Monday, November 17, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

Before I get into the review, let me clue you in to a little secret about me: I've seen all the James Bond movies at LEAST 3 times each; some even more times than that (Dr. No; From Russia With Love; Goldeneye; Casino Royale). So I consider myself well versed in the 007 movie tradition.

When Casino Royale came out in 2006, I was more eager than most due to the fact that I believed the franchise had run out of steam utilizing the Pierce Brosnan model. Don't get me wrong, Pierce was a fantastic Bond. But the writing and direction of the two latter Bond flicks were terrible, and his performance suffered slightly as a result. Even more alarming, it had become clear (to me at least) that he had gotten far too old to play the character anymore. Which is a shame. If the producers had gotten to him a decade earlier when they first wanted him, we could have had one of the longest-running actor Bonds of all time.

Anyway, Casino Royale came out with a new Bond and a new mission: to eschew the gadgets and wonky villains, and go for something grittier and more realistic. And that's exactly what we got. Daniel Craig was excellent as Bond, evoking the franchise's original star, Sean Connery, who many argue (this reviewer included) is the greatest Bond of all time. Craig still has some catching up to do, but with Casino he was off to a great start.

Two years later, we now get Quantum of Solace. A film which, for the first time in Bond history, is connected to and takes place directly after the previous film. In fact, if what I've deduced of this current film's theme is in fact true, this may just be a trilogy! *gasp* Who'd a thunk it?

QoS does in fact take place roughly one hour after the last film ended, with Bond in the middle of a high speed chase after taking care of Mr. White at the climax of Casino Royale. The chase ends in typical dramatic Bond fashion, and then we're treated to the opening song and titles, which this time is called "Another Way To Die" (I think this should have been the title of the actual movie), and which marks another first for the franchise: a duet! And performed by Jack White (of the White Stripes) and Alicia Keys, no less! This song is kick ass! I've since listened to it about a billion times now.

From this moment on the movie is almost non-stop action all the way through. Almost. When Bond takes a breather or two, unfortunately, is where the movie falters just a tad. Whether due to the impending writer strike when the film was being penned, or perhaps because of the uncharted territory concept of a sequel, the story isn't quite as nifty and engaging as Casino Royale's was. Less spectacular, too, are some of the locations, with Haiti and Bolivia providing some of the most boring backdrops ever.

Where the story does excel, however, is in connecting the dots and filling in some of the blanks leftover from Casino Royale. I've spoken to a few friends who have expressed disappointment due to the confusing plot. But, honestly, I think it's really a matter of them either not having seen the previous film, or perhaps not remembering some of the finer plot details from the flick. In this matter I guess you can say I cheated, for I'd just re-watched Casino Royale a week before, so the plot was still very much fresh in mind. And watching QoS, I recall thinking to myself: oh, cool tie-over detail! I wonder how many people caught that? When a secondary, but somewhat pivotal, character from CR shows up about a quarter of the way through, I got the sense that about half the audience did not even know who he was. Yikes!

Due to the above, I have serious reservations about *some* of the negative reviews I've been hearing/reading over the weekend. I think of lot of these naysayers fell for the trick of thinking this was just another standalone Bond film. And, even when they learned that it was in fact taking place directly after the events depicted in CR, simply shrugged it off and said to themselves: well, how complicated can a Bond plot be anyway? And then complained that the very same plot was too convoluted after exiting the theater.

Are you serious, people?

Now, I'm not going to brandish a whip and tell people that they HAVE to go re-watch Casino Royale before seeing Quantum OR ELSE . . . but, please, do consider that maybe the reason a scene or bit of dialogue is not making sense to you is because you're pretty much watching it out of context if you don't remember the previous movie all that well. Believe it or not, there *are* quite a number of spots where knowledge of the prior film comes in handy. I'm not making this up.

Anyway, back to the review at hand.

QoS suffers from what I think will be seen as "middle movie syndrome" -- especially if it does turn out that a third film in this current arc is in the making. If so, then QoS works well to do what middle movies in a planned trilogy do best -- carryover from the previous film, and set up for the next. However, I'd stick my neck out and say that QoS did one better than that; it effectively ended the current storyline on a satisfactory note if the producers decide NOT to continue the arc into a third film.

For those saying the movie ended too abruptly and with no closure, you obviously weren't paying attention. Because of the storyline in Casino Royale (and a certain love interest in that film), the ending was perhaps one of the best moments of closure EVAR in a Bond title. Yeah, I said it.

QoS has excellent action, an engaging enough story if you remember the previous film well, and--best of all--some truly great performances by the leads Daniel Craig (better than ever as Bond), and the beautiful Ukrainian model-turned-actress, Olga Kurylenko (who I originally fell in love with in the movie, Hitman, a year ago). Judi Dench was superb as always as M (she really nails it with her performances in this role), and I can't get enough of my man Jeffrey Wright, reprising his role as CIA agent Felix Leiter. The movie's improved just by the presence of these two thesps alone! But I'd like to single out actor Giancarlo Giannini especially for his truly exceptional performance as the returning character, Mathis, who we were first introduced to in Casino. This guy was simply awesome!

I was telling Tarrell over at The Dragunz Den that, if you ignored Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace would be the best Bond film behind From Russia With Love and Goldeneye (both of which I hold as tied for first place). That spot is reserved now for Casino, of course, so QoS is third on my list. But you get the point. This movie is GOOD -- go see it!

Rating: 8/10

4 comments:

Kim Kasch said...

I'm sorry - I'm just not a Bond Girl. My boys and my husband love him. They see every show the day it comes out. They own Casino Royale and I don't know how many times they've watched it. They even play the video game Golden Eye. But it's just not, what do the Brits say, my cup of tea.

I'll have to point out the review, though, to them.

David Batista said...

My uncle left his entire VHS collection of the movies in the house where I grew up, so it was really the only thing my brother and I had to watch on boring weekends. I think this is why the movies are such an indelible part of me. Watching them brings back fond memories.

Oh, and it's okay if you're not really into them. At least someone in the Kasch household is! :)

Ashe Hunt said...

Yes,yes. I really, really don't see where people are having a problem with this movie. It was done well, the story followed all the way through and actually continued from the last film, which I loved. For those with a short memory, too bad. For those stuck in the old Bond ways, welcome to the 21st century! I'll put my fuller rant over on my blog. Just wanted to comment here and say I loved the film. Quantum of Solace was great and a worthy addition to the Bond legacy.

cindy said...

i heard about having to know casino royale. i remembered enough of it not to be confused. and i did recognize the american agent immediately--for being the bad card player that he was. haha! i didn't read this review until now. i knew it had no spoilers, but i didn't want to be influenced! ;*)

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