Critical Condition: Bond takes ‘Quantum’ leap

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November 18, 2008

1:03 AM

The latest James Bond blockbuster, “Quantum of Solace,” premiered Friday, selling out at theaters across the country. The last Bond film, “Casino Royale,” breathed new life into the stagnant franchise, giving it a much-needed facelift in the form of a complete stylistic overhaul. There was a lot of hype surrounding “Quantum of Solace,” specifically regarding whether it would continue Bond’s new direction, or whether it would slip back into the realm of the ridiculous popcorn flicks of the past few years.

Did it live up to the hype? Yes and no.

From a pure entertainment perspective, the film delivered on all fronts. Bond visits beautiful locales and pulls off ridiculous stunts, and the film never really slows down. The acting is great, the women are beautiful and Daniel Craig has the physique of a Greek god. As an action flick, it’s great.

The opening scene of the movie takes place about an hour after the action of “Casino Royale” ends. This continuity appealed to some, but it was a mixed blessing. We saw 007’s character evolve as he coped with the loss of a loved one and the responsibilities of his position in the British Secret Intelligence Service. In “Quantum of Solace,” we essentially see the next step in James Bond’s evolution.

However, this continuity carries its share of problems. Several minor characters from the previous film return without any explanation as to how Bond knows them. It wasn’t fun leaning over to friends and asking, “Who was that guy in the first movie? Wasn’t he a bad guy? Wait, are they friends?” The film does well in continuing where “Casino Royale” left off, but it would have benefited from slowing down just enough to catch people up and remind them of what happened in the last film.

I also took issue with the plot of ‘Quantum.’ The characters never really ironed out what they were going to do. The film begins in two words high gear and never slows down. Bond never takes a breath for a mission briefing, and at no point is the audience entirely sure of what’s happening. Even the finale of the movie, a powerful scene that puts the lid on a major plot event bringing the two movies together, was confusing and left some scratching their heads. I had to search Wikipedia after the film to get some clarification. This should never happen in a movie. You don’t want a movie to hold your hand throughout the whole picture, but it’s bad when it never slows down and leaves you in the dust.

Whether “Quantum of Solace” would be good or not wasn’t the question on my mind when I walked into the theater on Friday night. I wondered whether I was seeing a Bond film at all. Because “Casino Royale” had made some major changes to the franchise, with gritty actions sequences and a storyline grounded in reality, I was concerned that further changes were on Bond’s horizon in this picture. ‘Casino’ abandoned classic Bond characters Q and Moneypenny, so when preliminary interviews with director Marc Forster confirmed the two characters wouldn’t be in ‘Quantum,’ I wasn’t very surprised.

Then Forster announced that other Bondisms would be missing from ‘Quantum’ as well: Bond never orders his iconic drink, and he never introduces himself in his typical fashion, “Bond. James Bond.” I was a little shocked by this, as these gestures were some of the only remnants left in “Casino Royale” of the old James Bond films. The new style debuting in ‘Casino,’ combined with the abandonment of old 007-staples, made me worry that ‘Quantum’ would be just another action movie, albeit a great one. Forster said he cut the gestures because they didn’t feel right at any point in the movie. After seeing it, I can tolerate their absence. Honestly, the movie worked great without them. The only Bondism that I lament the absence of is the theme music. The ultra-classic theme song that accompanies every James Bond movie is hinted at, toyed with and nearly played half a dozen times in the movie, but the song never plays in ‘Quantum’ until the credits roll. I left the theater, and people asked me whether I thought I had seen a Bond movie or not. I was surprised how important the song was to the character Bond — I had wanted to see Craig blow things up and kick some butt to the James Bond theme song.

All in all, it was a good movie. If you’re seeing a James Bond flick for the plot, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. But Quantum is fun, it’s exciting and it’s a beautiful movie. My complaints are minor and nitpicky. Forster has made his James Bond films truly his own, and they’re capable of succeeding, without leaning entirely on their predecessors successes. I can’t wait to see the next one.

__Matthew Falwell is a Critical Condition columnist. He likes his movies shaken, not stirred.__

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