Thursday, November 12, 2015

I finally saw: Quantum of Solace

Considering that I don't think of myself as a huge James Bond fan, I shouldn't be so surprised that I've never made time for Quantum of Solace.

However, you can't argue with facts: Solace had been the only James Bond movie I hadn't seen since 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me. (And it's funny -- even though I consider Roger Moore to be my James Bond, I've only seen four of the seven films he appeared in.)

I would have probably let Quantum of Solace sit on the scrap heap for a while longer except that a) Spectre comes out today in Australia, and b) we're planning to discuss Spectre -- and presumably, Daniel Craig's entire stint as James Bond -- on the next episode of the ReelGood podcast. (Well, the next episode after the one we record tonight, which will be about The Lobster.) Only b actually plays a role in my decision, as mere storyline continuity did not require I see Quantum before watching Skyfall three years ago.

In fact, storyline continuity may have been what turned me off from prioritizing Quantum of Solace in the first place. (That and hearing that it wasn't much good.) I wasn't a big fan of Casino Royale, particularly the ending, in which Bond is all weepy over this woman Vesper who just betrayed him. Given the way Bond has traditionally disposed of women -- most shockingly later on in Skyfall, where he is a disinterested party to the disposal of a woman, if not actually the cause of her disposal -- it struck me as unusual that he would get so bent out of shape over the death of one who actively betrayed him. (It was for a similar reason that the maudlin display of emotion over the death of the traitor Boromir initially did not sit well with me at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.)

Anyway, upon learning that Quantum of Solace was a continuation of the events of Casino Royale, and that it was not very good, it seemed like an easy one to skip.

It was interesting trying to watch it last night without having Casino Royale clear in my memory, because the movie does intimately rely on a knowledge of events and characters from that movie, without giving any kind of flashback to those events or containing any overt exposition in the dialogue. So in one respect, Solace worked even less well for me than it probably would have had I seen it when it came out.

In another respect, however, it probably worked better for me since I hadn't placed the weight of all my expectations on its shoulders. After Casino Royale, I really had no expectations -- no positive ones, anyway. So if I look at Quantum of Solace just as a series of kinetic action set pieces -- and the criticism is that this is all it is -- it sort of works for me on that level. While Marc Forster's handling of the action scenes is one of the things people didn't like about this movie, I found that a couple of them really got my adrenaline going, particularly that one in that half-finished building where Bond and his assailant are fighting each other while riding up and down on pulleys. The camera is moving in an alive and alert way, even if the end result is fairly banal in terms of the narrative.

And I guess the big problem is that I really couldn't follow the narrative, and not only because I didn't remember the function of certain characters or what they had done in Casino Royale. But maybe no one could really follow it because it jumps forwards in fits and starts, with a truly absurd number of locations, with fight scenes breaking out seemingly at random, and with Bond ending them in unusually cruel and usually fatal abruptness. Because right, this guy is mad after Vesper drowned.

What seems clear -- and what they kind of figured out with Skyfall -- is that even if Bond has a kind of overall brooding character arc that may be informed by the various things that have happened to him, each new installment needs to stand on its own, without strong connective tissue to the other movies -- especially when it doesn't care to remind us what happened in those other movies. And that not only that, but that Bond should stay jovial even when he's getting down in the muck and knocking heads.

It's a tricky balance, though. In Skyfall, he got so jovial that he cracked a joke after the villain callously blew away the girl he'd slept with the night before.

What I think of Spectre remains to be seen, but I think I'm ready to turn the page on Daniel Craig as Bond. Fortunately, he is too. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were disappointments, and even though Skyfall was not, my lingering impression of it is its misogynistic treatment of a truly unfortunate Bond girl.

Maybe Spectre will send him out in style ... or just leave me rolling my eyes over another at least partially missed opportunity.

No comments: