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Quantum of Solace, Watchmen, and Star Trek!

November 17th, 2008
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So Steph and I caught Quantum of Solace on Friday — What a fun time in a theatre!

The showing started off with several exciting trailers for some of the big blockbusters that will be arriving in the spring.  Quite a few of them didn’t interest me, such as Angels & Demons, the Da Vinci Code sequel (or is it a prequel?).  But there were two that sure as heck did.

 

That was the new trailer for Watchmen.  (See a larger version here.)  Watchmen is the beloved graphic novel (called by Time Magazine one of the 100 greatest novels of all time) that was published by DC Comics in 1986.  The first trailer was just imagery, whereas in this trailer we get to see some plot and a goodly amount of dialogue, giving us a slightly better idea about how these characters are being brought to life.  And so far, so good.  The trailer sells the movie on its simplest level — that of a murder mystery.  (Costumed “heroes” are being picked off, one by one — but by whom??)  That’s probably a wise choice, but I do hope that there winds up being a lot more to the movie than just that — I want the film to capture some of the complexity of the graphic novel.  

(Much more than just a whodunnit, Watchmen is a fascinating deconstruction of our modern superhero myths, asking how the modern world would be changed if superheroes really existed, and what would the people who chose to put on garish costumes and go out and fight crime really be like?  The plot is intricate, and the character arcs consist of brutal psychological realism.  Visually it is a tour-de-force, utilizing symbolism, recurring visual motifs & parallel structure to connect disparate scenes and ideas.  I could go on and on about Watchmen…. and I’m sure I will in a future post as the movie approaches!  Suffice to say, I am a bit nervous and VERY excited to see the finished film in March.)

Then there was this:

[UPDATED — Click HERE to view a crystal clear official version of the trailer that just became available, or check out the shaky bootleg below.]

First of all, props to the Paramount marketing department because they totally fooled me.  I had read on-line that the first full trailer (there was a teaser released last Spring) would be shown with Quantum of Solace, and so I was watching carefully for it.  But when this trailer came up, starting with a kid racing a car through a desert, I thought “oh well, that’s not it, maybe the next one.”  It wasn’t until the kid said “James Tiberius Kirk” that I (and the rest of the folks in the theatre) sat up and started taking notice.  

As for the trailer — whoa.  Rather than going for stately majesty as the teaser did, this one went for bam-bam-bam action-sex-action.  Probably not a bad way to get people excited about Trek again, but it certainly wasn’t the tone I was expecting.  There’s a lot of exciting imagery in this trailer.  Unlike the last several Trek films, that were all made for a fairly low budget, this trailer screams big-budget-action-spectacular.  If that’s what the movie ends up being, I will be very excited!  All of the re-cast classic characters look great so far, especially Karl Urban as McCoy and Zoe Saldana as Uhura.  The brief shots of the Enterprise are very cool and look great, but since the ship is seen so fleetingly the concerns I waxed poetic about in my last post haven’t quite been assuaged.  I have a LOT of other worries as well, but let’s stay with the positive for now, shall we?  After the blizzard of imagery in the trailer came to an end, I said “wow — I need to see that again like 10 times as soon as possible!”  Not a bad feeling.

OK, whew, now let’s get to the main event itself — Quantum of Solace!  So, do I agree with the advance review my friend Josh Lawrence submitted two weeks ago?

Well, in some respects I do, but despite its weaknesses I thoroughly enjoyed this latest James Bond adventure — quite a bit more, I think, than Mr. Lawrence did.

What’s good?

The continuity —  As you all probably know by now, this film picks up right after the end of Casino Royale, and throughout the movie there are references to all manner of subtle plot points from that installment.  The two films fit together wonderfully, and they seem to be only the opening chapters of a much larger story.  This is a delightful return to the very origins of the Bond film series.  Modern Bond fans are used to the Bond movies being stand-alone adventures, with each film a complete story in and of itself with not much more connection to the films-that-came-before other than an occasional reference by Q or M to Bond having slept with a lot of women or destroyed a lot of expensive MI6 equipment.  But the Connery Bond films fit together to a much greater degree than that.  Each film was a complete adventure, yes, but in those early movies (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball) we watched as Bond slowly learned more and more about a shadowy criminal organization that was behind all the villains he was facing — SPECTRE.  It was only when we got to You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (and, sort of, in Diamonds Are Forever) that the stories finally built to a showdown between Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the bald, cat-stroking madman in charge of SPECTRE.  I have no way of knowing what future Bond movies will bring, but it certainly seems as if the events of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are just the opening gambits in a much larger confrontation between MI6 and a new SPECTRE-like criminal organization, whose name we only learn in the final moments of this new film.  That is very exciting.  (Note, for instance, that Mr. White remains at large when the movie ends… I very much suspect we’ll see him again…) 

Daniel Craig — Craig is once again terrific as Bond.  These past two Bond films have not been afraid to portray Bond as something of a brute, and I’m really enjoying this new, grittier version of this long-running character.  But it wouldn’t work if Craig didn’t bring tremendous energy, charisma, and intelligence to the role.  Craig’s Bond is a force to be reckoned with.

The action — For anyone who thought Casino Royale was too talky (for the record, that would not include me), it seems like the producers have set out to address your complaints.  The first 45-minutes of this film consist of one incredible action sequence after another.  I am a bit worried that Bond is being depicted as too much of a super-human, but boy are these fights and chases exciting and well-staged.  The ballet of violence between our man James and an MI6 turncoat who are both caught up in a tangle ropes and chains suspended from a high ceiling is a particular grace note.

The supporting cast — Judi Dench turns in another fine performance as the unflappable M; Jeffrey Wright is again great as Felix Leiter (although I really hope he has more to do in the next film…); and I was thrilled to see Giancarlo Giannini back as Mathis.  New additions Olga Kurylenko (as Camille, the major female lead in the film), Gemma Arterton (as agent Fields, and do stay for the credits to learn her mysterious first name!), and Mathieu Amalric (as the villainous Dominic Greene) all do solid work (although I must confess that none of them really stand out from the many heroes and villains we’ve met in all the prior Bond films).

The theme song and opening credits — I stand with Mr. Lawrence on this one, in defiance of critics everywhere.  I rather liked the new song!  Is it one of the best of the Bond songs?  Certainly not.  (Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Thunderball… these songs are not going to be bested any times soon… I’d say Goldeneye is the best of the modern Bond songs, and that was a while ago already…)  BUT that being said I found it a very solid theme, and an enjoyable way to kick off the movie.  (And its WAY better than Die Another Day…)

OK, so that all sounds great!  So what’s not so good?

Well, in contrast to Casino Royale, everything in Quantum of Solace is a little more… shall we say, lightly sketched.  I have read a lot of accusations that Quantum is all action and no plot, and I don’t feel that’s the case at all.  BUT the character arcs here are much more simplistic, relative to the depth brought to Bond, Vesper, and others in Casino.  OK, Bond starts off the movie angry and ends the film by making the right choices, but did we expect otherwise?  I don’t really call that a character arc.  And what did we learn about Camille other than that she’s angry over the death of the family and that she is afraid of fire?  As for Greene, he’s an evil environmentalist.  And his name is Greene.  Get it?  

There are also some plot holes that, even on a first viewing of the film, were bothersome.  The opening sequence seems to take place almost immediately following the end of Casino Royale, and my impression was that the rest of the film follows very shortly thereafter, covering maybe a week of time at most.  And yet, when we first catch back up with Felix Leiter, very early in the movie, he already seems to be right in the middle of a new case totally unconnected to his involvement with Le Chiffre in Casino.  When exactly did that happen?  (ALSO he’s got a much bushier, scruffier beard than he did in Casino, which again seems to imply that he’s been involved in this new case for months, not a couple of days.)  Then there’s the scene in which Bond is unable to book a flight, because M has cancelled all of his passports.  He tries, and fails, to get on a plane.  Cut to the next scene in which he has managed to get to the island where Mathis is currently living.  Um, how exactly??  These sorts of problems nip away at the suspension of disbelief I need to maintain when watching a movie in which our hero is able to jump out of a burning airplane and catch up in mid-air with a falling damsel (who has the only parachute, of course!).  Oh, and then land hard on rocky ground only seconds after they open said parachute, but walk away with just a few scratches and their clothes dirtied.

This film also saw the return of some hoary old Bond plot devices that I’ve really seen enough of.  I’m thinking specifically about the two female leads.  One of them is an agent sent to control Bond who Bond quickly seduces, and the other is out for revenge because one of the film’s villains killed her family.  Hmmm, where have I seen those characters before?  Only in about 20 of the past 21 Bond films!!!

Finally, while I argued above that I really enjoyed how Quantum seems to be only chapter 2 in a much longer, multi-movie story, I did expect to learn a bit more about the criminal organization hinted at in the closing scenes of Casino.  And yet, by the time Quantum ends, all we have learned is its name.  (And come on, how many people didn’t guess that when they heard the title of this film MONTHS ago??)  And I wish Quantum had the same sort of “just wait, viewers — more to come” ending as Casino did.  I love it when I walk out of a movie, already primed for the sequel.  I really thought we’d get one more scene at the end of Quantum, maybe giving us one more tantalizing hint about this SPECTRE for a new millennium, but that was not to be.

Before I end, let me just mention one thing that has me very un-decided.  What did you all think about the iconic opening you-know-what being saved to the very END of the flick???  Interesting choice.

All in all, while not a perfect installment, Quantum of Solace is a very engaging and entertaining movie.  It is inferior to Casino Royale, which is disappointing, but I still think it ranks amongst the upper tier of the 22 (official) Bond films.  (Disagree?  Go watch Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, Octopussy, The Living Daylights, License to Kill, The World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day again, and then get back to me…)

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