Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quantum of Solace (2008)

We've finally come to the end of my look back at the entire James Bond franchise. This was quite the undertaking, and while there were some occasions when I wished I was doing something else, mainly when Roger Moore was involved, man was this a blast overall. I learned some things about myself as a Bond fan, and discovered some great movies that I would have in all likeliness overlooked. I even had some movies which I previously had written off come back and surprise me with how much I enjoyed them years later. Meanwhile others were bad before and continued to be so. But I've made it through those high peaks and abyssal trenches and emerged in one piece on the other side, a more savvy film enthusiast for it. This was fun. Now maybe next time I'll have to choose a series that doesn't have over twenty entries in it.

According to my recollection whilst thinking back on it after only seeing it once in the theater the day it came out, "Quantum of Solace" struck me as pretty bad. I remember how I hated the fact that it was nothing like a usual James Bond movie at all, eschewing any hint of fun whatsoever and being a very bleak and dour journey. True, "License To Kill" and even "Casino Royale" had their war-faces on, so to speak, but those still felt like Bond movies. He had gadgets and over-the-top villains to deal with, and as pissed as he got he still was able to pull off a good one-liner after wasting a dude. But in "Quantum of Solace" he's not really even doing any real spy work. He's just killing people. I believe at the time that I summed it up by saying that "Quantum of Solace" basically put The Punisher in a tuxedo and told him to make sure he never did anything to entertain us.

But after seeing it again, "Quantum of Solace" is even worse than I remembered. In fact, this movie isn't just bad. It's terrible. It's wretched. This is a legitimate piece of garbage. And I don't mean that from simply a story or script level, even though those aspects are crap, too. I'm saying that on a filmmaking level, talking pure tradecraft here, this is the most pathetic excuse for an action movie the Bond series has ever produced. I...I can't believe I'm saying this but...Crom help me this is a worse movie than "Moonraker."

Oh god.

If you had told me Clint Eastwood was actually an overgrown hedgehog I would have been less surprised than the revelation that I could hate a Bond movie more than I hate "Moonraker." I've nearly broken molars grinding my teeth over watching that piece of septic backwash. It represents everything I loathe about the Bond series when it got stupid. My DNA code would spell out S-C-R-E-W-R-O-G-E-R-M-O-O-R-E if you looked hard enough. Gazing at that film is like staring into the black, dead, blasphemous eyes of Cthulhu himself.

And I would still watch it over "Quantum of Solace." That blows my damn mind all over the walls.

Don't you be getting smug with me, though. You're not off the hook. You're better by technicality.

Having been forced to go on Wikipedia to find out just what in the hell was happening since this movie is ludicrously difficult to follow, I've determined that I don't care. It's got something to do with an ousted general in Bolivia who's trying to take the government over with the help of an evil environmentalist, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Greene is mildly playing the general for a sucker because he's caused a drought and has set it up so he gets the monopoly on the water supply in that area and will charge more than the dude was paying before. That's right. The villain's evil plot in this movie is to cause some jumped up South American dictator's water bill to double.

Oh no he d'in't.

The only reason Bond is there is because Greene is a member of Quantum, the Not-SPECTRE organization which briefly showed up in "Casino Royale" to do very bad things, and Bond is simply going around trying to kill as many of those people as he can. He doesn't care about Bolivia or the drought. He doesn't care about anything going on around him past "Who can I kill next?" He doesn't even address Greene's underground dam that is still there at the end of the movie. You know? The thing that shouldn't be there that was causing the drought? Sean Connery would have blown that thing sky-high and made sure the Number Two henchman was on top of the dam when it went. The movie would have ended with all seventeen citizens of Bolivia cheering as their water pumps turned on again while Bond had sex in one of the newly made lakes. But Daniel Craig doesn't care. He just wants to kill since he's James Bond and in no way ever saves the day, right?

Daniel Craig is barely recognizable as James Bond in this. Like the tone of the film, he's so mean spirited and dour that he looks depressed. I'm sure they were going for "badass" here, and true he does wreck plenty of people's collective faces, but he's doing it with such disdain for any thought of fun that it comes across more like we're watching a psychopath during one of his manic lows going on a killing spree. He doesn't seem like James Bond at any point besides jumping out of a plane and impossibly surviving when his parachute doesn't deploy until he's twenty feet above the ground. His actions may evoke images of Bond, but the attitude that defined him is nowhere to be found. I'm not sure how he's supposed to properly convey that attitude when he's got barely any dialogue in this film as it is, but that's besides the point.

The sole expression permanently locked on Craig's face is the same one you would have if you caught someone keying your car.

Besides Craig playing "an angry person" instead of 007, the rest of the cast is frankly pathetic. We've got Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who has a real beef with the general and wants to kill him. We don't learn until more than halfway though what her actual deal is, which is that she's some kind of Bolivian...agent (does Bolivia have agents?), but her character doesn't do a damn thing that matters at any point. She's just a link in the chain to get to Greene since she's his girlfriend (or something, I don't have any idea).

"Quantum of Solace" also features one of my "favorite" (see also: I can't stand them) actresses, Gemma Arterton as a useless character named Ms. Fields. She's an MI-6 agent that exists only to get killed off in an homage to "Goldfinger," and also to act really snooty and hostile towards James upon meeting him before having sex with him five minutes later for no reason at all. Bond nailing her is such an out of nowhere development that it's actually quite jarring.
 "Can I at least get a one liner in somewhere? Maybe something when I take White out of my trunk?"
"We'll allow you to say "Time to get out.""
"That's it?"
"That's it."
"They know I'm the same man who said "That last hand nearly killed me" in the film before, right?"
"Don't push it, Bond. We're trying to be serious. You can't be likable and serious at the same time."
"But Timothy Dalton-"

I wouldn't have minded so much expect for the fact that the entire premise of this movie is that he's supposed to be enraged at the loss of Vesper. And it's not even like he's angrily having sex with her to purge some demons. He just takes off his clothes and is casual about it. So that kind of makes his sorrow at her loss (ie. his entire motivation) ring a little hollow. I know it's a Bond movie, but you know you don't have to force him to get laid. Nothing would have changed if he hadn't had sex with her. Whatever. I don't care.

Yeah. Pro-tip: Don't reference a great movie in your crap movie.

The absolute worst, though, is our villain. You know, there have been some bad Bond villains in the past, but Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene is a special case, holding the distinction of being not only having the lamest plan, but he also gives the worst performance of any actor to portray a Bond nemesis. At no point is he intimidating. He just meekly slithers about looking like if you cloned Gary Oldman and turned him into the 98 lb. weakling who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach. And when Greene actually fights at the end, ineffectively flailing about as he swings an axe at Bond while shrieking like a howler monkey on fire, it's just embarrassing. This was a conscious choice, by the way. Director Marc Forester said that he specifically chose Amalric because he gave Greene "a pathetic quality." The stupidity of that logic makes me question if Forester has ever seen a Bond film in his life.

Oh good. It's Stansfield meets George McFly. Gaze upon your doom, humanity.

This brings me to what is the absolute death of this film. More than anything else - the script, the bad villain, Bond not acting like Bond at any point - there is one thing that makes "Quantum of Solace" the most mind-bendingly aggravating movie in this series to suffer through: Director Marc Forester and his steadfast refusal to film action scenes in a clear, comprehensible manner. This man is a perpetrator of hate crimes against cinema for his desecration of action films.

I don't know why they thought that the director of "The Kite Runner" and "Finding Neverland" was an ideal choice to make a Bond film, but it's clear that it was a mistake considering the results. As is his apparent style considering that he repeated this nausea-inducing method in "World War Z," another piece of crap, the camerawork is so jittery that a good recreation of the effect could be made by trying to read a book while flying down a dirt road at 80 mph in a car with no shocks. However, even if you could make out what you were seeing, it doesn't matter because a typical single shot during an action sequence doesn't last more than a second before cutting to another wildly shaky image that has no meaning because your eyes can't adjust to what you're seeing before it cuts again.

Well, I guess since he's shooting up, the bad guy is above him. I guess?

So because of all that, essentially what happens is that nearly every single action sequence in this film (of which there are a lot) is incomprehensible - a jumble of random pictures that might as well be a Rorschach test for all the meaning that I get out of them. I don't know what's happening. I don't know who I'm looking at half the time. I have no idea where people are in relation to each other. When they show up someplace else I have no idea how they got there. It's enough to make me want to fast forward through the action to save myself the migraine I get from trying to follow it. Why they thought this looked good I'll never know, but I am starting to remember the splitting headache I had leaving the theater after watching it.

What happens when a Bond movie's action is unwatchable? Well, we're left with watching Bond's charm and likability. What happens when he's completely unlikable? Well, then we're left with following the plot and listening to the characters talk. What happens when the plot sucks and you can't understand anything anybody is talking about anyway? Well, then you have no reason to watch, which sums up "Quantum of Solace" rather nicely. About all that's left is an opening theme song at that point, and you can look that up on Youtube. Why would you suffer for nearly two hours with garbage when the best part of the movie is over after the ten minute mark?

It's amusing to me how those annoying quick cuts in trailer are actually slower paced and easier to follow than the actual film is.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Quantum of Solace" is the worst Bond film I've ever seen. It's a nightmare of impossible to follow, overly shaky action, incomprehensible plot, pathetic or anonymous villains you don't care about, and no fun or amusement to be found at any point. It's horrifyingly bad, in fact it's one of the worst action movies I've ever suffered through, let alone Bond films. This is "A Good Day To Die Hard" level of awful. On the plus side, the next movie completely disregards it, so it's easy to just go into denial and pretend this skidmark on the underpants of the series never happened.




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