The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – Quantum of Solace
DANIEL Craig announced his tenure with an emphatic bang – could the success be repeated in the immediate follow-up, the first direct sequel in the Bond series? Truan and Daniel find out.
Truan Evans: Well, it’s quite a nice change to be thinking positive for once and, all in all, there’s few entries in the Bond canon I feel more positive about. Continuing on from an excellent first rebooting entry in Casino Royale with The Quadrant of Solstice (08) Daniel Craig ramps up the physicality another notch for an adrenaline-infused tour de force.
The chase scenes are palpably exhilarating, the fight scenes are sparing but excellently choreographed and executed; viz. the knife fight in Port-au-Prince or the pandemonium at the Tosca shootout. But it’s more than just the sum of some great action sequences; for once, here is Bond film, A Bond film? Which actually goes in some dark and almost-probing places.
Which is why it surprises me that The Quiescence of Loris did not succeed critically as much as its illustrious predecessor. Critics and audiences seem to have struggled to comprehend much of the plot, since it jumps around sporadically, destinations and targets can be vague. Despite an apparent link between Vesper’s murder and primary antagonist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), it’s not really clear what Bond’s goal in pursuing him is.
This is, I grant, a pretty fair complaint; the film does leapfrog about South America, the Caribbean and Mediterranean; it’s seldom clear just when and where Bond is, and what indeed his aim is, if any at all. That being said I think it’s actually pretty impressive that a Bond movie, of all things, can have a plot which is multi-layered enough to befuddle much of its audience.
The other complaint of critics seems to have been a perceived humourlessness and lack of charisma typified by Craig throughout the film and the general dour vibe. But then, I have to ask, does anybody really want to return to the cheesy, pun-ridden days of Brosnan or the old-schoolboy yarns of Moore? Yes, it’s a bit grim, but that’s what makes it different, and that’s what makes it that much more engaging.
Yes, the name does sound very silly and more than a tad pretentious to anyone saying it, but when you stop to think about it, it does make sense and suit the film rather well: one of the biggest themes in the film is revenge and the all-consuming and violent drive this can become to characters as driven and impulsive as Bond and his assailant-cum-accomplice-in-carnage Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko).
Quantum is, of course, also the name of the secretive organisation planning to buy up all the land containing 60% of South America’s water reserves from a portfolio of governments and despots, including Montes’ nemesis: brutal Bolivian military dictator, General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio). Yet, this implied necessary, but unquantifiable, debt of violence ultimately seems to render a similarly uncertain degree of actual solace for both Bond and Montes, and the film ultimately ends on something of a resolutely irresolute note. At least it wasn’t called Octopussy, because, fuck me, that was a thing.
The Quadreme of Dorris isn’t a perfectly structured movie by any means, but for a Bond movie, it covers some pretty new and interesting turf and in my book, deserves more credit than it gets. It has many of the classic ingredients: inter and intra-organisational squabbling, gorgeous location shots and a glamorous bond girl, Agent Just (absolutely not Strawberry) Fields (Gemma Arterton) there’s even strong visual call-backs to old titles… see above.
But its villains are more like the grimdark real-world nasties of modern military dictators and cartel leaders than the devious monocled villains of yore some viewers might be more comfortable with. The sort that tends to drown people in crude oil rather than paint them gold and wait for the skin suffocation to kick in [much as I love Goldfinger]… And, rather than bandy wry quips and quaff martinis, this Bond will sooner kick the shit out of shit. Which is awesome, but more importantly, this is a Bond whose actions have actual consequences.
Daniel Abbott: “I don’t know what it means,” Joe Cornish immortally intoned. Neither do I, because Quantum of Solace is as incoherent, floundering and thoroughly rubbish as its title would suggest. Needlessly arty, schizophrenically edited and burdened with a labyrinthine plot, its stakes minuscule, the film is a character study where the character was already fully formed by the conclusion of its predecessor. What we’re left with is vague brooding on a rushed, writer-strike-disrupted schedule that acts more as a coda to Casino Royale than its own distinct work.
And it’s such a shame. Royale left us off with a Bond that had found himself, with Monty Norman’s classic theme serving as a final, triumphant blast to bring in the credits. It promised a revolution, perhaps even one that reconciled the brash, bombastic Bond of yore with Daniel Craig’s steelier interpretation (something that even Dalton couldn’t quite achieve). What we got was mere regression, intent on re-establishing the same groundwork that Royale laid with none of Martin Campbell’s panache or clarity.
Marc Forster has since proved his competence with blockbuster action films in World War Z, but as of 2008 he hadn’t seemed to have mastered the craft. His direction is muddled, crippled by shaky-cam framing and second-long shots that blur the action into a single nebulous blob of fists and flashes of faces. The editing during the action sequences is unbearable at times, never allowing the shot to linger, seemingly determined to nauseate the audience. I understand the effect is designed to disorient, but when we’re unable to tell who is hitting who at any given time, it’s rather problematic.
Perhaps more problematic still is why people are hitting each other. Quantum and its mechanics (hur hur) are incomprehensible, and while that’s probably appropriate for the world of espionage it inhabits, it leaves precious little for any audience to hold on to. We get the impression that Bond is chasing thin air, and not in a good way. What is clear is the plan of our main villain, Dominic Greene: Monopolising the Bolivian water supply. Lower stakes have never stopped a Bond film being great (see: Licence to Kill, Live & Let Die), but Bond stopping Greene seems more like an afterthought, and only because of his affiliation with Quantum. Gemma Arteton and Olga Kurylenko are talented actresses – why are they wasted here?
Craig, for his part, is ice-cold, a bruised predator still reeling from the death of Vesper, but even he is unable to carry a Bond film where nothing even resembles Bond. Though Casino Royale lacked many of the classic 007 hallmarks, its heritage at least was recognisable. There’s nothing to recognise in Quantum of Solace, save the vague slither of life in the finale. As much as I admire the attempt to provide a continuous through line in Bond’s personal history – one which would achieve great success in Skyfall – it’s an abortive attempt that, unfortunately, makes for the least memorable Bond in the series.
And what on earth is going on with ‘Another Way to Die‘? Crikey.