Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quantum of Solace

A week ago we went to see Quantum of Solace and it was definitely worth seeing, but it was also definitely not the equal of Casino Royale. Somehow it was less than the sum of its parts.

The story did a good job of continuing from the earlier story, unlike most Bond movies which start almost fresh every movie; but in the process, it somehow picked up some of the feel of that middle book or movie in a trilogy, which never feels as good as the others. The first story has that fresh newness, in which you get the joy of discovering everything. The last one has the grand sense of resolution. The middle act is the one where a lot of stuff happens that's necessary to the story, but less stuff happens that feels exciting: it's like the straight man in a comedy team, you need it for the whole to work but that doesn't mean it gets the applause. I don't know if the next movie will indeed pick up in a way that'll feel like a trilogy, mind you. I just feel like this movie came off as the middle, not the end, of a story. (Apparently, the makers aren't even decided whether this will turn out to be the middle of a trilogy or not.)

People talk about the "Bond babe" thing but in this incarnation of Bond I really think that's unfair to talk about. Sure, there's always a few sexy females in the movie, but that's not all that made the Bond babe phenomenon. There's always a few sexy females in any action movie. But Bond babes shared a few other traits in common which made them a distinct class. There has been one female role in each of the New Bond movies that sort of fits (Dmitri's wife in the first, Ms. Fields in the second) but in each case the role was very small. But by the standards of earlier Bonds, there's no way Vesper or Camille fits that category. They're really only being called Bond babes out of habit.

Camille has a fairly clichéd story but is nevertheless a strong character with solid motivations. Her story and Bond's in this movie pass each other and overlap at times but there's never any strong connection between them. Not that there has to be; but the connection is strong enough that one feels like it should have been stronger, like Camille's story takes up too much time for as secondary as it ends up being to Bond's story. Anyway, its resolution is a bit anticlimactic.

(As this comment is a bit of a minor spoiler, I'll put it through a rot13. Click it to see what it says. Jung'f jvgu gur tvey jub gur Trareny jnf nobhg gb encr, jub Pnzvyyr "erfphrq" ol xabpxvat ure nfvqr nf fur pnzr sbe gur Trareny, naq gura juvpu rirelbar rkprcg zr sbetbg nobhg? Jnf fur pnhtug va gur sver? Frrzf yvxryl, tvira gung fur jnf gehffrq hc naq znlor hapbafpvbhf. V sryg onq sbe ure nyernql, naq jbefr jura gurl yrsg ure gb ohea gb qrngu. Znlor gurer'yy or n qryrgrq fprar va juvpu gurl tbg ure bhg, gbb.)

On the subject of comparing the various Bonds, I think we must first establish that there are two main flavors of Bond: the Daniel Craig kind, and all the previous ones. Yes, there's a lot of difference between Sean Connery's Bond, and Pierce Brosnan's Bond, and Roger Moore's Bond. But they are all more alike to each other than any is to Daniel Craig's bond. They are all smug, smarmy, seductive, slick, and overly cartoonish: an exaggerated, even clichéd character who is intentionally over the top. And that's a valid and interesting style and genre, and furthermore, one that I think we needed to have before the New Bond could have worked. But it's also so different from the New Bond that it's almost unfair to compare them, except to the extent that you could also compare a flute solo against a piano concerto. And in that sense, I definitely like the New Bond better, though I still enjoy the Old Bond the same way I appreciate intentionally-corny genres like pulp or four-color comic books.

The title always felt clumsy despite it being the title of an Ian Fleming story (which has nothing in common with the movie). I was hoping the movie would make the title click, but it didn't really. I can only find forced explanations for the title, plus an off-the-cuff reference to an organization in the movie which can be easily missed. But by the time the movie came out, I was already used to the title enough that that didn't bother me. Daniel Craig has pointed out that Bond movie titles are often meaningless, but somehow this time it felt like it ought to mean something but it never quite did, not convincingly.

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