6 November 2008

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (Dir. Marc Forster, 2008, UK/US) - Reinvention or imitation?

Ever since Matt Damon, a star who had his reputation well and truly trashed by the creators of South Park in 'Team America', reinvented the espionage genre with the Jason Bourne franchise, the Bond brand has been playing catch up, trying in vain to breathe life into one of the oldest and most successful high concept formulas. When Pierce Brosnan started to mention an executive producers credit and a higher pay cheque after the immensely successful yet turgid 'Die Another Day', the producers of the Bond films realised they had reached the end of another long term relationship, having revived the franchise for a new generation way back in 1995 with Martin Campbell's 'Goldeneye'.

Interestingly, many thought it wise that the producers return to Campbell to restore audiences faith back in a new kind of post 9-11 James Bond with 'Casino Royale', the first Bond film to break the $500 million box office barrier. It was a sweet deal for the producers; Daniel Craig, one of Britain's best film actors and a star with an increasing international profile, was hired at a relatively cheap price compared to the demands of Brosnan, marking a shift away from the cheap quips and over excesses to the gritty realism of a new age Bond who obviously seemed to walk in the shadow of Jason Bourne's sophisticated, resourceful and intellectual anti hero. Though 'Casino Royale' pleased both critics, fans and the general audience, it was also the first Bond film to have been financed and distributed by Sony. By casting Daniel Craig, the only real element that seemed to revitalise the Bond formula, the film was regressive in its politics, and Campbell's heavy handed approach produced a movie that lasted for a bum numbing 2 hours and 20 minutes, with most of that taken up by a utterly pointless and boring card game. The derivative nature of the Bond brand and in particular the uninspired 'Casino Royale' venture was exposed for its pretentiousness and inability to get to grips with a plausible geo political landscape when 'The Bourne Ultimatum' opened in the summer of 2007, a film that offered not only visceral, brilliantly executed action sequences, but more importantly, a story mired in a dark political conspiracy involving Bourne himself.

The new Bond film, 'Quantum of Solace', has been directed by a film maker with an interesting pedigree of tackling hard hitting subject matters. Though Marc Forster was an unusual choice, he was at the end of the day, a director for hire, brought in to a shoot a script controlled by the producers and very few film makers would ever be given complete creative control including final cut on a film with a budget exceeding $100 million. So it's not surprising that Forster is unable to offer us anything new or different, shooting the action at such a frenetic pace that it becomes scrappy and jumbled whilst trying desperately to make the idea of a secret global organization appear as though it was relatively interesting for an audience that views the Bond films through a filter of parody and pastiche as celebrated in the postmodernism of Mike Myers 'Austin Powers' creation.

The producers attempt at making this into a revenge thriller, minus the traditional Bond interludes, seems like a brave decision, but such a tantalising proposition is never brought to fruition in a film that tries embarrassingly to imitate the new age politics of the Bourne films. They even roped in Dan Bradley, student coordinator on the Bourne films, to oversee some of the action sequences, but as Daniel Craig chases his assailant across the rooftops of Milan, one cannot help drawing comparisons with a similar sequence that occurs in 'The Bourne Ultimatum', a superlative mainstream action film on many levels. How predictable it all is when we reach the end of another hollow Bond adventure as James goes rogue, pulverising the slimy Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) whilst an expensive postmodern architectural building turns into a raging inferno of timed explosions. By the time we have reached the glib moment our apathetic Bond has come to terms with the betrayal of Vesper Lynd, it all seems very tedious and banal. Loathe it or adore it, the Bond franchise is one of the last remaining event films and much of the pleasure of a Bond film rests purely with a juvenile feeling of instant gratification; just another guilty pleasure perhaps.

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