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Shaky, Not Stirring

December 30th, 2008

I finally got around to seeing Quantum of Solace this afternoon. I’d actually intended to go the weekend that it came out, but we’ve been rather busy these past couple of months and I kept putting it off until it was down to playing only twice a day on a single screen. I’ve seen every Bond film from Diamonds are Forever onward during its initial theatrical run, and to break that 37-year streak was unthinkable.

Truth is, I wasn’t that excited about the flick, given its tepid reviews and my own partial indifference to the previous installment, Casino Royale. Yeah, I know, I know, that’s heresy. Casino Royale is the best Bond ever, reinvents the franchise, stone-cold killer, doesn’t give a shit about how his vodka martinis are prepared, yada, yada, yada. While I agree that Bond needed a 21st Century makeover, and appreciate the talent and care that went into the production, in the end I found myself missing some of the old Bond tropes.

Don’t get me wrong; I hate Moonraker as much as the next British spy fan. I despise the low points of the Roger Moore era*: the Tarzan yell, the Beach Boys surf song, the slide whistle sound effect. I’m not looking for a return to the bad old days.

On the other hand, I do come into a Bond film with certain expectations. There should be a megalomaniacal villain with an audacious plan (large scale model of a major landmark optional) and a visually distinctive henchman. There should be a couple of cool secret agent gadgets, and preferably a car with secret guns or rockets. And there absolutely must be a woman with an unlikely name suitable for a double entendre.

You see, while many decry The World is Not Enough for having Denise Richards play a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones, I love it for precisely that reason. In a Bond film, of course the nuclear scientists look like Denise Richards. (And if anyone wants to make an argument that this sort of thing undercuts the seriousness of a Bond story, I’ll remind you that it was Ian Fleming himself that came up with Pussy Galore.)

So, on to Quantum of Solace. Right up front I’ll say that it was pretty good, certainly nothing that anyone should be embarrassed about. Daniel Craig may not be my Bond, but I accept him as a Bond.

That said, I think the best thing these modern Bond films have going for them is Dame Judi Dench as M. She spends much of her appearance here becoming increasingly exasperated with Bond’s tendency to kill their most promising leads, and provides some much-needed humor in contrast to Craig’s tight-ass.

There are a couple of big action sequences right off the bat that would be thrilling if it were at all possible to tell what was going on. Edited into a montage of split-second, shaky-cam shots, I had a hard time following the characters’ spatial relationships to each other or even what cool stunts they were attempting to demonstrate. Honestly, guys, it’s okay to allow a shot to exceed .61 seconds. Fortunately, things do eventually settle down a bit, and I found later set pieces involving a boat chase and an aerial battle much easier to take in.

One welcome aspect of this film is that it introduces a new villainous organization to the Bond franchise, a collection of shady power brokers known as Quantum. (Bond’s previous nemeses, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld, are unusable thanks in part to legal issues surrounding the characters, and also to Mike Myers as Dr. Evil, who has forever ruined the credibility of Nehru jacket-wearing, cat-stroking wickedness.) Quantum’s goals and ambitions are left somewhat vague, but there’s a good foundation there for future world-domination plots.

Unfortunately, Quantum doesn’t make the best showing here. Main baddie Dominic Greene is little more than a bug-eyed thug, and his cunning plan is to secure the water rights for a drought-ravaged Bolivia. Excuse me while I couldn’t possibly care. It ain’t exactly a diamond-encrusted laser satellite or a rocket that eats other rockets, is what I’m sayin’. I think that various shots of dry, dusty Bolivian peasants are supposed to get us emotionally invested in the scheme, but even after Quantum is thwarted and their artificially-created drought is ended, I still have no sense that the lives of anyone are likely to be any better; the film makes clear that it’ll be only a matter of days before the next dictator takes over the country.

And, if any further evidence be needed that this was perhaps not the Bond film for me, consider this: the one woman that Bond beds is named Strawberry Fields, and that fact is never once referenced. She makes a point of solely calling herself “Ms. Fields;” only the credits give her full name. I mean, come on, would the whole franchise come crashing down were we to hear one sniggering sexual pun? Not even “Let me take you down, Strawberry Fields?”

* Not to be unduly harsh on Roger Moore, who was my Bond during my formative years. I actually like most of his entries in the series, with the obvious exceptions of Moonraker and A View to a Kill. It’s just that even in the middle of a decent romp like Octopussy, you get a moment so fucking stupid (the Tarzan yell) that you want to sink into your theater seat and hope that no one saw you in the audience.

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