Friday, March 27, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Confession: Today's Movie at Random wasn't at random. In fact, I foolishly purchased it on impulse, and I'll probably buy it AGAIN on Blu Ray. The really sad thing is, I hadn't even seen it before I bought it, but then again I knew I'd probably like it. Why? It's a Bond film, I can't resist them.

A little bit of the origin story of this little project. Once upon a time, specifically the year before the release of the last Bond film, I had decided to watch all the Bond films in order, and post my impressions of them, on a Livejournal of all things. This is what got me hooked on talking far too much about movies. I actually managed to watch them all, though the series was abruptly halted after the last Sean Connery one due to various factors, including a big move and a flighty connection. Some were good, some really weren't, but even the really terrible ones (The Man With the Golden Gun, Die Another Day) I still treasure.

So, why do I like this series so much? Part of the reason has to be my love of action movies and car chases. A well done fight scene or car chase is more entertaining and difficult to execute than pretty much anything else. Do it wrong, and they can be a headache, but do it right they can be tense, gripping, exhilarating and even very pretty.

Just being a consistent action series doesn't really explain my love of the series though, there's something else. I like, more than anything, about how it's about a world governed by people with wealth and taste. Bond himself makes frequent reference to fine drink, clothes, and cigars. The villains' lairs are designed both to take over the world, but look really cool and modern, designed as much by modern interior decorators as the most evil engineers. Yes, the dastardly plans are often nonsensical, and everyone has an alarming tendency to over explain themselves, and nobody thinks that they should kill Bond right away, but that doesn't matter.

So, then Quantum of Solace, the newest one. Well, in an attempt to be topical, we've got a story based on the environment, with a villain named Dominic Greene just in case you didn't get it. More importantly, however, James and his new lady friend Camille Montes are out for revenge against people who killed their loved ones, and Greene is the connection to the people they personally want to kill. Plus, there's the new supervillain club, Quantum-because-some-other-guy-owns-the-trademark-to-SPECTRE, and governments making friends with known jerks to serve their own ends. This all sounds a lot more complicated than it is, because it's pretty much there to give an excuse for more action scenes.

Luckily, they're good action scenes, even though some use a lot of CG. I did prefer the lack of CG in Casino Royale, I'll admit, but the action here is well edited and the CG actually is pretty smoothly integrated. One of the great things is that there are often action scenes and another sequence edited in which comments on and enhances the action. The absolute best of these is Bond and his girl simultaneously in the final battle against the primary villains. It even has callbacks to previous films, one of which is actually much cleverer than the entire plot (a girl covered in oil posed like the Goldfinger girl).

It's also nice to see the film continuing trends set by Casino Royale, which was arguably the best film in the series. Daniel Craig's Serious Bond is a bit more believable than the former, less serious Bonds, and I like how he's becoming a character rather than a source of bullets and wisecracks. More importantly, the female characters are finally beginning to become real people, rather than some breasts that need to be saved. For a series that can be accused of objectifying women, it's interesting to note that the worst entries are the ones where the women aren't very compelling characters, and who can't really handle themselves without a man around (See again, Man with the Golden Gun, Die Another Day). Camille, played by Olga Kurylenko, might even be more capable than Bond, if less experienced in the killing arts. She knows how to manipulate the men around her, and if she's reckless in her quest for revenge, at least she has a pretty good reason to be. It isn't very often that Bond throws a hitch in the girl's grand plans. It's also a rare instance where Bond and his female friend actually need each other to achieve their distinct goals, and where they don't leap into bed together. Plus, I liked how her revenge informs Bond's decisions later on, and allows for some growth in his character.

The best female character though has to be M. Judi Dench - or rather, the writers realizing that they have Judi Dench in the role and she's a pretty great actor - transformed M from a man in a chair who gives the order to an active participant in the adventures. Her struggles with her wayward agent, and conflict about whether or not she should trust him or throw him to the wolves are probably the most believable moments of the movie. M is somewhere between boss and parent here, with Dench allowing her character some vulnerability beneath the hardass she has to be to maintain respect.

Since this is a Bond film, I feel the need to note the song, and this one isn't great. I suppose it's well composed, but there's the sticking problem of Alicia Keys' voice. I know, she's a famous pop star or whatever, but she doesn't have the range or power for the song. She sounds very thin on the high notes, and kind of weak compared to Jack White, who's also on the song. It's not very often where I find a voice conspicuously ill-matched to material, but here she sounded like she was picked out at random at an American Idol audition. Maybe she's better in her own material, so I don't want to be too mean to Alicia, but she almost ruined the song. That said it's not the worst song, it doesn't even approach The Man With The Golden Gun or Die Another Day.

There's also the matter of product placement, the problem being that there is a lot of it. There always has been, and I suppose at this point I shouldn't be bothered by it, but when a character shows up in a Ford Ka, which is a fairly dull, but recently introduced compact car, you know the branding has run amok. If she has to drive a Ford, give her something cool! Sony gets in there too, giving Bond a phone made out of lies. The interface works way too smoothly, and is a bit too obviously fake. Sure, the secret service probably has better phones than mere mortals, but can't they make the GUI even a little similar to real phones?

I admit that the plot was weak, and that it was just as much about clever editing as it was about the silly green storyline that was mentioned on occasion. But then again, I am a fan of clever editing, and I'm a fan of this film. Not the best in the series by any means, and I preferred Casino Royale with its story over this with its flimsy narrative between action scenes, but I liked it. It proves again that nobody can do explosions like the Bond series, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

1 comment:

  1. No no, don't worry, Alicia Keys sucks. She sucks HARD