it doesn't quite do it. Part of me admires Quantum for refusing to conform to normal sequel rules (go bigger, double up, etc.) but it underwhelms, overall, and would be considering a Jewel of the Nile to Casino Royale's Romancing the Stone were these just two spy-action movies.

    I can't believe we're at the end of this series already! I am curious where Skyfall is going to fall in the points totals. My guess is pretty high, maybe even up there with Thunderball, if not above it. Or perhaps tallying the points may reveal some structural anomalies... I look forward to finding out.

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    1. Me too! Work on that one has not yet commenced, and probably won't for a few weeks.

      I like "Jewel of the Nile" comparison. Probably apt, although that one at least has a good theme song. Billy Ocean!

      Speaking of theme songs, I really can't get enough of shit-talking this one. I guess there are marketing considerations that come into play and make a song a necessity, but if I were the producer and THIS was what came down the pike from the people I'd hired, I'd just pull an OHMSS and go with an instrumental. Then again, I'd have hired David Arnold for the job to begin with and we would have never gotten in that situation. Then again AGAIN, I'm not Barbara Broccoli and probably would not have thought of casting Daniel Craig, so in all seriousness, what the hell do I know?

      "I know the ringer with the slick trigger finger for her Majesty," sings Jack White. Shut up, Jack White. I don't even know what that means, but shut up. No. Just no.

      Gemma Arterton does have a Delaney-esque look to her, doesn't she? Not a bad quality in a person.

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  4. I don't think I like this movie quite as much as you do. I don't hate it. It's certainly not "Diamonds Are Forever" or "The World is Not Enough." I think maybe after the awesomeness that was "Casino Royale," this was something of a let down. Some of that, maybe most of it, comes from Domenic Greene. He just doesn't seem particularly formidable as the main villain in a Bond movie. I don't care what the climactic sequence wants us to believe, I just don't buy him as a legitimate threat to Bond. He's also not a mastermind. He's merely overseeing Quantum's plan for Bolivia, there's no indication he came up with the plan, only that he is seeing to its success. For all intents and purposes he's a middle man. As such he should be beneath Bond's notice, or maybe afforded enough attention that Bond takes him out with one shot early in the movie. Compared to most Bond villains, he comes across as pretty lame.

    Gemma Arterton and Olga Kurylenko. So soon after Eva Green? Craig might be the luckiest man on earth. Bastard.

    It's funny you mentioned the "swinging on a rope" sequence at the end of Bond's fight with Mitchell. I always thought that was out of place in this movie. Craig doesn't quite pull it off. It got me thinking about the other Bonds and wondering if any of them could have done it. I think the scene was too ridiculous for Connery or Dalton, and too undignified for Moore. Lazenby? Maybe. We just don't know enough about his Bond to draw a conclusion either way. I think only Brosnan could have pulled that off. Frankly, it would have fit nicely into the other foolishness in "Die Another Day."

    Bond going after Yusef at the end struck me as a little too "Blade." I don't know how they could have done the scene differently but it bothers me the way it was handled. Maybe it's just me.

    Is there any doubt Wright is the best Leiter of all time? He doesn't even have to do anything anymore. It's enough for him to sit there and look pissed. Total badassery.

    On to "Skyfall."

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    1. I agree with you about Greene to some extent; I like the performance and the smarminess/arrogance, but yeah, he's definitely not a threat for Bond. Maybe he needed a hardcore badass of a henchman to help him with the physical confrontations. He definitely IS a middle man, and I think that could have been okay as a plot device -- provided the plot revolved around Bond having to get to him to then learn what he needed to learn about Quantum.

      Things didn't play out that way, though, so I definitely understand why people think he's one of the weakest Bond villains. Maybe I was too lenient!

      You make a fine point about Brosnan being maybe the only Bond who could have pulled off the silly rope-swinging stuff. What a strange sequence. Why did they ever think that was a good idea? I do like the shot of Bond pulling the trigger in the end, just in the nick of time. Otherwise, that is a waste of a couple of minutes.

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  5. I beg to differ on the score. Arnold take no chances and his action cues are too long and interchangeable with any of his previous work. The moment I see the title "Bolivarian Taxi Ride" I knew exactly how it would sound like (typical Latin flavored cue). Ultimately, his music is serviceable but forgettable.

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    1. I felt that way about most of his Bond music at one point in time. I loved his score for "Tomorrow Never Dies" when the movie came out (and still do), but his next three left me mostly cold at first. I liked his "Quantum" music quite a lot, though, and in the process of writing this blog I've found myself getting a lot more out of all of his others 007 scores. Especially "Casino Royale."

      I do agree with you about the action cues to some extent; especially in "The World Is Not Enough," where they are sort of exhausting and formless. That's a problem with most current film scores, though, so at least Arnold isn't alone!

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  6. I'd like to play Monday morning quarterback on the beginning of this movie. It seems to me, the best thing to do would have been to take the shot of Bond flipping around upside down on the rope to shoot Mitchell at the end of their chase and turn that into the gunbarrel shot. Not a traditional one of course, but then neither was the one in Casino Royale: it would have firmly established a cool new gimmick of taking an actual moment of action and transitioning that into the gunbarrel sequence, which then led into the opening titles.

    I even suspect that the filmmakers may have considered doing this, because of the way Bond just kind of freezes after he fires (maybe it's just me?) but changed their minds because the car chase/Mitchell chase would have been too much for the pre-credits cold opening. They may have figured it would be better to separate the two big action set pieces with the song/credits. If that's the case, I feel like they should have just gotten rid of the opening car chase entirely (Bond just pulls up to MI6 safehouse with White in the trunk) OR made it a part of the Mitchell chase or moved it to another part of the movie.

    Thematically, wouldn't it make more sense to open with Bond chasing somebody than somebody chasing Bond? Y'know, since the concept of Bond as a character in Quantum is his unrelentingly pursing the bad guys? Personally I just don't find it satisfying for the "Time to get out" line as lead-in to the credits. The gunbarrel goes at the beginning of a Bond movie - it might make me seem like a stickler to formula, but that's literally the one thing they shouldn't mess with. Even Crystal Skull had the Universal logo transition into a molehill, you don't mess with the classics! The first time I saw the movie the lack of a gunbarrel at the beginning stuck in my craw, and I think it's continued to hinder my overall enjoyment of the film (even though I like it more than most people...except for Strawberry Fields. I HATE Strawberry Fields. My least favorite Beatles song, and my least favorite Bond girl.)

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    1. I like that idea of having Bond's turn toward Mitchell be a gunbarrel -- that would have been effective. And I don't know that extending the cold-open that far would have made it any longer than the one in "The World Is Not Enough." That one goes on for quite a while.

      I definitely agree that the gunbarrel should go at the beginning. I'm hoping "Spectre" will get the series back on track in that regard.

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  7. I think the fact that 'nobody ever seems to firmly decide whether Bond is actually out for revenge or if he's merely being a good agent' is meant to be a point of the film, because Bond himself can't decide either. I think that's what makes this film interesting, more than any other in the series he is unsure what to do next and he's just lucky that for most of the film's runtime that revenge and duty follow the same path and he doesn't have to choose. It is a good, vulnerable place for Bond and is well-performed by Craig like you say. I don't think he truly reaches a decision until he confronts Yusef, I think he went there with every intention of killing him. Here duty and revenge diverge and he has to come down on one side or the other. To me that is where he decides this guy is not worth it, this is a good idea even if the writing should have made it more clear, but it works for me as a conclusion to this film (although this may be because I'm reading something into it that isn't there).

    My problem is less to do with this film in isolation (like you I like it more than most), but as a follow up to Casino Royale. Just as Bond sees Yusef as not worth it to kill it's hard to see why Vesper would see him as worth it to give her heart to. Yusef seems so obviously the kind of guy who lures women with fake charm, not the kind that's using them to get sensitive information from but the kind you'd warn a friend away from if you met him in a bar, that it's hard to see the brilliant, intelligent woman that we see in Casino Royale, who sees through Bond so keenly, would fall for Yusef's act. Even if she developed her canniness after being blackmailed to work as a double agent she would surely recognise Yusef for what he was by the time she met Bond.
    I think this retroactively weakens Vesper and Casino Royale, making Spectre not the first film to lessen a previous entry in the series.

    I think Yusef weakens Bond too, I always assumed part of Bond's anger in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace is the thought that Vesper believed some other man was worth betraying him over. Again Yusef works in this way in some respect, he isn't a match to Bond so Bond doesn't feel threatened by Vesper’s affections for him, but because that means Bond was betrayed for someone so much lesser, it’s actually more insulting and makes Bond looks worse. It also arguably means he only stops killing Yusef out of contempt, which means the resolution to his dilemma between personal life and work obligations is an easier one to make.

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    1. It's an interesting scene. I don't think it's as effective as it could have been; the staging is awkward -- the two actors who aren't Daniel Craig seem like they've had about two minutes to prepare, and the camera being locked into place doesn't help -- and the whole thing seems underdeveloped.

      For me, though, it doesn't hurt "Casino Royale" or Vesper, and I'd argue that it makes Bond more interesting, not less. But I don't have strong feelings about it, and the bottom line is that it's such an underdeveloped scene that the viewer is kind of forced to fill in the blanks.

      A lot of this probably ties in with Camille's story. Bond sees her go through the process of seeking and getting revenge, and she doesn't seem to be any fundamentally more at peace afterward. Bond has been wantonly killing dudes the entire movie, but after this, I think you're right -- he kind of decides this particular dude isn't really worth it, especially if there is more that MI6 could learn from him.

      None of it is a slam dunk, but it works well enough for me that while I do think the movie is a comedown from "Casino Royale," it's one that still makes for an acceptable followup.

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    2. That's a fair defence, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      Like I say I do really like Quantum of Solace and will defend it to anyone who will listen, but I think because we're forced to fill in the blanks so much I've probably spent more time doing so than is healthy :P

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    3. I wonder if that scene was one of the ones heavily impacted by the writer's strike. I wouldn't be surprised. If so, it's probably a miracle it turned out as well as it did!

      I'm with you, though -- I think it's a much better movie than many people give it credit for being.

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  8. Just watched this, and I have to say, while I liked this film a lot more than I think the average Bond fan does, I think you were a tad overly generous in the 'Bond' category here - Craig's performance certainly deserves the 007/007, as it always has, but you've spoken elsewhere that the ranking is beyond the actor, and you acknowledge here the completely real problem that the screenplay can't decide what Bond's long-term motives are, and therefore creates a very murky arc. I would knock points off myself, but more importantly, I feel based on your history as a reviewer, it would make sense for you to knock a point off. Plus, that would bump it below "Live and Let Die" and "Goldeneye" :)

    I say this only because I love your blog, and it's traditional for me as a new Bond fan to read your review of a film immediately after watching it, so I'm by no means trying to accuse you of running a bad shop here. Even when we walk away with different thoughts on a film, your insight is not only valuable but usually understandable.

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    1. I appreciate you saying all of that!

      "I feel based on your history as a reviewer, it would make sense for you to knock a point off. Plus, that would bump it below "Live and Let Die" and "Goldeneye" -- See, now, THAT is precisely the kind of engineered mathematics I can and do support. And I'd say I feel like the movie does deserve to be ranked below "GoldenEye" for certain; I'm less sure about "Live and Let Die," but only by a bit.

      Regarding what you say about the screenplay muddying Bond's motivations, I feel as if I could argue it in either direction. On the one hand, I agree that the screenplay does make Bond's motivations a bit intangible and hard to pin down, and therefore less effective than might be optimal.

      On the other hand, I wonder if that doesn't make the movie -- and, therefore, Bond himself -- MORE intriguing rather than less. One of the things I like most about "Casino Royale" (novel and movie alike) is that we have no real access of any kind to what Vesper is thinking and feeling. We can make educated guesses at her motivations, but they are essentially mysterious to Bond (and to us), forever.

      It could be argued that that quality transfers from Vesper to Bond in "Quantum of Solace," almost as though he is possessed by her.

      I don't know that that was the intent of the screenplay, but I think the argument could be made that it's in the movie. Works for me!

      But I do also see it the other way. I kinda dig that there's a Bond movie with some ambiguity of that nature; I wouldn't want 'em all to be like that, but I like that there's one.

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