Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace (or QoS as I will henceforth refer to it) is the 22nd installment of (far and away) the most lucrative film franchise in the history of cinema. Raking in a total of $4,915,824,8121 (yes, that’s four BILLION) since 1962’s Dr. No was released, each film averages around the $200,000,0001 mark. So, there was little doubt that this chapter in OO7’s illustrious history of box-office domination would disappoint financially; critical success however, is another story.
Bond movies from around 1965’s Thunderball onwards have been fairly critic-proof. Even as the obsessive, psychotic and all-around nit-picky Bond freakshow that is me, I cannot deny that the films’ ability to defy opinion has often baffled. Take 1979’s Moonraker – possibly the most intelligence-insulting plot to ever be spewed from an audience-hating-writer’s odious pen. Yet until 1992’s Goldeneye, it was the highest grossing Bond film world-wide. What the hell do critic’s know anyway, huh? I would be remiss to not admit to often popping in my Moonraker DVD just to watch the eye-popping opening (with Bond and Jaws battling at 5,000 ft in free-fall) or Shirley Bassey’s wonderful take on John Barry’s theme (originally written for Johnny Mathis).
Still, as that obsessive, psychotic and all-around nit-picky Bond freakshow, I have certain things that I expect as a Bond fan – I’m happy to report that QoS delivered on most of them, but the ones that it fumbled (or just plain didn’t bother with) were major. Having said that, QoS is a proud achievement in the Bond franchise and ranks up at least in my personal Top Ten (but that is a whole other post…).

A more in-depth look…

SPOILERS AHOY

First off – at little background of the nerdicious minutea variety…

Regardless of your opinion of the movie, QoS will go down in history (at least Bond history) as being the (kinda) first (sorta) sequel in the franchise. From Russia With Love (1963) dealt with the events of Dr. No (SPECTRE was royally PO’d at OO7 for vanquishing their operative, Dr. No and set out to kill him, but obviously not before humiliating him with a sex scandal – his being a spy, as in NOT a public figure, notwithstanding) and 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever very loosely touched on the events of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Bond’s wife is killed in the final moments of OHMSS and DAF opens with Bond searching for the killer, Blofeld. Upon a recent review of the first twenty minutes of DAF, however, I am now more inclined to believe that the audience is being subtly asked to ignore the events of OHMSS completely, and instead assume that Bond is simply enraged over Blofeld’s escape in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, not the death of his wife). In any event, QoS is the first Bond film which takes place moments (some sources say an hour) after the end of Casino Royale. The former film concludes with Eva Greene’s Vesper Lynd committing suicide rather than facing her betrayal of OO7 (as a response to blackmail involving an unseen boyfriend) and Bond’s subsequent tracking of Mr. White, a mysterious figure who supposedly orchestrated the entire operation. These plot points hold (somewhat loosely) with Ian Fleming’s original novel, save the use of SMERSH (replaced by Quantum in QoS) and the fact that Vesper Lynd was working for SMERSH the entire time. QoS opens with Bond transporting Mr. White (trussed in the boot of his Aston Martin) as he is pursued by a bevy of not-so-inept guards trying to stop him. It is revealed that Mr. White works for Quantum, a world-wide consortium of terrorists and other nefarious criminals – not unlike SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) from the earlier Bond films. Unsurprisingly, Quantum was created as a replacement of sorts for SPECTRE, to which EON no longer holds the rights to2, even replacing the SPECTRE octopus ring with a Quantum “Q” lapel pin.

The plot follows his investigation into Quantum and the slow blossoming plans of the latest uncovered member, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). In the process, he meets Greene’s lover, Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), who is on a vengeful mission of her own: attempting to exact justice against a corrupt and deplorable despot who mercilessly killed her parents. When Greene uncovers her plot, he orders her killed.  Like a well-oiled Swiss watch, OO7 crashes into the scene, saving Camille. With her help, they uncover what appears to be a scheme involving oil, but turns out to be a plan to hold Bolivians hostage for water (which Greene is hoarding, having dammed up the local water supply). Bond is wracked with pain over the death of Vesper and it affects most of his decisions – from his dealings with an increasingly irate M (Judi Dench) to his seeming inability to let contacts get information out before he ruthlessly liquidates them. Everything comes to a head in the middle of the desert, with Bond and Camille foiling the plans of Greene, Camille getting her revenge and Bond, taking the high road as only he can: allowing Greene to live (albeit in the middle of the desert with only a can of motor oil for refreshment).

The film itself deserves credit for allowing viewers to see more layers to the character of James Bond, but it comes at the expense of the rest of the characters in the film. Kurylenko’s character is a prime example: a Bond girl created very much in the vein of Melina Havelocke from For Your Eyes Only, however the only explanation of her need for revenge is a single expository scene with Bond and a few throwaway lines from Greene. Giving the character that depth doesn’t take long, either – Melina’s entire need for revenge was perfectly captured in a 2 minute scene in which her parents are brutally assassinated before her eyes. The audience is also never granted a single glimpse into why Greene’s henchman, Elvis, looks or acts the way he does – he’s just there, which in a Bond movie doesn’t really fly unless his tick is outlandish (steel teeth, a mechanical arm, extreme strength, etc).
When director Marc Forster was asked about his ideas for QoS, one thing he said several times was that Casino Royale was too long and he wanted his movie to be “tight and fast […] like a bullet”3 This “need for speed” on the part of the director is at the heart of my relatively few complaints about QoS. I love a frantically edited action sequence and they occur with abundance in QoS, but I also love the well-crafted scenes that give background to characters and make you care about them.

In addition, many of the set pieces on QoS have a distinct air of “been there, done that” to them: the opening car chase was reminiscent of the Lotus chase in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me; jumping docks and boats in Haiti looked very similar to a motorbike chase in 1983’s (non-EON) Never Say Never Again; the boat chase had shades of the spectacular opening of 1999’s The World Is Not Enough; Bond is ambushed in a hotel room the exact same way in OHMSS (this concept is hardly original, but even the editing of the ensuing fight echoed the OHMSS sequence); the airplane scene was very similar to a bit from 1995’s Tomorrow Never Dies as well as being forced to jump without a parachute, which occurred in 1979’s Moonraker; in A View To A Kill (1985), the movie’s climax has Bond battle the ax-weilding arch-villian, very similar to the ending of QoS.  The death of agent Strawberry Fields is also something we’ve seen before, but clearly being an homage to Goldfinger, it defies complaint.  Thankfully, Forster’s pacing of the film doesn’t really allow the audience too much time to contemplate these parallels.  Moreover, I knew every single one that popped up in the film’s hour and forty-five minute running time (for those keeping track, QoS will also go down in history as the shortest Bond film to-date) but didn’t much care in the end.
Although Casino Royale was a reboot to the franchise and QoS its sequel, the lack of Moneypenny and Q for two films in a row is completely unacceptable. They are as important to the world of Bond as M and to neglect them for more than one movie (Q himself was missing from Dr. No and 1973’s Live and Let Die) is a bit ludicrous, especially considering the ease with which a good writer can include them (Miss Moneypenny in Diamonds Are Forever, for example; or Q in License to Kill). One final complaint – the gun barrel sequence: stop it, just please…stop it. Put it at the beginning and call it a day. Its appearance in QoS is laughably pointless and completely out of context – to place it at the end of the film is idiotic. Period.

For all of the bad things in QoS, there are some great things that definitely outweigh them. The title song (Another Way to Die) by Jack White of The White Stripes and Alicia Keys is stellar, as is the title sequence that accompanies it. Since Maurice Binder’s death, Daniel Kleinman has taken over the task of creating the Bond titles. Kleinman did a respectable job, but the titles never really quite felt as sexy as Binder’s simplistic versions. Thankfully, the producers hired company MK12 to do the titles for QoS and they returned to the unabashed use of dancing, naked female silhouettes, returning to the sensuality of the originals.

The action in the film is spectacular. The opening car chase contains some jaw dropping work and the rest of the film maintains that level of excitement: foot chases across roofs, crashing through glass ceilings, an airplane stalling in mid-flight, a boat chase across the hulls of other boats, etc.  QoS did indeed deliver on the action aspect of the Bond formula in spades.
QoS’s plot was also fairly original. “Fairly” because with Bond movies, you expect certain plot elements and although surprises are welcome, the viewing public at large seems to shy away from them in droves (ie, OHMSS and LTK). Holding an innocent people hostage for a base resource is clever enough, but a small mountain-top village in Bolivia is hardly “worldly.” Still, the premise was solid.

The relationship between M and Bond reaches new depths in this film. Always an antagonistic but respectful one, Judi Dench admonishing OO7 as she’s removing her make-up and applying cold cream adds a layer of realism to the head of MI-6. Realism that has been unmatched since the charming scene in OHMSS when Bond visits Admiral Messervy (that’s Bernard Lee’s M’s real name for the laymen out there) at home as he engages in the pastime of lepidoperty (that’s butterfly collecting for the laymen out there). It is a bit of a shame that Craig’s Bond is never given the opportunity to really display the snobbish “British-ness” that Connery & Moore brought to the role, a very Ian Fleming touch, straight out of his original creation. Craig is a great instigator of violence, which is also something Fleming gave Bond, but a little moment here and there to appreciate the benefits of being on Her Majesty’s payroll would be nice.  It is an intrinsic quality of the previous Bonds that Craig is still a bit lacking in (again, a little more time spent on developing character would have probably solved this).

Finally, the creation of Quantum, an obvious replacement for SPECTRE, was the real highlight of this film.  It is truly unfortunate that EON lots the rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld in the settlement with Kevin McClory2, but Quantum is at least a step in the right direction. The great thing about SPECTRE as a group of antagonists is that it at it’s simplest it seemed like an organization that would challenge Bond. Successful Bond movies have one thing in common – although the audience knows that OO7 will be alive as the end credits roll, you have to convince them that he won’t be (or at least that he might not be). SPECTRE filled that bill well, if for no other reason that you knew that Bond as an individual couldn’t take them all on at once. Blofeld as a character was especially effective in this regard as Bond rarely, if ever, even got close enough to smack him, let alone kill the guy.

In the end, a worthy addition to the Bond franchise.  As I mentioned earlier, definitely in my Top Ten.  Daniel Craig is the most believable Bond since Connery, but this entire debate of “Who’s the Best Bond” does my head in.  When people ask me, I always say that I like them all for various reasons.  When a new one comes along, the script they’re given is ALWAYS and WITHOUT EXCEPTION tailored to their demeanor and character as people.  Connery could never have been in OHMSS, just like Roger Moore could never have done Goldfinger and neither Connery, nor Lazenby, nor Moore could have been in LTK.  They’re all good for different reasons, just like the Bond movies themselves are all immensely watchable, but some are better than others.

Good Bond film.


1James Bond – Box Office History

2Eon lost the rights to SPECTRE (and it’s leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld) when Kevin McClory filed suit requesting an injunction against the production company, claiming that he and Ian Fleming jointly created James Bond when writing the script for the then first Bond film, Thunderball, in the 1950s. The script and project was abandoned, but Fleming heavily based his novel Thunderball on the aborted script, claiming sole creative credit. A settlement was reached that gave McClory the rights to Thunderball alone, prompting Broccoli and Saltzman to take him on as a producer for their film version of Thunderball.
When Eon put The Spy Who Loved Me into production in 1975, an advanced script hit McClory’s desk and revealed the plot to involve a resurrection of SPECTRE and Blofeld (although SPECTRE was usurped by a more resourceful criminal organization in the script). McClory filed another injunction, delaying production until 1977. The result of that court case was the granting of rights to the plot elements of Thunderball to McClory. Save those appearing in other Bond novels (Bond and his sphere of orbiting characters: M, Q, Moneypenny, etc.) while SPECTRE, it’s revolving characters (Blofeld, any of the various assassins) and their myriad of schemes were creatively controlled by McClory. In the end, Eon provided an amusing slap in the face to McClory, ignominiously killing off an unnamed, bald, wheelchair-bound, neck-brace-wearing, Persian-cat-stroking man in a Mao-suit in the opening moments of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only – their way of saying they didn’t need Blofeld or SPECTRE to be successful.
McClory managed to gather funds for a remake of Thunderball entitled Never Say Never Again in 1983, even coaxing Sean Connery back into the role. Released opposite Roger Moore’s Octopussy in 1983 and touted as “The Battle of the Bonds,” the viewing public made their opinion of who the better Bond was quite clear:
Octopussy – $27.5 million budget – $187.5 million world-wide gross
Never Say Never Again – $36 million budget – $160 million world-wide gross

3Alistair Harkness (2008-10-30). “A Quantum leap”, The Scotsman. Retrieved on 30 October 2008.

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~ by seangstm on November 26, 2008.

5 Responses to “Quantum of Solace”

  1. Forgot to mention, the movie has the best logo since Octopussy

    One other thing – the title cards constantly indicating where the story was moving were annoying as hell. They’ve never been necessary before and I found them insulting most of the time in QoS.

  2. I think the reaffirmation of Bond’s nemesis as global terrorist group satisfies a lot of people’s need to believe in the Illuminati.

    And being a graphic designer, I loved the title cards. Best fonts ever!

  3. I thought the title cards undoubtedly looked cool, but as a cinematic device, they were entirely patronizing.

    You have a scene where Bond talks about a need to go to Haiti. Cut to a scene on a tropical beach…

    …wait…are we in Hawaii? OH!! No, we’re in Haiti – the title says so. Thanks for the hand-holding.

    There’s a reason this was the first Bond movie to use them so extensively – they’ve never been necessary (and still aren’t).

    The illuminati thing is very true.

  4. Ok – I’ve realized why the title cards are so infuriating for me.

    Forster claims he thought Casino Royale was too slow and he wanted a quicker movie, but then turns around and effectively tells the audience that “they can’t handle his jelly” by babysitting them through the location changes. Not cool.

  5. I agree that audiences should not be spoon fed a movie’s story but these days with cell phone distractions, chatty-loud, stupid people and dropping popcorn down your front, it might be a necessary evil.

    I liked it because of it’s retro feel. Not just the use of location didactic fonts, mind you, but I saw it as a nod to old serials. Consider it a “new element” to the Bond Franchise.

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