Monday, December 20, 2010

Quantum of Solace

I must admit that when I first saw Quantum of Solace in the movie theaters, I hated it. It piggybacked on the success of the Bourne movies; it assumed that really fast and chaotic action scenes with millisecond long shots were a good thing. It was as if James Bond had been replaced by some angry, intense Brit; instead of wearing a suit and tie and requesting martinis shaken not stirred, Bond spends most of the movie wearing street clothing and doing nothing to resemble the Bond that we tend to recognize. And as if these issues weren't enough, the villain of the movie seemed a joke, we learn absolutely nothing more about the mysterious organization hinted at in the previous movie (Casino Royale), and, speaking of which, the characterization of Bond himself is relegated to a sideplot instead of a main focus.

But these are all complaints that I had of the movie when I saw it the first time, months ago. Realizing that others liked Quantum of Solace regardless, I decided to give it another shot and to try and view it as its own entity. I loved Casino Royale, but to hold this movie up to its standard was perhaps not the right thing to do.

So I watched it again. And, instead of being disappointed again, I walked away impressed.

Bond. James Bond.

It is hard to explain what caused me to like the movie this time around. Part of it may have been that I was paying closer attention this time. Another part of it may have been that I accepted Bond's change of character. There is a reason why he is not acting like Bond in this movie. To put it simply, at the end of Casino Royale, we see Bond's love die before his eyes while he is unable to do anything about it. In Casino Royale, Bond is a new 00 agent. Having such a terrible thing happen, along with the belief that she betrayed Bond, would put anyone over the edge. And, as an understandable result, Bond spends most of his time in Quantum of Solace in a perpetual rage, often homicidally so.

A big part of what makes the movie enjoyable this time around is seeing the revenge-seeking Bond ignoring the organization in charge of him, MI6, and paying the price for it. Both MI6 and the CIA spend a good part of the movie trying to take Bond down, inadvertently assisted by the forces of the shadowy organization behind the villain, Dominic Greene. As a consequence, you can't help but feel for Bond, to a certain extent. He is a harrowed man. You understand his rage and desire for vengeance. But at the same time, you can't help but feel that he is letting it go to his head; provoking the opposition of former allies is never a good idea. But this is part of the point. Bond is seeking closure, but the methods by which he pursues it make you wonder if perhaps he is all there, as repeatedly stated through the appearances of his boss, M.

Moving On

What I particularly liked about Casino Royale was how it made your stereotypical action-oriented Bond flick into a character study of sorts. You see how Bond's lifestyle can seem self-destructive, how his reckless approach to 'spying' can have nasty, nasty consequences. Quantum of Solace continues this, though the characterization is given less of a role this time around. Most of the action is focused on uncovering the mystery of the villain's inevitably evil-sounding plot. But, every so often, Quantum of Solace shows you a glimpse of Bond and the white hot anger and loss that wracks his soul.

Nowhere is this more clear than when he spends time with the main Bond girl, Camille, and the supporting character from the previous movie, Mathis. Camille is a mirror of Bond's torment; she also seeks revenge from a horrible experience of the past. This similarity gives them a rapport that ends up grouping them together. Though they seem to have little else in common, their shared desire for vengeance and closure ties them close. Camille finds herself helping Bond though it isn't necessarily in her best interest to do so. And Bond finds himself becoming protective and defensive of Camille. Is this perhaps an unconscious desire on Bond's part to reinvent the relationship he had with Vesper (the Bond girl from Casino Royale)? Or perhaps he is just defensive of Camille because, as the villain says, everything he touches seems to wither and die. It is subtle and hard to gauge, and this relationship is interesting to watch. And, for once, it isn't one that results in sex at the end, which is a downright shocker for a Bond girl.

As for Mathis, he is perhaps the only one who truly had a glimpse of Bond's happiness when he was with Vesper in Casino Royale. M knew of the relationship, but only Mathis was physically there when it was blossoming. Perhaps as a result of this knowledge that Bond is so traumatized by that loss, Mathis joins Bond in his quest to attain closure and overturn Dominic Greene. It doesn't end well, but it still shows us a vestige of Bond's past and of a time before his need for revenge.


On the down side, the action in this movie was nausea-inducing to watch and the villain seemed a bit of a joke compared to others in Bond's history. A number of times throughout the movie, both Bond and Camille seem to toy with the villain, just to mess with him, and he seems near powerless to stop it. At the end, in the final showdown with Bond, Dominic screaming like a girl while attacking Bond further made me sigh with amusement. The best villains in Bond's history have had presence and a tangible aura of danger around them. But Dominic Greene was far short of that mark.

I also wish that they had spent more time focusing on Bond's character growth, as they did in the movie before, Casino Royale. Without that growth, Bond movies just feel like surface level action flicks. Quantum of Solace had that character progression, but in a way that often felt hidden in the rafters. Perhaps I'm being too judgmental; I find myself habitually comparing it to the greatness of Casino Royale again. But shouldn't that be a goal? To aspire to do better than the movie before? In that, I think Quantum of Solace failed. But as an independent movie, I did find myself enjoying it a lot more the second time, and that is worth noting.


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