It’s only a month shy of two years since I caught Casino Royale in a London cinema. All I can remember now of the loooong first film in this Bond trilogy was that Daniel Craig was excellent, the Bond girl was more ballsy than bimbo, and that the film seemed to have at least three endings.
So on Friday night I ended up sitting in a Belfast cinema to see Quantum of Solace dressed up in a tux and bow tie, surrounded by more Aston Martin drivers than I thought possible in Northern Ireland.
It’s not a great film. The plot’s very simple. (Spoiler Alert: Revenge x 2.) The opening theme is even more unmemorable than the previous. The baddie is commercially and politically conniving, but not outwardly sinister - though Greene’s a good surname for someone who only cares for damaging the environment!
While the Bond franchise seemed to have grown up in Casino Royale, some of the lessons seem to have been forgotten in this film. Last time around, Bond physically suffered and picked up injuries. Last night, he talked about emotional pain and hurt, but seemed to be back wearing his Teflon superhero body armour and took punches without much grunting or groaning.
There were few gadgets on offer. In fact, other than a Sony Ericsson phone (that makes the iPhone and Google’s Android look like a basic Nokia 3310) and some interactive table top displays (that could be a demo of what a 96 inch Apple tablet laptop might look like) there wasn’t much in the way of geekery. Product placement was all a bit obvious, with hydrogen-powered Ford SUVs (in the dessert?) and the new Ka on show.
There was plenty of action. Peter Bradshaw’s review in the Guardian explains it nicely:
“Under the direction of Marc Forster, the movie ladles out the adrenalin in a string of deafening episodes: car chases, plane wrecks, motor boat collisions. If it's got an engine, and runs on fuel, and can crash into another similarly powered vehicle, with Bond at the wheel, and preferably with a delicious female companion in the passenger seat - well, it goes in the movie.”
The film-makers even threw in a trip to Tosca which allows for some more “artistic” editing between the on stage opera and the off-stage commotion. The editing was breathtakingly fast, with few lingering shots, and hundreds of fast cuts in the set piece action sequences that gave the viewer an idea of what was going on but not enough time to take it all in or start asking questions.
The dialogue seemed to go the way of the visual editing too, with much of the sparse conversation indistinct, like an episode of West Wing, but without the opportunity for subtitles. It’s as if producers no longer want to tell a story, but insist on the audience making up their own based on the clues they manage to pick up? Maybe they should pay us to go to the cinema, and not the other way around.
Unlike its predecessor, Quantum of Solace ends definitively. All of a sudden it stops. Mercifully short at well under two hours. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise that the action at the eco-hotel (note – batteries can explode) was the final crescendo. But at the time, I missed it, and expected there to be bigger and more obvious finale.
Reflecting back on the film, there was little that hadn’t been done before. Lots of nice touches – like the coffins falling off a lorry – but little to excite or thrill. The best bits were not the stunts, pyrotechnics or CGI; instead the very human interactions between Bond (Daniel Craig) and the maternal M (Dame Judi Dench).
Q: “I need you back.”
Bond: “I never left.”
I’ll be back to see the third in the sequence, but to find out if the franchise can recover than out of anticipation. And the quantum of solace I took from last night’s cinematic mediocrity was that the fourth Bourne film – Bourne Again? – to be directed by Paul Greengrass in 2010 will surely beat anything Bond has to offer.
To be honest, I’m still not quite sure why I got an email out of the blue offering free tickets for the showing last night of Quantum of Solace at the Dublin Road Moviehouse. And when the tickets finally arrived in the post – special delivery and a very expensive stamp – the only clues were a Coke Zero logo and mention of Charles Hurst and Aston Martin. But we took the “Dress to Impress” seriously and turned up appropriately. And a big thank you to whoever decided that Alan in Belfast was due an invitation.
I’d love to be able to illustrate this post with pictures of the two Aston Martin cars parked outside the Moviehouse doors ... but I didn’t take a picture on the way in, and they’d removed the cars by the time the film finished! Since the first three people I asked “Why are you here? How did you get tickets?” all turned out to be Aston Martin owners, I must keep my eyes peeled to try and spot them out on the roads of Northern Ireland.
There were some “dazzling prizes to be won” as the credits rolled up the big screen. And there was also a Coca Cola watch, a year’s supply of Coke zero, cinema tickets and a meal at the Apartment up being handed out. Oh, and a PlayStation on which to play the new Bond game. I’m secretly glad that we didn’t win the Coke Zero.
There was a party in the Apartment afterwards – great venue, brilliant vista over Belfast city centre – though no one seemed keen to point the tuxedo-wearing customers to the right private area, and there was certainly no explanation that only the Martini’s were on the house. The only photo of the night is a bad one, but you’ll be able to make out the fancily dressed cliental from the other upstairs bar in the Apartment, one fetching light shade that toned in well with the pink flamingo next to him!