Reader review by RRA
QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) – **** out of 5
Almost everyone it seems, from great film critics I absolutely respect from Roger Ebert to The Outlaw Vern, seems to deride the action sequences for QUANTUM OF SOLACE, saying how either they didn’t know what the hell was going on, or the quick cutting made them want to take a dosage of Dramamine. I understood clearly what was happening, but then again I’m apparently one of a handful of people on Earth who understood BUCKAROO BANZAI on the first viewing, so maybe I’m just that random weirdo who also likes warm Dr. Pepper. I’m not excusing whatever problems you all had with QUANTUM’s chases and fights at all, but I’m just saying that while they’re a notch down from CASINO ROYALE, my testosterone was raised and I was never bored.
Has Michael Bay ever done either for you?
I don’t think the action scenes, probably shot by many of the same second unit crewmembers from CASINO ROYALE, are better or worse than what I’ve seen from action cinema in recent years, or even in 2008 alone from WANTED to THE INCREDIBLE HULK to TRAITOR to even Sir Ridley Scott’s BODY OF LIES. In fact, that’s probably why I laughed when I read most of these reviews complaining about QUANTUM being too BOURNE-inspired. That’s like whining that the sky is blue.
Remember how in the late 1980s and early 90s, the days before the derided “shakey-camera,” the town copycat everything from FIRST BLOOD to LETHAL WEAPON to ROBOCOP to DIE HARD and so forth? OK, so why did they quit? Because people got tired. Even solid popcorn like THE LAST BOY SCOUT or ERASER were dismissed as “same old, same old” this side of Hillary Clinton. This proud American field was stagnated until THE MATRIX and THE BOURNE IDENTITY came along, and rebooted the genre. In fact, THE BOURNE IDENTITY, along with its superior sequels, are the most influential Hollywood action cinema of this decade, in terms of the editing, cinematography, anti-heroism, the audience wanting the movie star to actually visibly kick ass instead of a stunt double (an idea pushed earlier by MATRIX), you name it.
My theory with the group-criticism at QUANTUM’s action is that already critics and moviegoers are demanding something new. But until a new kick-ass genre classic comes along, Hollywood will continue to rip-off BOURNE. Again, not trying to brush off everyone’s qualms with QUANTUM or say that you all are wrong, I’m just offering a hypothesis here. What I will attack though is this other common clich√© I’ve noticed in reviews: “Daniel Craig is too much an avenging cyborg like Jason Bourne that needs more humor.”
Remember those James Bond entries in the pre-CASINO ROYALE epoch? If you’ve seen some of them, mostly on television, you know that from Roger Moore to Pierce Brosnan where for every solid funny one-liner we get, we are stuck with ten bad puns that the scriptwriters obviously force it. That never works, and only makes us loudly groan. Just look at DIE ANOTHER DAY. Hell, the humor website Cracked.com has a whole list of such lame 007 quips. I’m all for a good laugh but unless you have something worthwhile, don’t bother. According to FIGHT CLUB, I’m dying one second at a time. So please, don’t waste my time.
That said, QUANTUM is a lot more serious than CASINO ROYALE, which was pretty damn serious in the first place. However I did laugh when M (Judi Dench) asks Craig about a possible contact and he replies “Dead End.” She then remarks to her aide: “My God he killed him!”
Also last I checked, Jason Bourne himself wasn’t a human cyborg, but an assassin that was superbly-trained enough in reflex to know what to do at the right place at the right time. Also notice in the BOURNE trilogy, he doesn’t like to kill unless he has to. He’s like a born-again murderer. Compare that with the Daniel Craig 007 efforts, where despite similar instinctual instruction, James Bond won’t hesitate in being a total violent cold bastard to get the job done. He’s not an android emotionally, when given a moment out of his mission; he’ll sulk over what happened in CASINO ROYALE or even stay with a dying backstabbing-ally until he expires.
Point is, don’t hate him for being professional. In fact I would argue that is what Timothy Dalton was in the underrated THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, which was only hampered by unnecessary scenes involving the gadgets, Q, Moneypenny, flat artificial joking, etc. Cut out the fat, and what you got was pretty much the brilliance of Martin Campbell’s CASINO ROYALE.
More than that, allow Craig to be the greatest Bond of them all, even outdoing the great Sean Connery in having the ability to look naturally posh in a tuxedo, even after he had just beaten a guy to death in a hotel room. Craig is what James Bond was always meant to be: An utter badass icon. You want to be him when you grow up, or wished you had grown up to be.
In QUANTUM, Craig continues to keep his balls. Consider when a guy on a motorcycle insults him, Bond knocks the bike out from under him, and steals it. Look at the opening car chase when at a deadly turn on a highway, he machine-guns the thugs off the mountain. How about throwing a bodyguard off the roof onto a parked car below?
My favorite moment though is when, at the well-shot concert sequence, Bond has infiltrated the leadership meeting of “Quantum,” the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. for the 21st Century. He’s intercepted their audio conversation, but he doesn’t know who’s who among the audience. This Quantum is smug in being untouchable, and you just gotta love their shocked faces when Craig pisses on their parade. Badass.
People on the Internet are mocking the scheme of QUANTUM’s villain (Mathieus Amalric) in stealing all the water of Bolivia, but I think it‚Äôs a mundane plot that’s rather brilliant. The world itself is in danger of facing a fresh water shortage, and what better unrealized way to hold countries hostage by presenting one-self publicly as a green economist? Remember the Golden Rule: “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” So Amalric is like Al Gore meets Al Qaeda. Al Gorda? He represents this Quantum organization, the deadly invisible-hand that benefits itself by manipulating the great world powers with their ideological pettiness and short-sighted lust for power and money. These nations either are ignorant of being played, or choose to accommodate these terrorists because they’re helpless to stop them.
Except for James Bond of course, even if Quantum has convinced the CIA and British government that he is the threat.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE is a flawed film. Director Marc Forster, off his usual Oscar-bait filmography, tries to at times to edit the film like that of a comic book page of panels, dancing and horse racing inter-cut with gunfire and brawls. I’m reminded of STREETS OF FIRE, Walter Hill’s similar experiment that didn’t quite work either. But I did like some of Forster’s random touches like the usual titles telling us where we are to color-coding subtitles to highlight two different foreign conversations going on at once. There is also the climax of an action set-piece where Craig shoots, and instead of most films, Forster doesn’t cut away from him. Also, I can’t help but dig when after a loud intense boat chase; Forster has the sound go mute on us, or plays classical music when Bond confronts Amalric personally the first time around. Interestingly, when I first heard the theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keyes when it was leaked onto the Internet, I thought frankly that it sucked. But wow, it actually clicks well with the Saul Bass-inspired opening credits. At least QUANTUM has something over DIE ANOTHER DAY.
The movie also lacks the emotional gravitas of CASINO ROYALE (how could it not?), while continuing its brutal action pulp storytelling ways, which perhaps is its chief appeal to me. Craig steals a briefcase to go to a meeting he knows nothing about. People don’t die neat and clean here. Craig will have to fight everyone to get Quantum, and his revenge. Olga Kurylenko might just be the first major Bond Girl that I know of that Bond doesn’t bang. What a pity. But how he deals with Amalric instead of killing him in the finale will make you think:
“Goddamn that’s gangsta cold-blooded awesome right there, even for 007!”