Monday, December 15, 2008

Quantum Of Solace

On the ride home from Quantum Of Solace I found myself measuring it against You Only Live Twice. As scripted by Roald Dahl — a cranky fabulist who took on every writing project as if it were a personal dare — the fifth of the Connery Bonds pulled in every single trope from the now established series and inflated it to comic proportions. The gadgets were gadgetier, the girls were cheerier and Connery was puffier and amused. He had every right to be: he was box office gold, living the high life of the 60s and sauntering through a movie in which the villain's lair had a retractable lake and a monorail whose only stop en route to escape was a hidden self-destruct button.

From Russia With Love may have established James Bond as a movie franchise, but You Only Live Twice became the standard for it. When Dahl's absurdities were puffed up beyond what the cartoon could bear, we got Moonraker and Live And Let Die. Just the right amount of gas, and we got Octopussy and For Your Eyes Only. Too little, and we got Timothy Dalton.

Thus James Bond became the movie equivalent of Kraft Dinner — garnish it with a little too much of this or that, cook it a little too long, and it was a mess; follow the instructions on the box and it was surprisingly comforting fare. Lost, of course, was any sense of the lethal menace that Bond had in From Russia With Love. But was that really so desirable in an age that brought us Dirty Harry, then Rambo?

Since then, paranoid revenge fantasies have lost their traction with movie audiences. The best of the bunch, the Bourne films, make efficient use of The All-Controlling Establishment as enemy. But this is an ideological holdover from the 70s that seems almost charming as we begin to get some measure of just how dismally the Bush-Cheney republic failed to secure even its own self-interest. Now that we have met the enemy and confirmed that, yes, he is us, the necessity of cooking up some cinematic Other on which to safely vent our frustrations and rage is obvious. Enter “Quantum,” the SPECTRE for the new millennium — Quantum Of Solace, indeed.

It's old news that Daniel Craig and his teamsters didn't just get in touch with Bond's lethal menace, they pumped it up with steroids, and the current movie brings the roid-rage to a high boil, as it should. But what is more remarkable about Quantum Of Solace is how cannily the franchise picks up on Dahl's instincts, and trumps them. Clearly the creative team sat down and listed off everything it liked about the “old Bond” then committed itself to bringing that to the screen and making it work — really work — for today's audience.

Car chase with Aston Martin? Check. State-of-the-art technology? Check. Teeth-rattling fight scenes that leave Bond bloodied but unbowed? Insufferable villain with a cruel streak? Gee-whiz Ken Adams' sets that erupt in pyrotechnic splendor? Check, check, check. Alright then: how about the queasy erotic thrill of a nude corpse covered in gold paint? Take a gander at the babe covered in crude.

Missing is John Barry's swoon-inducing orchestral score — I've never been a fan of Jack White, and would have had trouble stifling my gag-impulse were it not for the distractingly fab graphics. And while some people can't stand the jarring cut-and-paste cinematography that kicks in every time there is an action scene, I had to wonder if the scenes would work at all if the camera was ever allowed to linger. The audience knows exactly how it's all being done — what they require is sufficient distraction from their knowledge, and the new hyper-vérité kinda gets the job done.

The villain is a creep I wanted to see torn limb from limb, and I found deeply appealing the movie's notion that there is a super-secret den of thieves and extortionists taking full advantage of the venal impulses of this beleaguered planet's every nation state. And, wonder of wonders, this marked the very first time that a typically effortless Bond seduction was actually believable.

The film's final success lies in Craig's uncluttered embodiment of Bond. His face has an agelessness that is anything but youthful, while his body moves with a lithe and surprisingly understated athleticism. At one point he hops over a balustrade and strides along a six-inch ledge as if it were the hallway he just abandoned. It's as bold a physical statement as any of the preceding fight scenes: getting away from his pursuers is really just this easy.

I loved it. A 40-year-old franchise has me wondering anew just how it can possibly top itself. Whodathunkit? James Bond really is back.

10 comments:

DarkoV said...

I was with you until you "check"ed the creepy villain. In my head, I couldn't get the image of his last film out of my head and Mathieu Amalric just wasn;t villainous enough (personally maiming somebody as an example. All of his evil-doing was implied, never seen) to overcoem his characterization of Jean-Dominique Bauby. IMHO, Amalric could have been more villanous if he insulted Craig a bit more in French, specifically on his wine choices or manner of dress. Otherwise, I think any of the judges on Project Runway could have topped him for gleeful and delicious 007 evil.

Everything else you detailed re. Solace was dead (or eventaully dead) on.

Yahmdallah said...

I kinda enjoyed it while I was there - for the first hour - but then got a little bored.

Cool to see you liked Octopussy, too.

It's one of my faves of the series.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - perhaps you need to see Amalric's earlier Diary Of A Seducer to fully shake his Daniel Day Lewis-like hold on you. Or maybe Martin Scorsese needs to direct him?

Yman - I was a little surprised when I re-read your review, but you're in good company: Roger "I want monkeys with my Indiana Jones" Ebert is with you, too, as are his "users" -- 2 1/2 stars?! WTF?!? To his "users" I say, "Stop toadying up to the man! He never stood for it with Gene, why should he with you?"

Jim said...

Never been a big fan of the franchise. But I just saw Casino Royale last night. Liked it! Didn't love it. It got a little long after a while. I heard people say that there wasn't enough action. Now, having seen it, I wonder what movie they were watching cuz it certainly wasn't the one I saw last night.

Anyway, Casino Royale and now your review have me looking forward to seeing a Bond film. Will wonders never cease?

P.S. Blogger. I hate you. Why can't you just work!?

Whisky Prajer said...

CR did get a little long -- the yachting scenes were obvious filler with no real emotional effect. But the movie certainly offered action, and I enjoyed how Bond concerned himself with pedestrian issues like dealing with the corpses of the baddies he'd dispatched.

You're having Blogger problems, are you?

Jim said...

My blogger problems (nearly) vanished when I switched to word press two years ago. Still, other fine folk such as yourself do use blogger and in order to comment on their blogs I need to deal with blogger's security issues and its refusal to recognize my openid id, which works everywhere else.

As for the yachting scene... it was to set up the Venice action sequence, particularly the underwater portion at the end of that scene, you know what I'm saying? It was necessary and from what I've heard about the opening of film #2, provided some of the motivation for the continuation of the series.

But it still felt long even so.

Whisky Prajer said...

I've heard similar complaints about Blogger, but most of them seem to occur on your side of the 44th (or 49th) parallel. I wonder what that's about?

There is a continuation from the last movie to this. There were so many questions I had at the end of CR, most of which were answered in the course of QOS.

Joel said...

"You Only Live Twice" was the first Bond movie I ever saw, and it remains in my mind "THE" bond movie by which I compare all others.
(Besides, if you watch Austin Powers almost all of their bond jokes are a reference not to the whole franchise but come directly from "YOLT".)

I look forward to checking the new movie out when it comes to Japan.

Whisky Prajer said...

You don't suppose YOLT had any influence on your current geographical location?

Joel said...

Not directly, no. (At least I don't think so. Maybe subconciously....) But I certainly do enjoy the Japan connection in that movie more after having lived here.