James Bond Retrospective: Quantum of Solace

0The first sequel to the Craig continuity is right here, and how is it? In today’s episode of our retrospective we will:

  • Have a look at how a film compensates during production struggle
  • See how the Craig era starts to assimilate more classic Bond imagery
  • Maybe figure out what “Quantum of Solace” actually means? No? Never mind.

That’s right folks, it’s…

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Craig demands in his contract that every movie provides him one scene to exude retired dad energy.

After the critical and commercial success of Casino Royale (2006), there was a renewed life instilled into the franchise. Yet, where was there to go?

The organization that was in charge of setting up Le Chiffre and his clients has become the new big bad organization in town. Taking a page from the classic SPECTRE (man, I’m so glad we’ll never hear of them again!) they’re meant to be everywhere and all powerful. A true antagonistic force for Bond and the whole of MI6 to follow. It’s a good recipe.

If you know your modern era Hollywood history, in 2007 and 2008 there was a writer’s strike involving the Writer’s Guild of America. This effected this film’s script immensely, and we’ll discuss the faults of the film through that understanding.

To put it simply in the introduction before we get to analysis: the writing isn’t bad here, it’s just not really… there.

Let’s look at:

The Plot

If you think M is a badass tactical genius, you haven’t seen her try to work Skype to talk to her grandchildren.

Taking place moments after the ending of Casino Royale, Bond extracts a secret evil organization liaison named Mr. White and takes him to a secure cell to be interrogated. Turns out Mr. White works for an organization called Quantum, and they’re super super skilled. They’re so integrated and powerful that they have moles everywhere. One literally in the cell White’s in to attack Bond and M and allow White to escape.

The mole had a contact in Haiti and M sends Bond to get information. The contact’s name is Edmund Slate, and he’s a hitman hired by an environmentalist millionaire named Dominic Greene (get it? Environmentalist and his name is GREENE. GET IT?!?) to kill his lover Camille Montes.

Bond rescues Camille and finds out Greene is helping an exiled Bolivian, General Medrano. Medrano killed Camille’s parents. Greene wants to help Medrano overthrow the government in Bolivia and help Medrano become the new president, giving Greene a pitiful desert property in exchange. The CIA thinks Greene is trying to get the land for possible oil underneath.

Bond follows Greene to Austria. Bond identifies the members of Quantum because the boneheads decide to conference call during an opera. M revokes Bond’s passports and credit cards afterwards when she thinks an MI6 agent died to Bond. He didn’t.

Bond goes to Italy as a rogue and convinces Mathis from the last movie to join him in Bolivia. Strawberry Fields (Jesus, what a name) tells Bond to return to the UK, but Bond seduces her. Bond goes to a party Greene is holding and rescues Camille once more. Bolivian police pull Bond and Camille over and reveal Mathis in Bond’s trunk. It’s a clear attempt to frame Bond, but when Mathis is actually still alive the police actually kill him. Bond holds Mathis in his arms.

Bond and Camille look at the land Greene is attempting to purchase and their plane is shot down. They go down into a sinkhole, and discover under the desert is a huge reservoir of water. The evil plan is clear: Quantum and Greene want to buy the land to control Bolivia’s water supply.

Bond meets Felix Leiter, who tells Bond Greene and Medrano are going to finalize the agreement in the Atacama Desert, and also tells Bond to watch his back because the CIA wants him dead.

Bond and Camille invade the hotel in the desert and starts killing people left and right. Camille kills Medrano, the hotel is destroyed, Bond captures Greene and interrogates him about Quantum. Bond leaves him stranded in the desert with a can of engine oil, telling him he’ll want to drink it but it’s a really bad idea.

Bond avenges Vesper’s death by finding her lover (who is a member of Quantum and seduces women) and Bond saves his new victim by telling her the truth. MI6 arrests the man and M asks Bond to return, they need him.

Bond says he never left. He drops Vesper’s necklace in the snow.

A Closer Look

This scene did wonders for my Felix Leiter/James Bond fan fiction.

There’s not a lot to say here. The writer’s strike isn’t necessarily visible in actual line competence, I think dialogue here is strong enough. Credit to the uncredited Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster for the rewrites here, everyone else actually credited left during production for the sake of the strike. This goes to show how big budget action movies actually work. They don’t start with an amazing script and work from there. They commit to preproduction ideas and key concepts and a skeleton script and often work on the script during the film. That process allows for some versatility and flexibility to the demanding production such films demand, but here that method was the film’s undoing.

According to a study by the University of Otalgo in New Zealand, this is the most violent Bond film. There are 250 acts of violence within the film. This probably isn’t due to a general spirit for the film as it just generally shows the actual composition of the film. There’s just way more action padding. You don’t need guild members to write a script if the script is storyboards for an action sequence.

Strawberry Fields’ death on the bed feels like an explicit reference to Goldfinger (1964). Being on a bed covered in something evokes that imagery, only instead of gold it’s oil here. We saw women covered in oil as imagery for the intro to The World is Not Enough (1999). This to me is one of the better ways the Craig era tries to approach Bond as a legacy. At worst, it’s resurrecting old characters and plots, but stuff like this is merely meant to remind us of previous moments yet give their own unique spin to them.

What’s Good?

Yep, Harbour always looked great with a stache.

A 106 minute run-time makes this the shortest Bond film, and that’s actually a very beautiful thing. Bond always suffers from a pacing problem, They’re almost always over two hours and there’s plenty to always be cut from every film. They’re almost never lean. This film’s leanness, in any other scenario, would make it a detriment, but when you’re like me and you’re watching every Bond film in order, the length is very much appreciated.

I like how scummy the CIA is. The CIA hadn’t had a lot of characterization in prior Bond films, but now we’ve got Jeffrey Wright returning as Felix Leiter and David Harbour (back before Stranger Things made his name big) as Gregg Beam representing an MI6 alternative that’s willing to morally compromise and get rid of the good guys for the sake of their own gain. Felix doesn’t sell Bond out, thankfully. It’s still a very welcome characterization.

Greene is a good villain when he involves the CIA and MI6. The environmental commentary isn’t very strong, but sometimes they’re totally hypocritical philanthropists just using the image of environmentalism to promote their agenda. He’s not a bad character in concept.

Quantum likewise is not a terrible organization. In fact, I quite like Quantum. Quantum should have been Craig’s big bad organization throughout his entire run. This being the only Quantum film is definitely disappointing.

The action scenes are well done. You can argue there are some major editing issues, a lot of the action scenes are chases and the camera and timing do not seek to establish strong continuity or pacing, which are essential to editing. Yet, I still find it good enough to praise here. The action utilizes shock to propel the scene forward. Whether it’s Mathis in the trunk or Bond being apprehended by CIA or MI6, or there being a mole in the same room, the scenes are meant to constantly disorient you. Perhaps the editing is meant to do that as well.

That isn’t the best feeling to convey for a big Bond film, but I think what compels me to defend this film and make people see it isn’t that bad is because of how it stands out in the Bond catalog yet remains so essentially Bond. There’s no dramatic reinvention here, in fact this might be the only typical Bond adventure Craig actually has. Instead, the difference lies in the gears that cause the grand scheme to turn, and it offers the possibility that even within the Bond formula and so many years later you can find distinctive qualities to a film.

What’s Bad?

Thank goodness you kept the jacket.

Greene is a bad villain in every other way. He’s just weak. His personality is nonexistent and the other bad guys aren’t very better. The General might have the best dynamic here, playing off of Camille and giving her an adversity to overcome and a vengeance story much like the girl in For Your Eyes Only (1981).

Likewise, the Bond girls are much, much weaker than last film’s fantastic Vesper. Camille is essentially given a tragic backstory, and a moment of triumph at the end, but she’s still a damsel in distress with paper-thin characterization. Strawberry Fields also feels lacking. There’s usually a reason why most of the women that die in the Bond films are either out-and-out villains or well-meaning women tangled with bad guys: if the film kills someone like Fields casually, the audience is left to blame the main character. There’s no karma coming to Fields, she’s unsuspecting. Perhaps this also lends to the disorienting feeling of the film, perhaps this is a way to understand how reckless Bond really is. Either way, I don’t think it’s good enough. The best thing I can say is Bond doesn’t sleep with Camille. Wow, what a film.

The theme song to this film is “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys. The introduction involves a stylized Bond walking through the desert in silhouettes as bullets fly and women’s figures emerge from the dunes. The song itself also tries to convey the Chris Cornell “You Know My Name” song by emphasizing how expendable Bond is. Bond is still fragile, and this song is also kind of commenting on Bond’s relationships. Falling in love? Keeping friends? They’re just another way to die.

But the song just isn’t good. It’s dissonant. The main verses are Jack and Alicia speaking with only the slightest touch of melody. The best thing I can say about the song is it has evocative imagery. I quite like the lyrics, but it’s just not pleasant to listen to.

Looking Forward

Bond tries to be high and mighty, but look at him. Ever hear of a shower?

This film was largely a disappointment for everyone. It’s not really bad, but Casino Royale set such a high bar. Nobody was really sure if that film was a fluke or if Quantum was just another case of a mediocre Bond. They gave directing duties to Sam Mendes and cinematography to the amazing Roger Deakins to make Skyfall (2012). If Casino Royale was a character study of Bond, Skyfall was a franchise study. It’s the last great Bond film so far, so I’m excited to talk about. Until then.

What I Drank

This Dictator was so upset a millionaire tried to make money from him after his organization murdered the last dictator. I don’t know what you were expecting dude.

The iconic drink Bond drinks for this film is actually just a variation of the Vesper Martini he drank in the last film. What’s weird about it is he specifies a white wine where the recipe usually calls for Lillet Blanc. If you want to drink that, go ahead. I’m not.

Instead, I looked up cocktails that involve water for this film. It’s such a weird concept and the film deals a lot with water, I thought it appropriate.

It was hard to find one I actually liked. Sure, I could use tonic or carbonated water recipes, but that’s like cheating. I ended up settling with the American Grog. Put 1 1/2 ounces of rum, 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice all into a coffee mug, then you pour in hot water. Stir, and you’ve got yourself something slightly different to a hot toddy. Cheers.

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