Quantum of Solace

I don’t have a problem with dark. I love dark. Donnie Darko is one of my all-time favorite movies. I can watch War of the Roses over and over and over and I laugh out loud every time. Some people think that makes me twisted. My favorite group, Depeche Mode, is nicknamed Depressed Mode. No, I don’t have a problem with dark. What I have a problem with is when dark replaces substance, and something that was once complex and interesting becomes bland, lifeless and boring.

It would seem difficult to suck the life out of a timeless character like James Bond—a character riddled with charm, cunning wit, sexual prowess, superior intelligence, mindblowing physical dominance and uncanny good luck—but the latest installment in the hugely successful film franchise tries REALLY hard. Quantum of Solace is certainly not the worst Bond film ever. Not even close. You’d have to try REALLY hard to top The Living Daylights for bad. Recent history has reinvigorated the franchise, starting, in my mind, with Goldeneye starring Pierce Brosnan and continuing through all the way to Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. Bond was back and better than ever. And even though there was a shift from Brosnan to Craig in both style and substance, Craig still was clearly James Bond in Casino Royale, even as he was just earning his 00 status and making his first kill. You still knew it was our favorite secret agent, rough edges and all.

There’s got to be something tricky about making franchise movies. I don’t envy a filmmaker who does one, especially a Bond film. There are expectations that must be met: the opening action sequence before the credits, the snazzy credit sequence, the “Bond girl(s),” the seduction scene(s), the sex, the witty repartee, the action scenes, the villain(s), the gadgets, the gratuitous semi-nudity and the cheesy puns. Yes, there must also be some story, usually involving world politics or some attempt at world domination or terrorism or takeover or massive theft or kidnapping of some kind, and it’s usually hard-to-follow but the audience really doesn’t care much. We just care to know who’s bad and when Bond’s going to get him.

As a filmmaker, it must be frustrating to try to make an “original” film while still trying to fit all of that in, without feeling like you’re making a processed, factory-produced cookie-cutter film. Well, I have news for any director who signs on to make a Bond movie. If you want to make an independent film so you can feature your unique “voice,” go to Fox Searchlight. This is Bond. Don’t mess with it. Remember New Coke? That didn’t go over so well either.

Quantum of Solace has only brief moments of feeling like a Bond film. I’ve heard more than one person, including my movie companion, comment that it felt more like a Bourne film than a Bond film. And that hits it on the head. Director Marc Forster certainly was directing a franchise film, it just was the wrong franchise.

This film is so dark, so frenetic, so tortured and brooding, it never lets you have a moment to exhale. Bond is a runaway freight train, intent on running over everything in his way, no mercy, no moment’s thought as to why, who or what he is thrashing, crashing or smashing through. James Bond has always seemed like the finest-made weapon in the world. He is fine-tuned, sharp and precise, tough and calculated, resilient and smart. In Quantum of Solace, however, Bond plays as nothing more than a dull instrument, a bull in a china shop, the hockey goon sent in to beat up the opposing players. This is not the Bond we know. And it is not a Bond we like.

Yes, we get it. He is tortured. He has lost the love of his life. He’s driven by revenge and he must find who killed the woman he loves. But this is not a Bond movie. This is another movie. I’ve seen THIS movie before. I wanted to see Daniel Craig play James Bond. In Casino Royale, that was magic. It will be magic again, hopefully. But, in this one, they left out way too much—-no witty banter, no seduction scenes, only a brief glimpse of Bond shirtless (must be a Bond record), no gadgets (again, must be a first), and the action sequence before the opening credits was the most disappointing I can remember. But, mostly, there was no character of Bond himself. If I wanted to see an automaton with no feelings or emotion just mow everything down, I could have stayed home and rented Terminator.

HOWEVER, all that being said…..I can easily say that if you are a fan of stunts and action sequences in ANY WAY, you MUST see this film. The stunts are phenomenal. I can’t remember the last time I saw action scenes as tightly filmed, tightly performed and tightly choreographed as these. And if the editing doesn’t win an Oscar, something’s wrong.

And then there’s Daniel Craig. While Pierce Brosnan is still my favorite Bond, just because I think he’s the best for the character, Craig is still the best actor of the bunch, and he is still excellent here, despite the fact his character is left to do nothing but brood and destroy. And, of course, Dame Judi Dench is a bright spot in every scene she’s in, as usual.

The screenplay left me befuddled, but I don’t go to Bond movies for a screenplay, I’ll be honest with you. I go for character and action and all the other little wonderful nuances that make this a franchise. Take all of that away and you’re left with a screenplay that stinks and action sequences that soar. Hmmm….sounds an awful lot like a Bourne film.

I want my Bond back.