Monday, April 26, 2010

Lunacy Royale--Monday Movies #1

I had hoped to start my new "Monday Movies" column with a review of a good ol' fashioned yakuza film. But then a friend of mine changed that plan.

Before I begin, in the interests of full disclosure, I am what one might call a huge fan of the most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace--as previously discussed on this blog--as well as the Bond series in general. The only reason I offer this preface, is that I want to do my best not to come off as merely an angry fan with what I'm about to say.

So, as I mentioned, a friend changed my plans for this entry, specifically by forwarding me the link to Patrick Goldstein's blog for the L.A. Times, where he makes a claim that the Bond series should purposefully go on hiatus for a while, and then substantiates this claim with opinionated commentary regarding box office grosses, irony, and 3-D.

Allow me to counter this wrongheaded stump of an article (so much for civility, I guess), so seemingly ignorant of the Bond franchise's pedigree, and so horrifyingly unworthy of even a nickel's worth of income.

(Note: I am not engaging with the first paragraph about the MGM troubles, except to say that one wonders if Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson announced the suspension to perhaps drive MGM into some decision-making.) Responding to each of his points from the second paragraph onward, here we go.

I cannot imagine why this is the perfect time to suspend production on this series. After the two most lucratively and--for my money--narratively satisfying installments, the momentum of the series would dictate the exact reverse of suspended animation, and if the MGM troubles weren't a factor, EON would likely be pursuing the next installment with all the vigor and speed of the teaser sequence in QOS. I was one of the "unlucky" ones who saw the most excellently titled Quantum of Solace (Goldstein here writing with the impudent ardor of one who may not actually know what the phrase means), and while it's an imperfect film, it's certainly not flawed enough to warrant a franchise overhaul. Indeed, as he himself writes, $576.3 million is, in fact, nothing to sneeze at (and I count $568,090,727 for worldwide grosses--according to maybe an extra $12 mil is splitting hairs).

And the film earned that money precisely because it wasn't tired. The intense action, the break-neck cutting (while on the whole maintaining spatial orientation), the film's lightning progression through the series' shortest runtime: what is it about any of these that signals the film is tired?

Oh, wait. He said the franchise felt tired. Over a billion dollars in worldwide grosses since 2006 indicates to me that stunning numbers of audience members disagree. As far as the "aging hipster with a bad face lift" comment, all I can say is that vacuous cleverness has consequences. Granting a generic lineage between Bourne and Bond, Wanted and Iron Man are by no means the same kind of film, forcing me to wonder where in the cinematic soil these deep roots of his lie. And as for not updating the tone with more irony and updating the story with more technology, I wonder if Mr. Goldstein understands what it is the past two Bond films have actually set out to do with the series.

Indeed, while the Bond films are always, to some degree, representative of and responsive to trends in the Hollywood creative marketplace, one shouldn't underestimate the degree to which the Bond films are responses to their own immediate predecessors. One of the critical responses to Die Another Day was that it was overly gadget-laden (two words: invisible car).

Wouldn't it make sense in the reboot, then, to rid the series of the more unrealistic gadgets and base the technology in real world application--to mirror the realism the series is now trying to achieve both in characterization and aesthetic? And, since QOS picks up directly where CR left off narratively, doesn't it make sense that the same sensibilities would follow into QOS as well?

As for irony...there are SO many places to go with that claim, but I'll leave it at this. Since Mr. Goldstein makes it a point to say that QOS did worse than CR at the worldwide box office, is it at all logical to model future efforts upon the sensibilities of Wanted, Iron Man, or the Bourne series, when each of those films made less money in the worldwide marketplace than QOS?

And to call Hollywood's present relationship to 3-D a "torrid love affair" seems intellectually irresponsible. To further a juvenile metaphor, it might be more prudent to say that Hollywood is sliding safely into second base. Regardless, the films that have been expressly shot for or retooled for 3-D presentation are, on the whole, spectaculars teeming with visual effects. The Bond series certainly utilizes visual effects, but it is not so heavily reliant on them as to warrant even a 3-D experimentation with the gun-barrel sequence. In fact, I can think of no sequence in the past two films that would have aesthetically benefited from 3-D in a meaningful way--even the Parkour sequence in CR, because the pleasure of that sequence is not the kinetics of simulated multi-planar depth, but the visceral thrill in seeing an actual human being execute these actual physical feats.

Or perhaps that sequence is just enjoyable due to the hilarious irony of Bond catching a gun thrown at him, and then hurling it back at his attacker.

Rumors of the next installment's plot would have Rachel Weisz as the head of Quantum, and Bond discovering that he doesn't have to prevent the world from being taken over--it already has been. One can only hope that The Property of a Lady isn't as unbelievably awful a title as Quantum of Solace. (Note: It's not. It's every bit as smart, elegant, and narratively connected.) If the rumors end up being true, then it seems to me that Broccoli and Wilson will be doing exactly what should be done, once the MGM troubles are settled: 1) building further upon the new narrative framework they've so aptly put in place, 2) striving to make the series exciting while simultaneously realistic and relevant, and 3) driving onward, leaving Mr. Goldstein's "lunacy royale" in the empty desert to which it so ably maroons itself.

As the friend who originally pointed me to this article said, "No one in a Bond film has ever said that discretion is better than valor...because no one says that at all." If Mr. Goldstein isn't sure if Mr. Bond has ever uttered this non-aphorism in any of the films, then I begin to wonder if he's even seen them all.

I, on the other hand, will end my post with an actual aphorism, one that's found often in the end credits sequences.


P.S. Thanks to Brad and Colin for spurring on this entry.


PB Ramaeker said...

Right on. If anything, you could've gone farther with the wrongheadedness of Goldstein's comparisons. If all right-thinking people can agree that Iron Man and Wanted are totally ludicrous comparisons, that leaves Bourne, with features less irony AND fewer gadgets than Bond, contra Goldstein.

Lou said...

I'm glad you said it PB... I may be slightly ignorant of the world of super heroes and spies, but Wanted had no business being mentioned in that article. I actually laughed when I read it. If younger and sleeker means less plot, less character depth and god-awful acting... well, then I'll take the supposed old and decrepit any day.