DVD Review: “Quantum of Solace”

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Quantum of Solace (2009, MGM/Fox)
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Reboots and remakes have been all the rage in Hollywood for several years now — name a venerable film franchise, and chances are it’s either already been taken back to the beginning or a reboot is already in the works. Just the word “reboot” has become enough to provoke a Pavlovian eye-rolling response among movie lovers, and although that’s easy to understand — nobody, least of all Rob Zombie, needed to turn the counter back to zero on the Halloween franchise — it’s sometimes the smartest decision a producer can make.

Consider, for instance, the Bond movies: Never as smart, sexy, or entertaining as they were supposed to be, the 007 films had descended into bloated self-parody by the end of the Brosnan era. Although they always made money, they were expensive, predictable, and not very good — something highlighted by sleeker, leaner modern spy flicks, like the Bourne series. MGM’s decision to reboot Bond was greeted skeptically — as was casting Daniel Craig in the iconic title role — but both moves were vindicated with 2006’s Casino Royale, a bloody wonder of a film that tore away Bond’s lifeless smirk and gave the trademark wit and glamour of the series something real to hang its tux on.

Having given fans their first blonde Bond, the producers opted to break another tradition with Quantum of Solace, adding the series’ first direct sequel to the franchise. Every other Bond movie stands on its own, but Solace picks up moments after Royale left off. This means, of course, that Solace will be more enjoyable for those who have seen Royale — which kind of sucks, really, but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Solace was a better film.

You learn everything you need to know about Quantum of Solace in its first 15 minutes: The film kicks off with a typically badass action sequence, perhaps the most spine-rattling opener in the entire franchise. Director Marc Forster does a fine job of balancing between old-fashioned Hollywood style and the trendy quick-cut hand-cam aesthetic popular with more recent, Bourne-influenced action flicks, getting the audience to feel the impact of a high-speed chase over a crowded Italian highway without the aid of Dramamine. It is, in a word, awesome — and it segues directly into “Another Way to Die,” the stupid theme song performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys. That’s the 22nd Bond movie in a nutshell: Equal parts streamlined action and total hooey, it staggers between globetrotting derring-do and clumsy exposition, bogged down by a plot that manages to be both annoyingly convoluted and paper-thin. It’s the type of movie that’ll leave you befuddled if you turn away for more than two minutes — between all the double-crosses and knotty dialogue, if you really want to understand what’s going on, you almost need to take notes.

Of course, nobody really watches Bond movies for their plots — they’re just the threads that bind the action sequences together, and on that front, Quantum of Solace delivers. You get a rooftop chase, a speedboat gunfight, some dizzying hand-to-hand combat on some scaffolding, and more — not to mention the lovely Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton as Bond’s latest feminine distractions (Arterton is coimcally wasted, although the audience is eventually treated to the sight of her naked, oil-covered ass). Forster can’t help succumbing to the quick-cut disease that has gripped every other action director in Hollywood, but his edits aren’t as dizzying as most of the others we see in modern thrillers; for the most part, his sequences are relatively sedate.

Aside from a compelling (or altogether coherent) plot, what Solace lacks is any real sense of humor. There are actually a couple of funny moments in the film, but they’re jarringly out of place. It’s an undeniably engrossing film — especially once you make it through the first 40 minutes — but its deep silliness would have been better balanced out with some of the customary Bond wit. It’s a bit of a letdown after Casino Royale, but still miles better than anything to come out of the franchise for a couple of decades before that, and its satisfying resolution points the way toward more consistently entertaining chapters in the series.

I was sent the double-disc “special edition” of the film (or at least a paper-sleeved facsimile thereof), which tacks a bonus DVD of special features onto the first disc’s bare-bones extras (two trailers and a video for that horrible theme song). For another six bucks, you get a 25-minute documentary titled “Bond on Location,” five shorts (each about three minutes long) looking at different aspects of the creation of the film, and a series of video blogs posted to the Quantum website during production. None of them are indispensible, unless you’re the most hardcore Bond fan on the planet; if you really have to own this movie, you’re better off sticking with the straight single disc.

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