Reel Talk

Quantum of Solace and Second Chances

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Casino Royale left some pretty huge shoes to fill. Not only did it successfully reboot one of the longest running franchises in motion picture history, it also became one of the best films of the series as well. Daniel Craig exploded onto the scene as one of the best Bonds of them all, right from the beginning. Plus, since they decided to finally adapt the first novel I remember there being a lot of people wondering if they were just going to completely reboot the series, and start remaking the books, in order. Which, maybe would have been an interesting way to go, but that’s not what ended up happening. What happened was Quantum of Solace, one of the most maligned and forgotten entries in the series. When talking about Bond movies I feel like Quantum of Solace is always one of the films that people have the most problems with. It was rushed, had lackluster writing, a very divisive theme song, was much more violent that Bond movies tended to be, and often had the most damning insult a Bond movie could have levied at it. A lot of people consider it boring. As we’ve learned in this series, bad Bond movies can be very entertaining, but boring Bond movies end up landing with a dull thud, becoming instantly forgettable. But I have what may be a shocking revelation to drop on you right up top. I really enjoy Quantum of Solace. Like, a lot. And I always have. I remember being confused at the general antipathy that this film was met with, and have been a stalwart defender of it for years. And, let me tell you, after revisiting it for this project, especially shortly after seeing Casino Royale, I still agree that it holds up and is a very interesting Bond film, albeit riddled with flaws that should sink a less interesting movie.

And when you start to look at why Quantum of Solace has so many issues, it’s pretty easy to understand. This movie seemed to be cursed. And primarily due to hubris. Back in the day the Bond movies settled into a very comfortable every other year formula, churning out the films at a very consistent pace. But those films had the benefit of having novels to base their plot around, and a less time-consuming form of post-production. But after Casino Royale came out they decided to roll the dice and get another Bond flick out in two years. Which maybe could have been feasible. It seems like a very truncated amount of time to get a film like this going, but it maybe could have worked. If it hadn’t been for the WGA strike. That strike will probably be remembered as the biggest hurdle that Quantum had to overcome. The strike hit shortly before filming was about to begin, and the script wasn’t exactly finished at that point. So this film was largely written by director Marc Forster and the actors, who began spitballing ideas for the film each day while they were filming it. Which is not ideal when you’re making a major blockbuster. Scripts are kind of important. But they also had to deal with some disagreement between David Arnold, who was scoring the film, and the producers, which led to the score for the film being based around a song that didn’t end up as the theme song for the film, which isn’t uncommon for the franchise, but is always strange and noticeable. Plus there’s the fact that while it does come from a Fleming short story, that title is quite a mouthful, which seemed to damper some people’s interest in the film, at least leading to a lot of jokes. And yet, despite all of those flaws, I still find this to be an immensely enjoyable film which succeeds in spite of its flaws.

QuantumBond

Quantum of Solace breaks from tradition and actually picks up exactly where Casino Royale left off. We see James Bond speeding through the mountains of Italy, avoiding some goons from the mysterious organization that Mr. White was a member of. Oh, and Mr. White is also in the trunk of the car. Bond manages to escape from the goons, and brings Mr. White to a secret bunker where M and some other MI6 agents are waiting to torture some information out of him. We’re then thrown into a very sandy title sequence, and once that’s taken care of we’re ready for some torture! Unfortunately it turns out that that organization is actually quite powerful, because Mr. White has turned one of the men in the room, who then attacks M and flees, causing Bond to give chase while Mr. White escapes. Bond chases after the man and kills him without getting any information. But they’re in luck, because they find some marked bills in the man’s home, pointing them in the direction of a man named Edmund Slate in Haiti. So Bond hops on a plane and heads down to Haiti, where he immediately kills Slate and assumes his identity. Which works out well, because Bond then comes in contact with a woman named Camille, who was sent to pick up Slate, but didn’t know what he looked like. He does run into a snag though when he realizes that Slate was supposed to kill Camille, and when she realizes that too she ditches him and flees. Bond follows her though, and comes across the man she’s working with, a famous ecological philanthropist named Dominic Greene. Although we immediately realize that Greene is up to no good, because we oversee a meeting between him and an exiled Bolivian General Medrano who Green has agreed to help take over Bolivia, just in exchange for some seemingly worthless land.

Bond clearly can tell that Greene is sketchy though, and after confirming his identity with MI6 he decides to start following him, figuring that Greene may be linked to Mr. White’s organization. So Bond begins following Greene, and ends up in Austria where Greene is attending a glitzy opera. However, Bond quickly notices that Greene and some other people are getting special gift bags, so he steals one and finds a small receiver. Bond pops the receiver into his ear and finds that this opera is unknowingly hosting a conference for the organization, which turns out to be called Quantum. Bond manages to identify several of the members, while causing them to flee from the meeting. However, it turns out that one of the members of Quantum is a high ranking British adviser, and Bond is involved in his bodyguard’s death, which causes some serious problems for M. She’s ordered to reign Bond in, and cancels all of his credit cards. So Bond needs someone he trusts to help him, and the only person he can think of is Rene Mathis, who was cleared of the charges Bond levied against him in Casino Royale. Mathis doesn’t trust him at first, but eventually goes along with it. So the two head to Bolivia, where Greene is hosting a fundraising meeting. Bond is found by an MI6 agent named Strawberry Fields, but he quickly ditches her and begins intimidating Greene at the party when he runs into Camille again. Bond and Camille decide they should work together to bring down Greene, especially because it turns out Camille is a member of the Bolivian secret service. But things get pretty rough immediately. Bond finds that Greene has killed Mathis and framed him for the killing. Bond and Camille escape the Bolivian police, and head out to survey the land that Greene wants to get from General Medrano. They end up getting shot down, but do discover something shocking. The land doesn’t have oil, like everyone assumed, it has water. Greene and his people have managed to redirect most of the natural water in Bolivia to the caverns below this patch in the desert, and they’ll own it once Medrano comes to power.

Bond and Camille return to the hotel Bond was staying in to find that things has gotten worse. Greene has killed Fields, and made it look like Bond’s fault, so M has arrived to personally remove Bond from duty. But Bond won’t give up that easily, so he flees from the hotel and goes to have a meeting with Felix Leiter, who is staying in  town because his boss wants to cozy up to Greene. Leiter tells Bond about a meeting Greene and Medrano will be having in the middle of the Bolivian desert. So Bond and Camille decide to head out to the desert to kill Greene and Medrano, since Medrano was responsible for killing all of Camille’s family. They succeed in finding the bizarre hotel where Greene is having Medrano officially sign the paperwork that will make his coup legal, and give Greene and Quantum the control of Bolivia’s water for decades to come, making them all fabulously wealthy. But after the paperwork is signed Bond and Camille storm the hotel and things start getting crazy. The hotel runs on hydrogen cells, and Bond ends up causing some of them to begin exploding. Camille goes to kill Medrano while Bond fights Greene, but Bond has to abandon Green when he hears Camille need his help. They succeed in killing Medrano, and chase after Greene who is attempting to flee into the desert. Bond gets Greene to tell him everything about Quantum, and then leaves him in the middle of the desert to die. Bond and Camille part ways, agreeing that they’re both too damaged to try anything romantic, and Bond moves on to his final task. Thanks to Greene and some MI6 investigation he’s found the identity of Vesper Lynd’s boyfriend Yusef who pressured her into becoming a mole for Quantum. He tracks down Yusef and finds him preparing to turn another woman. Bond tells the woman what’s going on, and gets Yusef arrested, finally getting a little closure, or a quantum of solace, on Vesper’s death.

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As I said earlier, I’m actually quite fond of Quantum of Solace. It has problems, more than most Bond movies, but I feel like it’s strengths outweigh it’s weaknesses. Daniel Craig, as usual, acts the hell out of this film, and he continues the emotional journey that Bond began in Casino Royale. This film certainly has more violence than Bond movies are usually featuring, but Craig handles the action, the charm, and the romance perfectly, really cementing the fact that he’s the most talented actor to portray Bond yet. And supporting Craig is a very solid cast that kept some of the script issues from sinking the film. Mathieu Amalric, while no Mads Mikkelsen, is pretty great as the most weaselly Bond villain we’ve ever had, and I adore the idea of a slimy millionaire posing as a philanthropist while actually using his connections to commit crimes. Olga Kurylenko is also terrific as Camille, becoming one of the most competent and interesting Bond Girls the series has ever had, while also never getting in a romance with Bond. They were just colleagues, and their friendship helped each other move on from their damaged pasts.

But that’s not to say that the movie is perfect. It has some serious problems, almost all of which stem from the script. Greene is an interesting idea, but he certainly needed to be fleshed out more. Likewise, the whole scheme, while I love it’s simplicity, also feels like it’s a little half-baked. Quantum in general feels rather rushed, and it’s a shame that they couldn’t keep the mystery for another couple movies when they got the SPECTRE rights back. And yet, I thoroughly enjoy this movie. It’s a weird direct sequel to Casino Royale, and finishes the most interesting emotional arc that the franchise has ever had. Bond is devastated by the loss of Vesper, and this whole movie is about him coping with that. He learns to move on from her death, proves to himself that he still has worth and can still be a functioning agent, and most importantly learns the different between solace and vengeance. Throughout the movie M chides Bond for getting revenge on people. He’s too angry and violent, and people keep dying around him. And yet, by the end of the film he realizes that Vesper wouldn’t have wanted him to kill Yusef, she would have wanted him to ensure Yusef never did this to another woman. Which he does. Quantum of Solace is a film that seems destined to be forgotten, and then rediscovered in the future, similar to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby’s performance for years kept people from embracing that film, and it languished as a punch line until a reappraisal convinced people to give it another shot. Likewise, this film’s script woes have given it an ugly reputation, and one that precedes itself. And yet, Quantum of Solace is a fascinating film to revisit. It has some powerful emotional development in it, and also becomes one of the most beautifully shot Bond films in the franchise. It’s clear that before the strike began they focused on the emotional beats, not the plot ones. And when it became Marc Forster’s job to essentially write and direct the film he allowed himself to go hog-wild and create a truly beautiful film. There’s four action setpieces in this film, and they’re all based around the four elements. A car chase through a quarry for earth, a boat chase for water, a plane battle for air, and a fight in an exploding hotel for fire. This is of course not necessary, but it lends an artfulness to the film that you don’t normally see. Hell, even the Chirons telling you what location you’re in have excellent art design and personality, just making the film gorgeous. So if you have strong feelings against Quantum of Solace and feel open-minded, I highly recommend you give it another look, especially soon after Casino Royale. Because I think this film is destined to be reexamined in the future, and you might as well jump on the bandwagon now.

Quantum of Solace was written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, directed by Marc Forster, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, 2008.

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