Tuesday, November 3, 2015

James Bond Marathon: Quantum of Solace

"They say you're judged by the strength of your enemies."

Chronology & Stats
James Bond #22
Star: Daniel Craig #2
Director: Marc Forster #1 (his only one)
My Ranking #15

Ironic quote considering the film has one of the most forgettable enemies of the series.

Quantum of Solace seems to exist because we had to immediately ditch everything that made Casino Royale great or we wouldn't have been able to move forward. It takes Bond away from the essential character development that immediately felt so inextricable from this franchise and its central hero to something completely inessential and what amounts to little more than a faceless, generic, bland action movie. The obligatory signifiers of Bond are here, but there's not enough espionage to make it a Connery Bond and there's not enough comedy to make it a Moore/Brosnan Bond.

In fact, there's no comedy; Bond spends the whole movie moping about Vesper, turning him into a caricature of the dark and gritty tone that Casino Royale nailed. This fits into an important point in an arc that began in Casino and will continue in Skyfall (and Craig does a marvelous job with it, as usual), but it's so dour that it can be hard to enjoy. I'm beginning to think that this is what makes Quantum unique, and that it makes an important point for the depth of Craig's characterization of Bond, but Forster directs it as little more than a generic action movie.

And it's not even a good generic action movie at that: directed by Marc Forster and edited by Matt Chesse, Quantum looks just as hacked up and indistinct as World War Z (which the duo would collaborate on in 2013). Add second editor Richard Peterson of The Bourne Supremacy fame and what you get is a movie where every action scene is composed of single shaky frames of unstructured utter nonsense. This takes the Action Movie Impressionism of the Bourne movies and twists the Incomprehensibility dial up past 10 and then right off the knob. The only thing Quantum of Solace will give you an impression of is motion sickness.

Narratively the film functions as a direct sequel to Casino Royale, and it uses this backdrop to do two things. First, it uses it to make Bond absolutely no fun at all. He spends the whole movie moping about after Vesper, and rather than continue the development of the previous film this plays out as adolescent ennui. This could have made a great darkly depressive action film (it makes sense that 007's killing everybody around him as he's lost the will to live himself), but it lacks the richness of other purposefully stagnant narratives like Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

Second, it uses this backdrop to develop the shadow organization Spectre. This is the one thing that keeps the film afloat for me. We saw the beginnings of this at the end of Casino Royale, and here they begin to fester and grow in size and magnitude. For the most part this just keeps us waiting for the next film where Spectre will actually arrive rather than making what we're actually watching interesting, but it imbues the otherwise insignificant events with a slightly greater sense of importance.

Unfortunately, this means that the film works better as a part of the whole than on its own terms. I love Daniel Craig and Judi Dench so much that my recollection of Quantum of Solace was actually quite pleasant. I didn't think it was a great movie, but I didn't remember it being as bad as the bottom tiers of the Bond franchise. So maybe it's just watching it so soon after Casino Royale, but this turned out to be even more disappointing the second time through than the first.

James Bond ranked

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