For the love of entertainment
Daniel Craig made quite a splash with his first outing as James Bond in Casino Royale. Expectations for his second go-round were quite high, especially given that its plot was set up at the conclusion of Royale, making this the first-ever direct sequel in the Bond franchise.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned. Production was plagued with problems, including that the script was completed just two hours before a writer’s strike hit Hollywood, meaning that rewrites were largely impossible except for what director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig came up with on set. There were many accidents during filming, causing production to become reporters to hungrily circle for any scandals. A stuntman was seriously injured filming a chase sequence, Daniel Craig sliced the tip off of one of his fingers, a fire burned down an outdoor set, and an engineer accidentally totaled a car by driving it into Lake Garda while setting up a shot. The budget, already high even for a Bond film, went out of control when many action scenes on location took longer than anticipated to shoot. Clearly, all was not well during filming of Quantum of Solace, and it shows in the final product.
We open with a context-free car chase along windy Italian roads. Casino Royale‘s action was smooth and elegant, but this is jarring and choppy–the first signifier that this is going to be a very different kind of movie. Bond eludes the men chasing him and reveals that Mr. White, the man he had been going to see at the end of Royale, has been in the trunk the whole time.
M and Bond question Mr. White about the mysterious organization he works for, but all they get from him is that his organization has people everywhere before one of their men starts shooting the place up. M is shaken because the traitor had been her bodyguard for five years. White vanishes during the confusion. Clearly, this organization is a much larger beast than they had been prepared for.
Things begin to get hopelessly convoluted when Bond follows a clue to Haiti, where he kills the suspect in a fight and walks away with his briefcase. Questioning suspects is for wimps. He gets picked up by a mysterious woman who mistakes Bond for the man he just killed, but when they open the briefcase it turns out that she was being set up to be murdered. She tries to kill Bond, he escapes, then follows her to a warehouse where we find out her name is Camille Montes. She’s been sleeping with Dominic Greene, one of the mysterious organization’s big bosses, in order to get close to General Medrano, a Bolivian dictator Greene is helping get back into power. Greene is not too happy that she’s still alive, so he hands her over to Medrano so he can dispatch her himself.
Confused yet? Get ready. Camille attempts to kill Medrano but is interrupted by Bond, who rescues her and causes a huge boat chase. Then he dumps her on a dock. Yup, he leaves a beautiful woman unconscious and helpless on a dock in Haiti because what could go wrong?
Bond somehow manages to track Greene to an offshore production of Tosca because where else would the super-rich go to see opera than on a glorified barge? Turns out Greene’s super secret organization is using the opera as a secret meeting place, because surely no one would notice nearly fifty people seemingly talking to themselves about how to control natural resources in the middle of an opera, right? It’s not like talking during an opera is frowned upon or anything.
Bond and Camille eventually take down the bad guys and go their separate ways. Turns out the organization Green works for is called Quantum, but by now even the producers don’t care enough to flesh that out. From there, Bond tracks down Yusef, Vesper Lynd‘s old boyfriend (and secret Quantum agent), who manipulated her into betraying her country and Bond. He hands Yusef over to M and gets back in her good graces. He also symbolically drops Vesper’s old necklace in the snow, signifying that he’s ready to let go and move on.
Hoo boy, is this a disappointment. Casino Royale was everything the Bond franchise needed to save itself, and here we have yet another overly convoluted, self-serious entry in the series. It lapses back into some of the franchise’s worst excesses (for goodness’ sake, they even have dancing naked ladies in the opening credits again). To be fair, though, it doesn’t go all the way back to the depths that The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day plumbed.
The worst thing about Quantum of Solace is how stuck up its own ass it is. It takes itself far too seriously and isn’t anywhere near good enough to pull off such reckless confidence. Even the action sequences are poorly staged. They’re so choppy that it’s difficult to follow exactly what is going on. And action sequences are the franchise’s bread and butter, so when that fails it really says something.
Quantum is an obvious ploy to get back to a secret organization on SPECTRE levels, but it pales in every comparison. At this point in time SPECTRE was still off limits for legal reasons, so producers decided to start over from scratch. It’s just that Quantum fundamentally isn’t interesting. And Dominic Greene is no Blofeld. He isn’t even a Le Chiffre. Now that the legal issues have been sorted out and SPECTRE is back on the table, it appears that Spectre is going to use Quantum as a set up for Blofeld’s grand return, but it’s rather telling that until that development played out they dropped Quantum completely in Skyfall. One can only hope that they handle SPECTRE better than this mess. Given that the creative team behind Skyfall is handling it, I’m allowing myself to be optimistic.
In better news, for the first time the complicated relationship between M and Bond begins to get fleshed out. That will have some serious payoff in Skyfall. And it makes perfect sense. When you get down to it, Bond’s relationship with M (in this incarnation) is the most significant relationship he has with a woman. It was perhaps the only good instinct director Marc Forster brought to the series.
Notable Moments: For the first time in the Bond franchise, we have a movie that is a direct sequel. Previous movies had followed the same basic chronology, but didn’t necessarily flow from one to the next. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wright became only the second actor in history to play Felix Leiter more than once, and the first to do it in consecutive films. Quantum of Solace is the shortest film in the Eon series so far, which is funny because it follows Casino Royale, which was the longest. For the first time, the iconic gun barrel sequence does not take place at the film’s opening. It instead plays out just before the end credits roll. We also get to meet M’s associate Tanner for the first time. He returns in Skyfall and Spectre. And finally, Camille is the first main Bond girl not to sleep with 007. Feminism!
Gadgets: Not a one. Producers remain loyal to the gadget-free decree they established in Casino Royale. For now.
Ally: The CIA’s Felix Leiter is back in action, and this time he has more to do. But this isn’t the Leiter we know, who acts as Bond’s personal assistant during his adventures. This is a Leiter who has been hopelessly tied down in the CIA’s bureaucratic wasteland. In yet another overly convoluted plotline, the CIA is trying to get close to Greene in order to take him down–even if that means helping Medrano get back into power in Bolivia. Also framing James Bond so MI6 will try to bring him back in and get him off the case. Leiter tells Bond how to get to the final showdown, but otherwise he proves to be a pretty useless ally indeed. At the film’s end, we hear that Leiter was promoted within the CIA, but he’s yet to return for any payoff on that development. We also get the return of Rene Mathis, who was cleared of wrongdoing in the events of Casino Royale and helps 007 stay on the trail when M restricts Bond’s movements. Mathis gets Bond situated in Bolivia just in time to get unceremoniously killed off, using his dying moments to implore Bond to forgive Vesper.
Bond Girl: In a storyline that mimics Bond’s own, Camille Montes is out for vengeance. Her family was brutally killed in front of her by General Medrano when she was a small child. Revenge has always been her motivation. She did a brief stint with Bolivian secret service before splitting to work her way to a meeting with Medrano. For overly complicated reasons we probably shouldn’t question, it seems the best way to do that was to leave Bolivia altogether, seduce the man in charge of Quantum, and conveniently be on hand when Quantum decides to help Medrano stage a coup to get back in power (nevermind how she could possibly know such a deal would be on Quantum’s agenda). It’s just silly. But to Olga Kurylenko‘s credit, her Bond girl is one of the few bright-ish spots in this movie. Kurylenko is no Eva Green, but then so few actresses are. Kurylenko does exactly what the script asks her to do, and she does it well. If nothing else, Camille gets top marks for not being reduced to a sex object–in fact she doesn’t sleep with Bond at all (which should confound those people who claim that sleeping with 007 is a requirement to fit the bill of Bond girl). It’s so refreshing to have a Bond girl who plays out her entire storyline without getting distracted by James Bond’s penis. She and Bond have a more personal connection instead. He helps her get revenge on Medrano. She sets him free by realizing that getting revenge didn’t make her any happier or fill the void, helping him get his life and career back on track by handing Yusef over to MI6 instead of killing him. She helps him finally let go of his rage and grief over Vesper. There’s respect between Bond and Camille, which is something not every Bond girl is afforded.
Supporting Bond Girl: Oh dear. I cannot sigh hard enough. We were supposed to be better than this. When Bond defies M’s orders to return to home base, she inexplicably sends a frivolous, totally clueless agent named Strawberry Fields, of all things. They never actually reveal her first name in the script, but still. Bond immediately establishes how utterly useless she is by defying every order she half-heartedly gives, making her his sex slave, and getting her killed. Even her death isn’t original. It’s basically a twist on Jill Masterson’s infamous fate in Goldfinger, except that instead of getting smothered by gold paint, Fields gets drowned in oil. The careless way Bond seduced Fields and allowed her to be killed does allow M to seethe with righteous indignation–a moment Judi Dench sinks her teeth into with relish, but that doesn’t make this disappointment any easier to swallow. Fields was intended to be a throwback to Bond girls from the 60s, and she certainly is in that she is only there to sleep with Bond and be disposed of. The problem is that Forster cites Pussy Galore as one of their inspirations for the character, and that just does not compute at all. Gemma Arterton is no Honor Blackman. Let it be known.
Villain: It should feel refreshing to have a villain free of tics, deformities, and eccentricities. Should, but doesn’t. In the end, Dominic Greene is essentially a businessman. That was a conscious decision on Marc Forster’s part; he thought it would make Greene scarier. Instead, it just makes him seem ho-hum. Greene doesn’t hum with danger or menace like a Bond villain should–like any villain should. He’s supposed to be the face of Quantum and he just seems like a petulant, ruthless businessman. That’s all. Mathieu Amalric does what he can with these restrictions, I suppose, but it doesn’t come together into anything memorable at all.
Henchman: Greene has some weird guy named Elvis with a wig that looks like Jim Carrey’s haircut in Dumb and Dumber (I wish I were kidding), but he’s a waste of time and space. Let’s give it to General Medrano instead. Except that he isn’t much better. Having Medrano around gives us a secondary villain the Bond girl can fixate on while 007 chases down Quantum, but he’s basically a pawn put in place by Quantum. And he doesn’t even realize he’s been played until they extort money from him with their water rights. Yawn. The Bond series had done a ‘Bond girl out for revenge’ storyline much better in For Your Eyes Only, but in that film Melina Havelock was after the main villain. Here, producers wanted someone for both Bond and Camille to fight in the end. It doesn’t work because we never get to know anything about Medrano beyond his character description, making a revenge storyline inherently not compelling.
Theme Song: I actually like “Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys’ Bond theme. It succeeds exactly where Casino Royale‘s “You Know My Name” failed: it’s a rock song truly worthy of the title ‘Bond theme.’ It has a neat hook, a propulsive beat, and sharp vocals from White and Keys. It has the pomp and circumstance, if you will. By no means is it a great Bond theme, but it’s certainly a marked improvement and a solid entry. I do always wonder what might have been, though. Producers initially hired Amy Winehouse to perform the Bond theme for Quantum, but she was in a very bad place with her drug addiction. They went so far as to fly her away from England to set up a remote studio, trying to remove her from any bad influences. In the end Winehouse couldn’t meet the obligations and backed out. She died in 2011 at the age of 27. If you listen to “Love is a Losing Game,” you know that Winehouse had a voice tailor-made for a Bond theme that was a classic throwback to the halcyon days of Shirley Bassey. I would love to have been able to hear what she might have come up with. I actually imagine it would have sounded a lot like Adele’s theme for Skyfall in Bond’s next outing.
It has to be said, though, that it is incredibly disappointing to see the opening credits revert to the old ‘naked ladies dancing in silhouette while James Bond points his gun at them’ trope. We’re supposed to be better than that by now.
Iconic Moment: There really isn’t much of one. Which tells you all you need to know.
Grades: Movie: 2/5; Bond Girl: 4/5; Supporting Bond Girl: 2/5; Villain: 2.5/5; Henchman: 2/5; Theme Song: 4/5
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