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MOVIE TALK: Quantum of Solace

If there’s one thing the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is not… it’s a good screenwriting lesson.

This isn’t to say it’s not a lot of other things: a collection of (mostly) cool action sequences, a solid attempt to be a genuine sequel to Casino Royale, another stand-out performance from Daniel Craig.

But as far as being a comprehensible story… it falls short. Even moments after seeing the movie, I'm not sure I could've told you what it was about or what happened. Moments are memoriable, but a narrative context in which they make sense? Not so much. ...Which is sad, because I'm not a huge James Bond fan, yet I still think Daniel Craig ROCKS.

In fact, I had to go back and read a couple other reviews just to be able to write this quick synopsis:

The story opens where Casino Royale left off, with Bond and M interrogating Mr. White (Jesper Christenen), the villain they captured at the end of the last movie. Mr. White informs them that he’s part of a secret international conspiracy that does… SOMETHING (I’m still not sure what… just bad stuff, I guess). Before Bond and M have a chance to learn more, the MI6 guards in the room open fire, and we realize Mr. White’s organization is everywhere… including inside MI6.

Using clues found on marked bills, Bond traces Mr. White to an environmental organization called Greene Planet, run by the smarmy Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who—Bond later learns—is simply using Greene Planet to do something evil. Honestly, I’m still not sure what… but it has something to do with stealing water from poor Bolivians, then selling it back to their dictator, General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), for ridiculous sums of money.

The events along the way are little more than loosely strung together set pieces… some of which look cool, but most of which do little to further the story. Or rather, if they do—it’s tough to tell how. The story has the illusion of momentum because Bond is DOING stuff—beating people up and killing bad guys—but it’s nearly impossible to track the story from plot point to plot point.

(I.e., at one point, Bond goes on a huge shoot-em-up-boat-chase to rescue Camille [Olga Kurylenko], a gorgeous young woman working for Greene Planet, from being murdered by Greene and Medrano. But after rescuing her, he simply drops her off at a hotel so she can run right back to Greene Planet! HUH? Why? Not only is Bond's motivation completely loopy [What motivation? Why'd he bother rescuing her? Why didn't he question her? Hold her hostage? SOMETHING?], but it renders what could've been a powerful boat chase completely impotent by robbing it of any narrative relevance! Because the scene is ultimately gratuitous, it's also ultimatly meainingless and forgettable.)

I do give the movie props for at least attempting to be a true “emotional” sequel to Casino Royale. The film genuinely tries to pick up the pieces left at the end of the last story: mainly, Bond’s broken heart, shattered by the betrayal and death of Vesper Lynd… and his desire to avenge the attempt on M’s life (Mr. White’s attempt at the beginning of this movie). Unfortunately, aside from a few moments, the story is so incomprehensible the movie never really delivers on its emotional promise.

Having said all this, most of the action sequences are fun to watch… even if the worst of them look a bit fake, and the best of them—like the opening rooftop chase and hand-to-hand fight scene—look like B-roll from The Bourne Ultimatum. (Now, granted—there’s no bigger Bourne Ultimatum fan than me… so I’m very sensitive to things that feel like Bourne ripoffs… and even a Bourne ripoff is more fun to watch than most of the other action scenes out there... and, to be fair, Quantum of Solaceis edited by Bourne editor Richard Pearson.)

Ultimately, here’s what you have to realize: Quantum of Solace is not a screenplay. It’s a dance. Literally. A series of beautifully choreographed pieces… with only the thinnest of stories connecting them. But instead of that choreography being wonderful piques and turns and leaps, it’s gun battles, boat chases, and fisticuffs. When the movie is at it’s strongest, it’s when the action is so coolly choreographed you don’t care about the story; when the movie is at its weakest, you’re just hoping it hurries back to the action. (Even though the action scenes sometimes feel a bit derivative, I gotta say—I have NO IDEA how writers write these things. Like in The Bourne Ultimatum, Bond's action scenes are so intricately choreographed, so meticulously planned, I can’t imagine how they can make sense on a page and still convey the kinetic energy of how they’re supposed to look on film.)

So, today’s screenwriting lesson is: a charismatic star and well-done action sequences go an enormously long way in covering up an empty story… but at the end of the day, it’s still a strong, follow-able narrative that leaves audiences really remembering the film.


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