There are moments in a moviegoer’s experience when one feels a simultaneous sense of deep satisfaction and bewildered puzzlement.
For me, this was the case with the new James Bond film “Quantum of Solace,” which made $70 billion opening week-end, shattering all Bond film openings to date and officially ushering in the holiday movie season.
Did I like this film? Well, no…and yes. “Quantum of Solace” offered the best and the worst of Bond, all in one two hour package.
Here are the film’s five worst (Boo!) and five best (Yay!) aspects.
1. Boo – The Title: Presumably, the title of any film ought to inform a film’s plot, direction, theme, or characters in some concrete or tangible way. Not in this case. “Quantum,” we learn in one early throwaway scene, refers to a mysterious cabal of baddies who have somehow infiltrated British intelligence. As it turns out, they’ve been so successful that viewers never ever hear from them again. They’re that good.
2. Boo – The Lack of Lust: There isn’t any to speak of here. What’s a James Bond film without a little flirtation? We get a bare shoulder in one scene and a brief kiss in a car in another. That’s it?
3. Boo – Zero Gadgetry: C’mon now. Has Q exhausted all of his inventive options in the M.I. laboratory? How ‘bout a pneumatic zip line, or a solar-powered wallet that shoots darts? Anything!
4. Boo – Stereotypical Bad Guy: I have an idea! Let’s find an actor who can play a lascivious, mustachioed, dark-skinned South American dictator-in-training, and give him a central role in the film! Gosh, that’s never been done before. Not.
5. Boo – no femme fatale: How can you have a Bond film without a femme fatale? Or maybe those Bond gals are so twentieth century? Jeezum Crow.
That said, there is much to like about “Quantum.” Here are just five elements.
1. Yay – “Art Mirrors Life” plot: OK, there is the barest whisper of a narrative arc here, but what we get revolves around Peak Oil, the world’s supply of fresh water, and an insidious corporate wheeler dealer who topples and re-installs Third World governments at will, with the tacit backing and blessing of U.S. intelligence. Gawsh, that never happens in real life, does it? Naw.
2. Yay – Chase scenes: Director Mark Forster knows how to film them, from the opening sequence involving an Aston Martin (phew) along Italy’s stunning coastline, to a truly remarkable rooftop sequence that is choreographed as if the actors were two ballet dancers brawling. Stunning.
3. Yay – Creative/Metaphorical Offing: Strawberry Fields, a minor M.I. character, is dispatched by the bad guys in a way that is truly poetic, given current global Peak Oil dilemmas. I’ll stop here, so as not to ruin the moment.
4. Yay – Sexy Women: Dame Judy Dench is able to project an aura that is once alluring and maternal in her relationship with James. She doesn’t have much to work with here script-wise, but she makes the most of it. And relative newcomer Olga Kurylenko turns out to be a pleasant surprise – smart, sexy, tenacious and a good match for Mr. Bond as Camille the Bolivian mercenary. Bravo.
5. Yay – Daniel Craig: A buffed-up Craig plays Bond straight up. In the wake of his the assassination of his love interest Vespa (see 2006’s “Casino Royale”), Craig’s Bond is a remorseless killing machine, a combination of Timex Watch (he takes a licking and keeps on ticking) and tiger shark. Craig is mesmerizing on screen, always in motion, quick with the one-liners, and all business. In a post 9/11 world of uncertainty, Craig’s Bond fits the bill.
All of this is to say that, if you are a Bond fan and willing to forgive some narrative indiscretions here, “Quantum of Solace” is a more-than-adequate thrill ride to inaugurate the 2008 holiday season.
Look for it at Mad River Valley’s Big Picture movie theater soon.