Friday, November 14, 2008

Movie Review: The name's Bourne, James Bourne...A Review of "Quantum of Solace"

Apparently, the producers did decide to make a fourth Jason Bourne movie...well, something of a weak rehash of the second one really...and its name is "Quantum of Solace."

Yes, I too believed that it was going to be a James Bond film and of course we went to see it opening night. After the smashing success of "Casino Royale", I was tremendously excited to see "Quantum," even though I knew it probably wouldn't live up to the high standard set by "Casino."

Boy, was I right. I just didn't realize how much it would fail to live up the that standard.

"Quantum" feels like a largely joyless work derivative of recent "Bourne" films (not too surprising given that a number of the same writers worked on "Quantum") without the assured direction of Doug Liman or Paul Greengrass. Would it have killed the producers to bring back the outstanding Martin Campbell? "Quantum" is the first true sequel in the Bond series ("Diamonds are Forever" makes reference to the events in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" but isn't really a sequel) and it seems like it would have made sense to carry the same style of direction and vision over into the new film. Campbell had already proven he could handle action sequels without a let-down (see "Mask of Zorro" and "Legend of Zorro").

(On a superficial note, the movie also gets off to a lousy start thanks to "Another Way to Die", a truly awful opening song by Jack White and Alicia Keys - I'm not sure if it's as wretched as Madonna's dreadful "Die Another Day" but it's pretty bad.)

Where "Casino" was the most character-driven Bond movie ever made with a clear, focused plot and tremendous action sequences that redefined how this secret agent was going to do business, "Quantum" is an incoherent mess with a bland villian named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) whose lead henchman only notable for his silly haircut. Greene is part of a shadowy evil organization apparently named Quantum, the members of which wear shiny "Q" lapel pins so they can identify one another (note to self -- when starting my next secret cabal, just skip straight to the "Hi, My Name is..." evildoer badges).

Some Bond villians and their plots are so over the top, they're almost unwatchable ("Moonraker" or "A View to a Kill" anyone?) but this time, the plot is so non-threatening, it's almost incidental. Does anyone really get stressed out about someone seizing control of 60% of Bolivia's water supply? And why does Quantum want to do it? So they can gouge utilities customers by charging higher rates? That sounds like my cable company.

It doesn't help matters that the action sequences -- a vital element of the Bond spectacle for 44 years -- are so poorly filmed and edited that you have little idea who is doing what or why something just blew up. Someone needs to tell directors that jump cuts every second or so don't make action scenes more exciting; they just make them more confusing.

In addition, the movie's big action sequences often leave you feeling like you've seen them before elsewhere. That chase through the tunnels and up the building? A dark, muddled rehash of the jaw-droppingly brilliant parkour chase scene in "Casino Royale." The chases through buildings and the leaps to balconies and through windows? Nothing more than a pale imitation of the pursuit scene in "The Bourne Ultimatum".

Daniel Craig does his best with a thankless role here. While I still believe that he has the potential to be the best Bond ever based on his performance in "Casino Royale", he's playing the role of the Avenger Agent in this movie, burned by Vesper's apparent betrayal in "Casino Royale" yet hurting because he truly loved her and could only watch her die. There's no doubt he has the physical chops for the part and he puts them on display in "Quantum." However, in "Casino Royale", his charm was allowed to show through. At the conclusion, when he steps up with the stylish suit, the big gun, and the ice-cold eyes to say "The name's Bond, James Bond," you could see him becoming the stylish killer, the martini drinking seducer of women with outrageous names, and a man who would probably become comfortable enough to drop an occasional bot mot as well as a grenade.

Now, that evolution and that charm are largely put on hold and he is simply a running, jumping, shooting killing machine seeking the secrets that Vesper took the the grave. ("The name's Grim, James Grim.") Even the movie's one outrageous name, in this case "Strawberry Fields", isn't revealed until you watch the credits. Where's the fun in that? Where's the "strawberries and cream" quip after they have sex? Bond movies are supposed to be a bit over the top. Hell, that's why the guy drives an Aston Martin. What government on earth can afford to put its spies in $170,000 automobiles that always get shot up, blown up, or otherwise wrecked?

The only time something more is allowed to peek through is in his relationship with Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini reprising his role from "Casino Royale"), who seeks to help his friend move on from Vesper's death, and with Judi Dench's M. In fact, I have to admit I was surprised at one point when Bond explains that he's after the person who tried to kill a friend of his. I immediately assumed he was talking about Vesper but it's revealed, at that particular moment, that the "friend" in question is actually M, revealing something new in the Bond/M relationship -- trust, affection, a reliance on each other?

While it didn't have to be this way, "Quantum" is hamstrung right from the start by "middle installment syndrome", that affliction faced by otherwise well-meaning movies in the middle of a trilogy. They have to have something to do but aren't allowed to wrap up the story -- they're simply filling the space until the big finale comes along. It takes a rare movie to overcome this. "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Bourne Supremacy" are two exceptions to the rule. Each is a fantastic movie. And while each raises questions that are eventually answered in Jedi and Ultimatum, respectively, you ultimately leave the theatre feeling satisifed and thrilled at the end.

In "Quantum", however, questions are raised and villians are identified but they're simply put out there as filler or as potential fodder for the next movie with little to no resolution and certainly no driving excitement to find out what happens next. (Minor spoiler alert -- isn't anyone concerned that the senior adviser to the British Prime Minister is apparently a member of Quantum? Apparently not because it's mentioned once and then never again.)

Adding to the problem...while you're watching "Quantum", you don't realize you're watching a middle installment until the end at which point it's too late. You've been let down by the lack of closure that seemed to be simply the result of poor story telling.

As "Quantum" ended, I found myself looking forward to the next one to see how all of the pieces come together but not terribly interested in going back to the theatre to watch this one again. That's a rare feeling for me, a true fan of the series. Of course, as the credits ended, the traditional statement of "James Bond will return" rolled across the screen and in that, at least, we can take some solace.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I agree 175% with your review. What a total disappointment. What a total mess of a movie.