Monday, November 17, 2008
Quantum of Solace = The Empire Strikes Back
I have never been prepared for complexity when sitting down to enjoy a James Bond film. If you recall anything leading up to, and arguably including, Casino Royale, you were reliably indulging in a popcorn-fueled voyage through a non-thinking, shoot-first fantasy land with cinemas most vapid hero and comically ridiculous villains. Each James Bond installment was cinematic comfort food - discrete, ephemeral and unambitious, not drawing on the past or expanding the narrative into the future.
Now, with Quantum of Solace, they're coming at us with a different, more layered approach to Bond (as he assumes the darker, post-modern manifestation of a Jason Bourne) that relies on the viewer remembering plot elements that surfaced in Casino Royale.
I didn't know this going into the Sunday matinee (how could I have, as a pre-conditioned Bond film fan) but wished I'd been given the heads up on this abrupt and needed change of viewer behavior. A pre-Quantum viewing of Casino Royale is highly advised if you wish to make holistic sense of this latest Bond film.
Still I can't tell if it's a good thing for the franchise or just evidence of Hollywood's calculated, ROI-driven infatuation with the trilogy. (Per the popular critique of this film, there were times watching it I could have sworn it was a Bourne series film.)
In either case, Quantum is the middle chapter of a continuous three-part narrative and per trilogic dictum, the most confusing and unsatisfying of the lot. Quantum avoids the lack of climax and downward overture of Empire Strikes Back, as trilogic sina qua non, but similarly leaves the audience with more questions than answers.
Of course, you'd expect a Bond film to feel familiar and formulaic. What you don't expect is it to taste like someone else's sauce.