Oh, dear.

R.I.P James Bond 1962 - 2006

I love James Bond films. This is the child that went to see Thunderball with his Auntie and got freaked out by all the underwater scenes (a primal fear of drowning, I think) but felt a stirring in his pre-pubescent groin for the hairy chested Sean Connery. See, the gays can actually appreciate a misogynist dinosaur. This is the child that sat through a week of Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun at the local flea-pit and thought they were the best thing ever. To the point of actually recreating, Blue Peter stylee, Scaramanga's golden gun with an empty Tic-Tac mints box, lots of gold cigarette papers (remember when fag packets had those inside them) and several rolls of sellotape. This was the child that walked 12 miles to the nearest town to see the local premiere of Moonraker and lapped up every minute of it. I don't know how unusual I am as a gay man who loves James Bond but I still remember sitting in an empty cinema, as the Assistant Manager of said venue, watching a sneak preview of Goldeneye days before the great unwashed got to see it. And loving every hair on Brosnan's chest.

I'm pissed off. Quantum Of Solace has made me very angry. I adored Casino Royale. It had glamour, it had a smigden of camp knowingness, it had Daniel Craig (of whom I never had any doubts), it had Eva Green as Vesper, it had the Bahamas, it had Le Chiffre. Big car chases, collisions with super-airliners, palazzos crumbling into Venetian canals. Great.

Marc Forster. Sorry, my friend but you were entirely the wrong choice of director for this. Quantum Of Solace spends a great deal of its screen time fussing and fretting about inconsequential details. Forster's editing style is really unsuitable for this kind of film. The big action sequences are rendered myopically. Blurred, frenetic shots of semi-vague action. The stunt men pour their lives into this and we get an artsy-fartsy director whose only interest is in the abstract. Sorry, wrong, wrong, wrong. Action sequences on Bond films must obey certain conventions to engage an audience. They need wide, medium and close shots from all angles, they need spectacle, they need a hint of the implausible, they need full frontal, glamourous, beautiful destruction. What we get with Quantum Of Solace is a slavish nod to the Bourne films and their mock realism but without any sense of pace, excitement or jeopardy. Tons of abstract edits that narrow down the audience's field of view to levels that are barely registered. I sat through a lot of this not actually registering what I was looking at and, believe me, my attention span is up there with the PS3 kids.

I hold my hands up and fully expect those that read the original Fleming novels to say that Quantum Of Solace is exactly what I should have expected. Fine. But it's not my Bond.
But this abstraction, this suggestion of action has a dire affect on the rest of the film. You care less and less about the characters. You actually don't give a fuck for Bond himself. And that, quite honestly, means we are in serious trouble. Daniel Craig is a good actor. And he's a good Bond. Casino Royale shat all over the 'oh, he's blonde' naysayers. Big time. And he's gorgeous. But Quantum Of Solace strips away all the remaining vestiges of the Bond we know and love. There is very little wit or humour in this film and what there is, is very, very welcome relief indeed. Without it, Bond is hardly there, He's a phantom presence, flitting through the film, pretending to be the same man that blew up Dr. No's headquarters, was almost sliced and diced by Auric's laser, fought off assassins on the roof of Kobe dock or abseiled into Blofeld's volcano etc etc. I really like Daniel. He's got a nice pair of tits, he can act and he can do the action bits. You get that in this film but you do not get James Bond. Yes, we get the unfeeling, callous killer. Clinical. That's what this film is. It's as deep frozen as a pizza and not half as appetising. Bond, for me, has always been part killer, part bon viveur, part cynic, part wit. Someone who kills for a living but secretly enjoys it. Now, that may well be the screen Bond. I hold my hands up and fully expect those that read the original Fleming novels to say that Quantum Of Solace is exactly what I should have expected. Fine. But it's not my Bond.

OK. This picks up from Casino Royale directly. I'm OK with that. The major problem with the film is that we then spend 105 minutes arriving back at the point we started. Bond wants revenge on whoever killed Vesper. I understand that and it's obviously crucial to the emotional development of Bond. However, the film is plotless. There is some vague notion of a conspiracy within all the intelligence agencies. They are being infiltrated by an organisation that knows their every move. Dominic Greene is at the centre of it. And he's trying to buy up all the water. Topical, I grant you. But very vague and hardly something of scale. Now, I'm not advocating some uber-camp villain with an overfed white pussy on his lap but in their striving to be realistic the writers of this film have dragged the Bond film down to its very, very basic constituents. And done it without any flair whatsoever.
Even the locations are made to look like the shit-holes they probably are.
The Bond girls in this film are inconsequential. Gemma Arterton, who really can't act, and Olga Kurylenko, who can, don't impact on the film to the degree to really want to make you care about their characters, Camille and Fields. Go back and watch Eva Green in Casino Royale. Mathieu Amalric as villain Dominic Greene is about as threatening as a head cold. His bulging eyes are the most prominent thing about his shambling, mumbling performance. Judi Dench gets more to do and thankfully keeps reminding us that this is indeed a Bond film. However, I have to say that all the leads are so badly photographed that Dench looks like she's 102 and Craig looks about 60 rather than the sprightly 40 that he actually is. Again, we are given anti-glamour; gorgeous cars that we hardly get to see, no gadgets, no romance as the flavour of the day and it runs counter to everything that a Bond film should be. Even the locations are made to look like the shit-holes they probably are. They are drab, unattractive and offer no sense of the vivacious globe trotting that Bond movies so frequently project. In fact, they are captured so badly that the makers insist on putting up the name of each locale in various styles of typeface just in case we weren't sure where we were. Look it's Sienna! And we've said so in a 'Sienna' looking typeface just to make sure. This in itself betrays a severe lack of confidence in the film.

I believed in the Vesper romance in Casino Royale. I understood that Bond might want revenge but, by being the man he is, it would probably create some emotional problems for him. I wanted to see him get closure. He sort of does but it takes a lot of sightless, fumbling about in the dark from Marc Forster to achieve it and in the end I was just so bored by it. This doesn't feel like a Bond movie at all. It's a horrible, dull pastiche of the Jason Bourne movies. And they were all better than this. A bitter pill to swallow for those who saw the light in Casino Royale. The angriest reaction to this is for me to see some of the original Bond tropes wired up to a slightly flat car battery to try and pump a bit more life into them. Cargo planes in the desert and aerial dogfights, agent Fields drowned in oil and dumped on a bed a la Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger, chucking a baddie off a roof was done with more flair in The Spy Who Loved Me. And off the roof go the witticisms, the double entendres, the Ken Adam style sets, the villain's lair orgasmically exploding. Everything is done here in a peripheral vision suffering from cataracts - the action, the sex, the performances, the locations. It's deadly dull. Even Craig can't save it.

What a betrayal from Michael (my pension is safe) Wilson and Barbara (my shares in Sony have tripled in value) Broccoli. It's such a travesty I spent much of the film in a guilt-ridden conflict over whether I should actually walk out. Not felt that way since A View To A Kill. But back then it was with less guilt.

P.S. The theme song doesn't get saved by the title sequence. In fact, the title sequence is shit too. They've sacked Daniel Kleinman and employed a faceless design agency to do them. Lots of sand and silhouettes. Meaningless. And David Arnold's music is the arthritic pap I reviewed a few weeks ago. There, I'm finished. I feel a bit better.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (Cert 12A. Released October 31st 2008. Mis-directed by Marc Forster)

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5 Responses to “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”
  1. S Bates says:

    So, you didn't like it then?


    Bond, for me, has always been part killer, part bon viveur, part cynic, part wit.

    Me too. Otherwise, it just ends up like any other secret agent action film. Like the Bourne films. Which I only thought were average.

  2. Yeah, I've been very harsh about it. I've been defending myself elsewhere and, angry bluster aside, it boils down to what you've said above:

    The major problem with the film, for me, is that there's this idea that all the major characters are morally grey - they're all amoral, anti-heroic (even M) - and I just don't think you can force Bond into being an anti-hero for very long. Forster blabbed on about how both good and evil are within Bond, the villains etc. The film hammers home that you can't tell who are the enemies and who are the friends anymore - Mathis specifically says that - and I don't have any problem with that idea. It suits the times we live in and Bond has always reflected the political and social zeitgeist in which he operates.

    The difficulty you have then in trying to make Bond as laissez faire as the villains and vice versa is that we can no longer root for him or actually care about what the villain does. Bond ceases to be glamorous. He's just a.n.other gritty Jason Bourne wannabe. Forster in cahoots with Broccoli, Wilson and the writers have, I think, stripped away much of the Bondian tropes that James Chapman argues you need. Do that and he ceases to be James Bond.

    This stripping down then spirals out into the rest of the film. A title sequence that, suggestive of the moral blurring of the films characters, is all sand and silhouettes. It's so clear they've elbowed out the genius Danny Kleinman stuff and just gone for a rather dull reinforcement of their stripping down process. It's there in the cinemaphotography (all the actors look like they've had years piled onto them), and in the editing. There is a meanness of spirit about the film. The action sequences are squandered in an editing style that doesn't belong to this kind of film. Action in Bond should be widescreen, eye popping stuff. This has car chases suggested by abstracted blipverts of images. Compare the opening of Casino Royale to the opening of this and you'll see a massive difference and notice how reductionist QOS is.

  3. I don't share your hatred for the film (is that too strong an interpretation of your review?) as Bond doesn't mean as much to me as he clearly does to you (although I've seen and, to some degree, enjoyed all the peevious Bond films) but I can see where you're coming from. It's an odd, cold film - difficult to review (as you'll see from the review I've just posted on my blog) because it's difficult to get a handle on. I quite liked the frantic style of the action sequences but I absolutely take your point about them being entirely un-Bond-like action scenes. Ultimately I left the cinema feeling a bit 'oh...so?' about the thing and wondering where they might go next with Bond.

  4. We still have until Friday for general release in the States. I can't say you have me looking forward to it. I was a big fan of Craig as Bond, and enjoyed Casino Royale.

    Why can't Bond just continue to go after the Soviets? If we can still make WWII movies, why not Cold War movies? Maybe because you cannot make a "Call of Duty" type video game that pulls off the paranoia of the red scare?

    Walked 12 miles to see Moonraker, eh? I don't know whether to praise or console ;-)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Someone page Aristotle - catharsis is achieved not only by watching a good play, but also by reviewing a bad one.


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