If you've been a consistent reader of these pages you'll know that I lie somewhere between "big fan of" and "massively obsessed with" the suave secret agent. With that in mind, let's talk Quantum of Solace.
Now, this isn't, strictly speaking, a review. It's very much more my thoughts on the new film presented in a not quite coherent, but more or less cogent, manner.
Let's get this out of the way instantly — it was a good movie. It was a solid action flick that, despite some people's complaints, didn't skimp on the plot. It just required the viewer to actually pay attention to what was taking place. If you sat there and watched it you weren't beaten over the head repeatedly with the super-villain's scheme to dominate the world. The scheme was explained in bits and pieces over time and the viewer had to put it all together.
Good for the Bond franchise! They actually decided that people can take some time and figure it all out for themselves rather than smacking the viewer in the face. I appreciated that, it puts the audience very much more into the role of Bond trying to work out what's happening. It draws the viewer in.
As for the action itself… I'm not going to lie to you, I’m a huge fan of the series and I understand exactly why they filmed the action sequences the way they did. I just wished that they hadn't. It's become very en vogue to do action scenes with a handheld camera very close in on what's taking place and with incredibly rapid jump cuts. That's what Marc Forster opted to do with the film and I think it was a bad decision.
It's true that like the plot itself, the quick jump cuts and close-in, handheld shots serve to draw the viewer in and leave them just as breathless as the combatants, but it does a disservice as well. It's a style that, sadly, translates much better to the small screen than the big one (the eye is faster taking in information on a TV-sized screen than a theater-sized one). Directors and editors seem to have forgotten that even though they're editing these things digitally and can put in as many cuts as they want, sometimes more cuts doesn't mean a better film. If you sit in the editing room and watch something 50 or 100 times you're going to have a much better idea of what's happening than the poor viewer seeing it unfold once on the screen (it also helps if you were there when the thing was being filmed so you know what actually took place).
I don't want you to think of me as some sort of Bond purist; I think that in order for the franchise to continue running it does need to continually update and reinvent itself. If the style of the films remained the same from the original Connery ones through today, the producers wouldn't have been looking at the biggest opening box office weekend in the franchise's history with Quantum, which is exactly what they ended up with.
I just don't think that the handheld, close-up, jump cut style of action is a good one and it certainly represented a gross departure from the franchise which I don't think the producers did the right thing to accept. For the style of filming the action they used I think Forster and his crew did a good job; I just think it was the wrong choice.
But, back to the overarching plot. I'm intrigued. I like the idea of putting out there a brand new bad organization; the franchise stopped the SPECTRE stories years decades for a number of reasons (not wanting to get stale and possible lawsuits among them), but I think the big bad organization is a good enemy, and Quantum seems plenty scary. I wonder if, as quite possibly this film takes place before any of the others in the franchise save Casino Royale, Quantum evolves into SPECTRE. I think that would be truly fascinating.
Quite clearly we're in for another Bond film dealing with Quantum for the next go-round (potentially due out in 2011), and I can't wait to see what they do with it. Quantum definitely needs a truly evil man in charge, a Blofeld type. Perhaps it's Mr. White. I think that he'd actually make a great choice, that way Bond would end up kicking himself for letting White slip through his fingers at the beginning of this film. White definitely seems evil enough, and smart enough (notice that he didn't stand up at the opera).
Speaking of White, one of the moments I quite enjoyed in this film was the scene following the opening credits, where Bond drags the chair across the dank floor. It was, of course, shot to look just like Le Chiffre's dragging of the chair in the torture scene with Bond in Casino Royale. Well done! Great look into how Bond becomes who Bond is.
The one thing, save the action, I was a little unsure of was the placement of the famed gun barrel opening in this film. Casino Royale represented the first of the Bond films that didn't start with the gun barrel opening (they used it at the end of the pre-title sequence), and this time out they opted not to do it (or play the Bond theme) until just before the end credits roll. I'm not upset with this change, I honestly don't know how I feel about it.
It's one thing to constantly reinvent your franchise in light of other films and changes in society and world, it's something completely different to abandon what the franchise has always been. A 70 million dollar U.S. box office take and huge numbers around the world indicate that people like Bond. Certainly updates have to be made to the franchise on a regular basis in order to ensure that 007 remains as popular as he is, but those updates need to be weighed against the idea of what the franchise is.
I don't believe that Quantum of Solace has radically altered the formula either in its action sequences or in its changes to the gun barrel opening and theme song. I just think that those areas represent aspects of the franchise that both the producers and the audience need to look at in the next installment.