Friday, February 6, 2009

Review: Quantum of Solace (2008)

The MGM James Bond series, since the first official film, has spiked and flatlined like a GUILT-ridden dollgirl in Trauma Center: Second Opinion, alternating between two set modes. It goes like this: restart the series with a new actor = put your balls on the table and smash em with a mallet; continue the series with the same actor = wade into the shallow end with your balls nowhere near the waterline; repeat. Think Indiana Jones on a longer timeline. More thoroughly talked about here.

Dr. No was produced with every penny in the bank riding on its success, and while the film painfully comes off as a product of its era, it manages to retain an air of boldness, however naiive, that what remaining originality mattered even in the face of financial ruin. And what the hell, it managed to be popular. GoldenEye and Casino Royale were made under similar conditions, at times when they owed nothing to previous entries or more importantly, no pesky ground rules to determine their behavior. The same cannot be said for the films in the series that followed them.

I suppose it is with an almost mathematical certainty that the second Bond film starring Daniel Craig sinks into the same muck that so many others in the series have (Tomorrow Never Dies, Licence to Kill, From Russia With Love to a lesser extent) and cater to the imaginary needs of an idiotic organism that wouldn't know a good film if it emptied its testicles of semen.

Spearheading the show this time is Mark Forster, a talented director in his own right but not adept at directing action films. This is not necessarily a bad thing (director Michael Apted managed to surpass seasoned action director Roger Spottiswoode in the Brosnan era), but it did, in this case, become one. How? I can only speculate.

Here is one such speculation:

Forster: Hey Barb, just finished shooting the film.
Barbara: Cool, Mark. Get a workprint assembled ASAP.
Forster: Can I use my editor?
Barbara: Sure whatever. Bye.
Barbara: Hey, Mark. Just saw the workprint.
Forster: Oh yeah? What did you think?
Barbara: I thought you were a "handheld" director.
Forster: ... Oh! Yes, my style is primarily handheld-
Barbara: Right so... the film as I see it isn't... handheld enough.
Forster: What? I-
Barbara: (to assistant) Who's that guy who edited the last two Bourne films? The one with ADD? People love that no-talent fucker, he makes the simplest scenes so incredibly hard to comprehend. Bring him to me. Bring him to me this fucking second. (to Mark) Gotta go. We'll take it from here.
Forster: (to a dead line) Oh... okay... (cries self into stupor/adapts World War Z)

It probably happened exactly like that. Fuck you, I don't need evidence.

Quantum's running time is 96 minutes, but it sure feels a hell of a lot longer. This phenomenon might be hard to quantify (har), given that scenes last for two minutes tops before wheeling on to the next exotic locale or poorly-shot action sequence at the exotic locale, each one another opportunity for the idiot intern who hangs out at the studio to show off his text Photoshopping skills. A lot of shit happens in a very short amount of time, because the film not only distrusts whoever is watching it but its own abilities to let a scene exist. It is constantly yelling "Shit, are two people talking?! Let's go! We have five more tributes to previous films to go!!! AAHHHH!!"

A common element in a Mark Forster film, one that actually managed to carry over into this one, is a strange seismographic connection to the main character's state of mind, where the cinematography, music, and editing change to reflect that, like films in the 1970s (fine, here's some: The Conversation, Klute, The Parallax View).

Nearest I can tell, Forster was allowed to do it twice this time. The first is the scene at the Opera, a scene so good that it frustrates me for being in a film that doesn't deserve it. The second is actually in the first ten seconds, a helicopter shot that slams into glimpes of a car chase, edging in on a closeup of Bond's eyes as the score slowly rises in the background and suddenly climaxes as everything goes to hard-to-see hell and immediately begins to suck in a very awkward sense.

The biggest failure is Bond's characterization. Casino Royale ended perfectly -- it bridges the gap between the sociopath and the proficient assassin. The barely-visible smirk on Craig's face as he stands over Mr. White doesn't project a man consumed with revenge. It projects not the embodiment of Bond, but displays Bond himself, a man who has earned his 00 status by a commitment to the mission, and not to his own emotions. Straight old school.

This has been reverse engineered for Quantum of Solace, in what I believe is a very misguided effort at matching what made Casino Royale good. Quantum's Bond ups the clumsiness; he evades both agencies, killing everything and everyone, fucking bitches and destroying property (I think that's what was happening), all for vengeance that he ultimately doesn't bother to carry out.

Even though this has happened before, many times, I'm incredibly bitter that it was allowed to happen again. For a brief, shining moment, Bond had returned. It was glorious. Now, he is gone again. Be it the fault of the director, the writer, or the producer... whoever is responsible, fuck them to hell for doing it.