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Friday, November 07, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace poster

I just got back to Tokyo, but I managed to catch a preview of QUANTUM OF SOLACE on Wednesday night, before I flew off.

After the sheer badassery brilliance of CASINO ROYALE (which, like most, converted me from Craig doubter to Craig bandwagoner), my anticipation and expectations for QUANTUM OF SOLACE were high. CASINO ROYALE had the greatest, goosebump-inducing ending I've ever seen in a Bond film, and I was glad QUANTUM OF SOLACE continues from where the previous film left off. It's the first Bond direct sequel ever.

I was also interested to see what Marc Forster could do with Bond, a director known more for serious character dramas like MONSTER'S BALL or FINDING NEVERLAND (didn't watch the former, but liked the latter) and the KITE RUNNER adaptation.

By humanizing Bond in Casino Royale, I assumed they needed Forster to continue things. However, I initially a little underwhelmed by the first 20 minutes of the film, the action set pieces were thrilling, but the pre-title sequence, a nice car chase scene, lacked the impact of CASINO ROYALE's. But despite my comparison, QUANTUM OF SOLACE is a different creature altogether. It's faster paced and shorter (CASINO ROYALE was 144 minutes, QUANTUM OF SOLACE is 106 mins), one action scene after another, I started having my doubts, worrying that Forster might overcompensate by going more action and not much else. Like what happened to this year's INCREDIBLE HULK (which, by throwing lots more action scenes and sacrificing the story, ended up feeling lots more inferior to Ang Lee's HULK)

But that didn't last long. I gradually was won over by the film because of its execution and increasingly engaging storyline. And the action setpieces just got more and more stylish, and different from what I've seen in previous Bond films. Forster likes intercutting action scenes with seemingly unrelated scenes, and then bringing them together (the early chase scene, which was intercut with a horse race scene), or using it as stylish juxtaposition (snippets of the opera, TOSCA and a shootout), heightening the atmosphere, creating tension, unease, transforming things into a kaleidoscope of visuals and sounds. An almost auteur-like filmmaking... in a Bond film?

Craig's performance is awesome as the vengeful, rage-filled Bond, he is turning Pierce Brosnan's Bon into a distant memory of the 90's (but not Brosnan himself, I'm still scarred by his singing voice after watching MAMA MIA!) He is constantly reaffirming Bond as a badass. Which is funny, because all these when I grew up watching Bond films, I never really thought of Bond as a badass, just a suave womanizer who happens to know how to fight, that's all (note that up until now, Brosnan is the Bond of my time, Dalton's tenure was too short and not that memorable)

One thing that worried me was the new Bond girl. In Casino Royale, Eva Green's Vesper Lynd was probably the greatest Bond girl I've ever seen, so great she was that even sexually-confused male friends of mine went crazy over her. How can she be replaced?

My main complaint of Pierce Brosnan's Bond films had never been about the outlandish gadgets or logic-defying acton scenes (DIE ANOTHER DAY was a guilty pleasure). I always felt that the Bond girls (the romantic interests, not the femme fatales) in all the films (except Izabella Scorupco's Natalya Simonova in GoldenEye) were horribly characterized (yes, sorry, Dato Michelle Yeoh). In their futile attempts to give Bond a strong heroine, the filmmakers created shallow caricatures with cliched elements of feminity and sass that lack emotional depth, and thus making their romantic/sexual tension Brosnan's Bond obligatory. In fact, sometimes I thought these Brosnan's Bond films were better when the Bond girls weren't around (I'm obviously no fan of Denise Richard or Halle Berry's characters in their respective films either).

Vesper Lynd was different in many ways. And while CASINO ROYALE had some memorably corny lines during the romantic scenes ("you've stripped my armour etc"), I still find the love story rather compelling because it was a depiction of Bond's loss of innocence and his growing detachment from the rest of the world. The smoldering hot Olga Kurylenko's Camille does not replace Vesper Lynd. It was a different role for a different purpose in the film, and without giving too much away, her relationship with Bond defies normal conventions of Bond films (yes, even CASINO ROYALE).

I like to see her pout.

Olga Kurylenko as Camille in Quantum of Solace

And I thought she did pretty well in the film. (hardcore communists in Russia condemned her though)

Mathieu Amalric's baddie Dominic Greene is probably the most normal-looking Bond baddie I've ever seen, there's not even some minor tic like Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre's tears of blood. M (Judi Dench's) interaction with Bond remains a highlight of Craig's Bond films. Giancarlo Giannini's second foray as Rene Mathis is brief, but leaves quiet an impression. And Gemme Arterton... sigh, she's probably the first Bond girl who's actually younger than I am. I'm getting worried now.

Overall, I can't say that this film's better than CASINO ROYALE. But it has its moments of brilliance, and the remarkable use of exotic locales (some places don't just exist in the background, but also take on a life of their own) makes the film feels more epic than it really is. It's a worthy sequel, and based on the ending, I won't be surprised if the third film is also a direct sequel. See what you guys have to say about this film.


I still prefer Joe Cornish's proposed QUANTUM OF SOLACE theme song over the real thing