Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quantum of Solace

Here are the men who directed all of the Bond films through the Dalton era:

Dr. No - Terence Young
From Russia With Love - Terence Young
Goldfinger - Guy Hamilton
Thunderball - Terence Young
You Only Live Twice - Lewis Gilbert
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Peter Hunt (the oddball film, in basically every sense)
Diamonds Are Forever - Guy Hamilton
Live and Let Die - Guy Hamilton
The Man With The Golden Gun - Guy Hamilton
The Spy Who Loved Me - Lewis Gilbert
Moonraker - Lewis Gilbert
For Your Eyes Only - John Glen
Octopussy - John Glen
A View to a Kill - John Glen
The Living Daylights - John Glen
Licence to Kill - John Glen

Hunt only did the one film as director, but he edited the first five.  Other than him, you have basically 4 "house" directors of the franchise (Young, Hamilton, Gilbert and Glen), people who stuck around for multiple films and were part of a larger James Bond team, with producers and editors and whoever else creating fully collaborative films.

Since the beginning of the Brosnan era, the directors of the films have been more of the "gun for hire" sort, men (and, again, always men) who come on for a film, give it as much of their personal style as the franchise allows, and then move on to other things.  I have mostly not talked about the directors in these recaps (with the odd shoutout here or there to Martin Campbell) because for the most part they are kind of incidental actors, people who bring a certain tone to the film but mostly just set up the action and the story and let it happen.  But Quantum of Solace cannot be talked about without coming to terms with Marc Forster's job as director.  I don't know any other way to say it - the film is incompetently directed.  Forster is not, all things considered, a hack of a director.  I liked Finding Neverland enough, even though I'd never watch it again, and Stranger Than Fiction was an oddball little lark.  But he botched Quantum of Solace so completely that he simply can't escape notice here.  He should not have been hired to make this picture.  There is certainly a good Bond flick to be made with the raw materials he had to work with here, and there's still a salvageably okay Bond flick peeking out at the margins of this film.  But, given just what's on screen, this is a terrible Bond movie.  It is saved the ignominy of being the worst film in the series only because the depths of the Moore era still exist, and can't be wiped away.  It is the worst non-Moore movie in the series, and that is an amazing feat considering how effectively Casino Royale pulled the franchise out of its late-Brosnan era tailspin.  I mean, I legitimately found basically nothing to like about this movie, and even with a turkey like Moonraker I thought there were decent elements in the first half of the film.

But, since I have set myself the task of going through these films with a fine-toothed comb, and since I am so close to the finish line, I will go once more into the breach, and bullet point this horrid piece of shit.

The opening scene sets the table with utter perfection, in that it is an incoherent mess of shaky-cammed, poorly-edited action that goes from nowhere to nowhere.  Bond is in a car, he has the mysterious Mr. White from the end of Casino Royale in the trunk, and he is being chased by some villains that he I guess dispatches of.

Cut to the Jack White-penned song, which also features Alicia Keys.  Picking gems out of turds - I like the opening guitar riff of the song.  I like not a damn other thing about it.  Supposedly Amy Winehouse was the first choice of the filmmakers, but she was (unsurprisingly) not in the sort of shape that would be required, and couldn't do it.

The plot, so far as it goes - in our only direct sequel in the entire franchise, Bond goes tracking after the shadowy organization, named Quantum, that was responsible for bankrolling Le Chiffre and also Vesper Lynd's death.  The trail leads him to one Dominic Greene, a slimy little creep played by Mathieu Amalric, who apparently represents some high level of the organization.  Greene is engaged in a scheme to replace the Bolivian government with some petty Generalissimo - in exchange, he forces the General to hand over water rights in the entire country to Quantum.  Along the way, Bond links up with Camille Montes, a woman whose family was killed by the General when she was a little girl and who is bent on revenge against him.

Two massive problems here.  Number one, Quantum is clearly meant to evoke SPECTRE.  That organization was the villain in 6 of the first 7 Bond films (Goldfinger's the odd man out) before vanishing from the series due to copyright issues.  We met SPECTRE slowly, getting a little piece of the organization here and a little piece there, but starting with From Russia With Love, we always knew we were on the trail of a man named Blofeld, who headed this organization, and we knew generally what they were after (massive extortion schemes through terrorism.)  Quantum, on the other hand, is just a big cloudy ball of nothing.  Who is Greene?  Who does he work for?  What, ultimately, is his aim?  The organization doesn't come into any sort of focus at any point.

Number two is the scheme around which this movie is based.  I don't mean to sound petty and provincial but, honestly, who gives a shit about water rights in Bolivia?  This is what Quantum wants to spend its time dicking around with?  Let 'em.  This is a big planet, with a lot of dangerous people in it, and Bolivia is a small country and, seriously, I'm falling asleep just thinking about the smallness of this horseshit.

So anyway, during the interrogation with Mr. White Quantum reveals its existence and that it has people everywhere, and M almost gets shot.  There's a chase scene with Bond and some Quantum operative and it features some cool ideas, including a mid-air brawl suspended on ropes, but it is so completely botched by the awful shaky-cam, quick edit, Bourne-aping direction.  Did I mention Bourne-apery?  That is the strongest theme of this dumb movie.  The final shot of the scene is actually alright (it got featured in all the trailers) with a dead-eye shot from Bond directly into the camera to finish off the bad guy.

Judi Dench is still doing good work here, God bless her.  It's funny to think back to the Brosnan era and remember how little use the films made of her, and even though she's playing the same character here it's almost as if she isn't, because M is an actual character in the Craig era, and not just an exposition machine.

Another thing that pisses me off about this movie - it is, on some level, a Tomorrow Never Dies redux, with Bond tracking a weedy little doofus that he immediately suspects of being a bad actor for really no particularly good reason.  I mean, he certainly has an idea that Greene has some place in the Quantum organization, but he hates him on a visceral level well before we see him do anything much but be mean to his girlfriend.

That girlfriend is the aforementioned Camille Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko as a variation on the Melina Havelock archetype, only more exotically multi-cultural.  The problem is that Havelock's revenge quest was triggered by something that happened on screen, whereas Montes' is described solely through exposition, so it does not have anywhere close to the same impact.  We know she hates this guy, and we know why, but it never really coalesces.

Quantum holds a meeting by having a bunch of their operatives attend the same opera and speak into ear pieces.  It's a reasonably cool update of the old-school, theatrical (literally, in this case) villain meeting, usually taking place around a table in some impossible underground (or underwater) structure.  It is, of course, marred by another awful action set piece that doesn't make any sense.  Besides the shaky cam and the quick-cut editing that doesn't allow for any sense of geography, Forster keeps cutting to the opera on stage, and to this giant eye that forms the focal point of the set, for reasons that only he could possibly explain.

We meet Strawberry Fields, our secondary girl, at the La Paz airport.  Bond has gone off the reservation in pursuit of Greene and Quantum, and she shows up to bring him back home. She originally takes Bond to some fleabag place in town to hole up for the night before catching a flight back the next day, but he bullies his way into an upgrade at some classic Bond swankorama hotel and really, that's just fine.

Strawberry Fields is the worst kind of Bond girl throwback, someone who allows Bond to completely overwhelm her own good sense at all times (besides just having an incredibly stupid, but not terribly ribald, name) and then dying in service of the plot.  She immediately falls into bed with him and it is supposed to be...charming, I guess?  It is not.  Then eventually she is killed offscreen, in a death that is meant to evoke Goldfinger, with Fields all covered in a substance lying facedown on the bed, but instead of gold it's oil.  See, oil is the new gold!  Get it?  Get it?  Fuck.  Fields' only job is to keep an eye on Bond and keep him from escaping for 24 hours, so naturally she lets him go as soon as the opportunity presents itself, because she is a painfully ineffective cipher of a character.

Dominic Greene's cover story is that he's an environmentalist, because it's important to show what a hypocrite he is.  I hate so many things about this movie that the reactionary politics don't even register that much with me but come on.

Since this will be our last Felix Leiter sighting of the marathon, I do want to throw in my little pet theory, which is that Leiter has adventures just like Bond does, where he gets to travel to exotic locations and thwart the maniacal plans of supervillains and screw beautiful women in service of American interests, and Bond shows up occasionally during those adventures to offer a bit of moral support and perhaps some equipment or small piece of intelligence to get his investigation into gear.  Leiter is completely wasted in this movie, spending most of his time pouting that his partner, Moustache McDouchebag, is totally onboard with CIA orders that Greene be cultivated as an ally, rather than investigated as a villain.  And you know what?  Moustache is right.  If the CIA wants to be in bed with scumbags like Greene in order to protect the interests of the US, then that's what they should do.  Leiter isn't some private dick.  He works for Uncle Sam.  This is his job.

At some point, Bond goes flying into the desert after Greene with Montes.  They engage in an (ugly, as if there's any other kind) action set piece involving dogfighting aircraft, and the two of them end up basically free-falling into a gorge after the plane gets shot down.  At the last minute Bond pulls Montes' chute and both of them land hard but alive on the floor of the gorge.  Bond films ask you to suspend your disbelief a lot, and you go with it because they're Bond films, not documentaries.  Yes, Bond can ski off a cliff and pull a Union Jack parachute as he's falling.  Of course he can.  But the way this scene is shot and edited, Bond pretty clearly does not get to the parachute in time to prevent massive injuries to both parties on landing.  It's a small thing, really, but it's another indication of just how little Forster cares about the movie he is making.

Another rare compliment!  The scene where they walk out of the gorge is nice, with Spanish-inflected music on the soundtrack.

So back in La Paz, M is pissed at Bond and orders him suspended and sent back to England under guard.  Bond escapes, as he always does, knocking out a bunch of MI6 operatives and eventually running into M during his getaway.  Immediately, M is back on Bond's side, insisting to anyone who matters that it is important that Bond be given room to investigate Greene.  There is absolutely no justification given for her about face, except that before Bond was in her custody, and now he's managed to escape.

So, whatever, Bond tracks Greene out to some doofy desert hotel, where he and the General are finalizing their arrangement (Oona Chaplin, Talisa from Game of Thrones, has a small role as a serving girl that the General tries to, ugh, rape), and Montes gets her revenge while Bond gets his, the place gets blown up for nebulous reasons, and then something something Vesper Lynd's ex-boyfriend works for Quantum as a fuck machine who gets the female agents of the world's various intelligence bureaus to give up information to him, which Bond puts a stop to.  The Canadian agent that he's working on at the end of the film is played by Stana Katic from Castle, and she has (I believe) one line.

There's a gunbarrel scene tacked on at the very end (there was none at the beginning, which honestly who cares, it is what it is, the Craig Bond doesn't do them anymore, so be it) as if to say, here you go you jackals, this is what you wanted.  The Bond theme plays and then the credits roll, in a direct ripoff of the end of Casino Royale.  Fuck you, Marc Forster.  You are the worst.

Bond sleeps with Strawberry Fields, and it is painfully obvious that she is only in this movie because Bond had to sleep with someone, and Montes was both emotionally and physically unavailable to him.

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