Friday, October 24, 2008

Further Thoughts on Quantum of Solace

Part of the James Bond Blogathon

Not every post of mine will be on the newest Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008)--how can it be when I've yet to see it? In fact, probably very few of them will be. But I thought a good place to start might be with that which initiated the idea for the Bond blogathon to begin with.

My initial thoughts on the film were underwhelming. Among other reasons, part of the concern was because I think Marc Forster has never made a good film--and more to the point, has made films which were terribly pretentious, self-important and shameless Oscar bait. Moreover, being an auteur, if one fancies him as that, I do not even see a coherent visual or thematic logic to his work (other than the aforementioned Oscar bait projects).

The other big reason I was ambivalent about Quantum of Solace was because Casino Royale was superb and its follow-up, almost by definition, must be a disappointment (and because the law of averages with Bond films has to catch up, even with the peerless Craig in the lead role).

But in the last couple weeks, I have let go of those anxieties--I still don't think Forster will acquit himself as a great director with this film, and I still don't expect to like it half as much as its predecessor. But I don't think about that stuff much anymore (for the time being--once I've seen the film, I may rethink it), and have instead come to just be grateful that the movie was even made, given how the other ended, and that shortly I will get a chance to see it.

The initial buzz on the film is both deflating and promising. Deflating in the sense that most don't seem blown away by it, but promising in the sense that it does sound like they are staying faithful to the new vision of Bond as existing within a complicated narrative world that spills across several texts--rather than the old Bond films (with the exception of the 60s ones), which were autonomous stories from movie to movie.

Mr. White (above right) is the key--as long as he is alive, Bond will never arrive at where he's headed. Part of the trick of Casino Royale was that the film's real villain only made three, brief appearances. Unlike every other Bond film ever, the film's central "villain," LeChiffre, was only a ruse--made all the more powerful by his sudden, unexpected departure.

This was the primary focus of my contribution to Chris Lindner's collection on Casino Royale, which I also excerpted here. Part of what I enjoyed about Casino Royale was not just Craig's performance, or its sleeker, darker tone (whatever that means, frankly; I grew up on Timothy Dalton's Bond, so this isn't as novel as some seem to think), but the ambition and care that was put into creating a whole new Bond world, with reoccurring storylines and characters.

More like a finely tuned television drama, crafted across several seasons, than a cookie-cutter movie franchise (to invert that, this is also partly I think why I love the Star Trek films so much--particular #s 2-6--much more than any of the several television series; it is all really one epic story).

Aint It Cool posted two early reviews of Quantum of Solace--one good, one bad. Most of the news on the film is likely to leak from the UK over the next few weeks, as the film opens there on Halloween, two weeks before it hits the States. In fact, the internet will be rife with spoilers by the time we actually get a chance to see it for ourselves.

Ironically, I get the sense that these two reviews are talking about the exact same aspect of the same movie, even though they came to opposed conclusions. One reviewer said narratively the film was a mess, that Bond's journey seems to have no goals, no destination, no ultimate achievement or point. The other reviewer, meanwhile, believed that this was merely the second act in a probable trilogy--which if true would confirm that Bond wouldn't quite be getting to where he wanted to be. That such resolution is saved for the next film.

Forster was quoted recently as saying that the original final scene of the film was cut to leave the ending more ambiguous. The old ending clearly established the film as a bridge to the next one, and defined the next one, but he decided against it because he wanted to leave it to the next director or writer to decide where he/she wants to take the character (it also sounds like the original ending was a little too much like Casino Royale's ending, so it might have been good to cut it).

This leaves me optimistic that Quantum of Solace, whatever its ultimate flaws, will at least stay true to the narrative co-presence of drive and ambiguity which made the previous one so exciting in its execution and so thrilling in its conclusion.

1 comment:

Scott Balcerzak said...

There is also the Rule of 2.
Second films in the serious often are the best. Godfather 2; Star Treck: The Wrath of Khan; The Empire Strikes Back; Spiderman 2; Superman 2; Back to the Future 2; LOTR: The Two Towers; and, certainly, The Dark Kight this year might forever fit in that ranking.
I think it has something to do with a series no longer having to 'establish' the mythology (or, with the newest Batman or Bond, getting past the 'origin' story - which, to be honest, I find boring half the time), and now 'getting to the good stuff.'
Of course, the 3 film often becomes self-indulgent (Godfather 3) lazy (Back to the Future 3) or just dumb (Spiderman 3).