Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Bond Series Hits a New Low

The above is not a choppily edited, mind-pummeling trailer for Quantum of Solace, designed to make you wonder what the heck is going on here, so that you will come see the movie and find out. It is an actual clip of the film. It gives a good idea of the editing style of all its action sequences is like.

These people don't seem to realize that suspense is all about causation. "Given that this is happening, that is probably going to happen next. Yikes! I don't want that to happen! How is the hero going to avoid that?" For this to work, the viewer needs to be very clear about what is happening. Confusion kills suspense, creating instead an annoying sort of vague anxiety. (Compare this sequence with the greatest of all action sequences, the chariot race from Ben Hur -- a model of narrative clarity.)

This movie is confusing throughout. The confusion begins with the too-busy opening titles, which go by too fast to read the credits (don't these guys want to be famous?). It doesn't end until the Bond's pointless, ill-explained last encounter with the baddies, in which, after all the villains we know about have been killed, he arrests one that we haven't seen before and, as far as I could tell, wasn't especially important. As Nat pointed out to me, it doesn't seem to answer any questions raised by the earlier portions of the narrative, unless it is "will he ever turn a bad guy over to M for questioning, instead of just bumping them off?"

In a number of ways, this movie marks a low point in the Bond series.

This must be the first Bond film that is openly and belligerently anti-American and anti-capitalist. The dialogue contains occasional comments like “You don’t want another Marxist in South America giving natural resources back to the people, do you?” The villain is an evil capitalist, backed by the CIA, who pretends to be an environmentalist (a pretense that of course would automatically make him a saint, if it were true) but who actually kills political leaders who do things like passing minimum wage laws and replaces them with evil business-friendly dictators. His ultimate goal is to accumulate all the water in Bolivia (a public utility in private hands? gasp!) so that he can charge ruinous prices for it, bleeding the poor workers and peasants dry.

The fact that the film attacks private enterprise and plugs people like Hugo Chavez ("... another Marxist ...") creates a coherence problem for the film. The filmmakers don't project Bond as if he were motivated by their anti-capitalist animus -- that would be obviously absurd, as Bond is a long-time servant of British imperialism -- so they have to give him a motivation that is quite separate from the point of view of the film itself. Throughout the film, his motive for the death and destruction he wreaks seems to be revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Given that, that is this movie about? It would be nice if I could say, "it's not about anything -- it's just an entertaining revenge tale." That is what most of the reviews of the film seem to be saying. But it is actually worse than that. It's also an evils-of-capitalism tale, and these two thematic elements interfere with each other annoyingly. The result is a movie that is not merely frantic and confusing but incoherent.
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