Bond #18 – Quantum of Solace

We’re moving out of the worst of the Bond movies, but not before taking a look at the 22nd, and most recent, film…

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Daniel Craig

SETUP: Bond has the mysterious Mr. White in custody, but soon learns that White’s organization actually does have people “everywhere.” M’s personal bodyguard turns his gun on the room, and White escapes in the chaos. A righteously ticked M orders Bond to uncover White’s mystery group and discover just what MI6 is up against.

I bet it’s something this guy can shoot.

BUT IN REALITY: Bond turns the mission into a personal vendetta to avenge Vesper Lynd, the lover who betrayed him in Casino Royale. Bond loses control, murdering every lead he comes across and forcing MI6 to cut ties just as his carnage actually gets a result. Bond crosses paths with Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a wealthy environmentalist and high-ranking member of White’s organization, QUANTUM. The group is facilitating a regime change in Bolivia to gain control of a seemingly barren piece of land, which the Americans support because they believe Greene has discovered oil. The truth is worse. Greene has been secretly diverting underground water sources, giving QUANTUM control of over 60% of Bolivia’s drinking water, which he plans to sell back to the people at a huge increase.

Bond tracks Greene and the Bolivian power players to a desert hotel literally made of explosives. He assaults the place, killing the corrupt Bolivians, and capturing Greene for information. Bond releases Greene, knowing that QUANTUM will catch up with him soon.

Bond uses Greene’s intel to find Vesper’s ex-boyfriend, a QUANTUM agent, and delivers him into MI6 custody. Bond drops her necklace into the snow and, supposedly, moves on.

He threw it here because there wasn’t an ocean and a shipwreck handy.

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Dominic Greene has no disfigurement, an intentional choice by director Marc Forster to emphasize how easily QUANTUM blends in with the rest of us. That will not stop me from pointing out Greene’s googly eyes.

Googly.

THE MUSCLE: Greene has a few henchmen and bodyguards, none of them memorable. The closest we get to a real side villain is General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), a deposed Bolivian dictator Greene plans to “re-elect” to get at the country’s water. Medrano has a depraved and violent sexual appetite, and meets his end at the hands of Bond’s leading lady, Camille.

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: There is no femme fatale in Quantum of Solace, but two ladies make their mark on the film. The first is Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), a Bolivian-Russian agent who watched General Medrano kill her family when she was just a little girl. She seeks revenge and will happily use anyone, including Greene, to achieve it. Bond saves her life a number of times, giving her the chance to finally put a bullet in Medrano. Tragically, she feels no better after securing her revenge, giving Bond a glimpse into what awaits him should he let his rage get the better of him again.

Hotness, is the answer.

On the other side, there’s Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), an MI6 office functionary sent to bring Bond in. She’s cold and reluctant, but Bond quickly seduces her and draws her into his adventure, and it doesn’t go well. Her death, drowned in crude oil and displayed on her hotel bed, should have been one of the most memorable moments of the film and maybe even the series, obviously evoking the iconic scene from Goldfinger, but the scene is cut so haphazardly that the moment barely has time to sink in before the characters move on to something else. A wasted opportunity.

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: This film has no Q and hardly any gadgetry to speak of. The only high-tech tool Bond wields is a cell phone that can instantly track any other phone that calls in, whether Bond picks up or not. MI6, on the other hand, has blown their budget turning the office into a holodeck, with insane full-room viewscreens and computer monitors straight from Tony Stark’s basement lab. They’re probably holding out on their field agents because this stuff is just too damn cool to share.

“Sir, our field agents have run out of parchment and quill pens. Shall I beam some over to them?”

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Despite mountains of public evidence about her temperamental behavior, the producers chose Amy Winehouse to write and record the theme song for Quantum of Solace. Only Winehouse and the producers know what happened next, but her song was axed and the honors passed to a limp, unmemorable duet called “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys. Rumors attribute the Winehouse fallout to anything from her issues with drugs, to her public image, and to the always popular “creative differences” (screaming matches.) Winehouse was so furious at the snub that she took to insulting the producers in the press. She threatened to release her single on the same day as the UK film premiere, but this didn’t materialize.

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: When asked what happened with Slate, a suspected QUANTUM contact in Haiti, Bond replies, “Slate was a dead end.” Not a great line, but made better by M’s astonished reaction: “Damn it! He killed him!” I love that he’s been a 00 agent for just a few months, but M already knows how to interpret Bond’s punchline code.

Bond had to bite his lip to keep from mentioning strawberry fondue.

WORTH MENTIONING: With this movie, Jeffrey Wright became the first actor to play CIA agent Felix Leiter in consecutive movies. Wright is my favorite Leiter yet, by the way… The scene in which Bond and Camille jump from an airplane, fall into a sinkhole, and then pull the parachute while underground is an action sequence that was planned for a number of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies but never shot… The unusual title comes from an Ian Fleming short story and refers to the amount of comfort between two partners in order to make a marriage work. In this film, it refers to the amount of comfort Bond receives by finally avenging Vesper (very, very little.)

OVERALL: Quantum of Solace has no space stations. No invisible cars. There are no third nipples or laser beam battles, and you won’t find a little person named Nick Nack no matter how hard you look. And trust me, these are the only reasons you haven’t seen Quantum of Solace in this project until now.

If the movie starred Roger Moore, this character would have been named Supremo Burrito.

There’s been occasional self-loathing in the Bond series ever since the Mad Men 60s ended. The cold war provided a time and a setting where when men like Bond, and Ian Fleming, actually made sense, and the character has been a little lost since those days ended. Every few movies, Bond puts on a fresh tux and a new coat of paint and pretends that the last umpteen years have all been a bad dream and that this film finally delivers Bond into the modern era. Casino Royale accomplished this in impressive style, but Solace seems determined to take a step backward. Rather than forge Bond’s new path, this film wants to make Bond into someone else, specifically Jason Bourne.

Director Marc Forster has called the Bond/Bourne comparison unfair, as the two are wildly different characters. That’s certainly true, but then why hire Dan Bradley, second unit director on two of the Bourne movies, to fill the same role in Solace? The action in this movie, and there’s loads of it, so clearly apes the Bourne series that it’s embarrassing. I say that because for 40 years every spy franchise has wanted to grow up to be Bond, and now here’s the flagship, the gold standard, trying to be someone else in what honestly feels like a desperate attempt to stay relevant. Which, of course, makes no sense at all when you consider Casino Royale had been such a spectacular success.

Worst of all, this film imitates Bourne badly.

The editing feels like it was done on a kitchen counter top with a dull knife. I challenge you to put the DVD into your player and actually make sense of the car chase that opens the film. I’ve seen the movie three times now, and I still get tripped up trying to figure out which car is which. When one of the cars careens off the edge of a cliff, I need the following shot of Bond shifting gears to realize that Bond didn’t just die.

The regrettable action photography could be forgiven if there wasn’t so bloody much of it. There are at least six – six – different action sequences in the first 30 minutes of film, averaging an action scene every five minutes. Since most of this action lasts minutes at a time, and can only be seen by people whose eyes defy physics, that leaves room for about six minutes of meaningful dialogue in a first act saturated with a nauseating, shaky camera work. By the time the movie slows down enough to sustain a plot, the audience’s ability to care is lost in the debris. Thus, there’s no emotion, no stakes, no interest. The film doesn’t pop, it deflates.

This is the only scene where nothing explodes.

Which is a true shame because there are great moments sprinkled throughout the chaos, most of them carrying on themes from the far superior Casino Royale. One scene at a performance of Tosca belongs in the canon of great Bond moments, and Amalric is a smarmy and effective villain. But while Casino Royale succeeded by teasing the slow evolution of Bond, Quantum of Solace leaves that progress trapped in suspended animation. By the end of this movie, Bond is no closer to the character we love than he was at the end of the last movie, leaving Quantum of Solace stuck in neutral, pointlessly revving an engine with nowhere to go.

The James Bond Project

17. ???

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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