The 007 Collective – ‘Quantum of Solace’

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The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.

In this week’s edition of The 007 Collective, I look back at Daniel Craig’s much-maligned second outing as Bond, QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

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Mission Title: Quantum of Solace
James Bond: Daniel Craig
Release Date: November 14, 2008
Source Material: Title based on the short story ‘Quantum of Solace” by Ian Fleming
Tagline: N/A

Craig-Bond

MISSION BRIEFING

Picking up immediately after the events of Casino Royale, James Bond interrogates the mysterious Mr. White, who he apprehended at the end of the previous film. Finding out that both Mr. White and Le Chiffre are part of a global criminal syndicate known as Quantum, Bond is directed by M to investigate the organization. His trail leads to Haiti where he comes upon Dominic Greene, an environmentalist and high-ranking Quantum member who, after engineering a coup d’état in Haiti is planning to do the same in Bolivia. Greene plans on instilling puppet dictator General Medrano into power in exchange for a barren piece of land in the Bolivian desert. The CIA thinks its oil but Bond and MI6 aren’t convinced.

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MISSION REVIEW

Dismal. A Stuttering Blip. A Model of Mediocrity. Putrid. Spastic and Unwatchable. Lollygagging. Dour and Violent. Stale and Musty. Mechanical. A Crushing Low.

Google reviews of Quantum of Solace (or even those of Skyfall) and you’re bound to find some combination of the aforementioned words and phrases directed towards Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bond. A couple of years ago, I probably would agree with many of those assessments but in hindsight… I’m not so sure. Yes, Marc Forster’s 2008 film does suffer from a myriad of tonal and script issues, many stemming from the Writers Strike that crippled the industry in early 2008. It’s also the weakest of the three Daniel Craig Bonds by a wide margin. But I also feel that a chunk of its bad rap stems from the tremendous high esteem enjoyed by the two films that sandwich it in the Bond collection.

Compared to the game-changing, franchise-rejuvenating Casino Royale and the striking style and Oscar-winning success of Skyfall, it’s hard not to look back at the grim Quantum of Solace as a blemish in Daniel Craig’s reign as Bond. The arrival of the sure-to-be titanic SPECTRE is unlikely to change Quantum’s reputation as the odd man out. However, as the years pass, I do think the film will see resurgence in popularity. Maybe not on the level of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service—it’s far too problematic for that—but it should be able to stake its claim as a mid-tier Bond.

Quantum of Solace is most effective when viewed as a thematic and narrative continuation of a two-part story that began with Casino Royale. From its intense opening sequence to its melancholic finale, this is a film that directly addresses the narrative strands first teased in its predecessor. The continuity applies on the thematic front too as Craig’s bruised and emotionally-gutted performance as Bond is rooted in the shock and pain he suffered after Vesper’s death in the preceding film. Blinded by vengeance and the hunger to eliminate anyone connected to her death, he’s more cold-blooded psychopath than cool, womanizing spy. His stoic, “kill first, ask questions later” nature is a by-product of this internal rage as well as the source of friction during his acidic interactions with M.

The exploration of vengeance also plays a part in the trajectory of Olga Kurylenko’s Bond girl, Camille. Like Bond, she’s a broken individual who believes that vengeance will curb her suffering. Together, they use each other to further their goals, making them unlikely but strong allies—an aspect that I admired a lot, especially in a series where woman are treated as objects for Bond to devour. Furthermore, the fact that Camille never sleeps with Bond makes it one of the rare times this has happened in a Bond film. It also made narrative sense considering the nature of their relationship, and Bond’s emotional state.

Craig’s cold, hardened performance meant this was the grimmest on-screen depiction of the character to date, and thus one least similar to the other films in the Bond canon—although 1989’s supremely underrated Licence to Kill is probably this film’s closest ally in terms of theme and brutality. These aspects plus the lack of staples like gadgets, cheeky humor, megalomaniac villains, or even the classic “Bond. James Bond” line, are reasons why the film was received rather coolly among longtime Bond fans. After nearly fifty years of being a cad onscreen, this ruthless, emotionless robot was less of a boyish fantasy figure and more of a psychopath who your government would send out to clean its dirty laundry. What’s the fun in that?

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So far, I’ve spent a lot of time delving into the merits of Quantum of Solace but it needs to be said that there’s a lot that director Marc Forster doesn’t get right. As much as the film scores thematically, it significantly falters in the development of its characters. As noted earlier, the film went into production with a first draft script because of the impending Writers strike, and the result shows—it rushes from one action scene to the next, without spending much time on the story and characters between those scenes. Additionally, at 106 minutes, this is the shortest Bond movie ever. Despite Craig’s commanding performance, which I must add… continues to be outstanding, not much is done to explore Bond’s pain other than, “I’m angry, pissed off and I will have my vengeance.” Camille suffers from the same fate sadly as do the film’s villains.

French actor Mathieu Amalric, fresh off Munich and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, was an inspired and off-beat choice as the film’s villain but his character, the corrupt environmentalist Dominic Greene, simply fails to register as a threat. Apparently, Amalric wanted to instill facial tics and physical scarring to the character but Forster preferred that he model Greene on politicians like Tony Blair instead. This was a major mistake because what’s more boring than a politician as a Bond villain? Additionally, although Bond’s mission takes him from country to country, the muddled screenplay never makes it clear what Greene’s motivations are. When the scheme is finally revealed, it’s a major letdown. Other villains like the Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) don’t register as threats either.

Apart from the convoluted and flat screenplay, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson’s biggest mistake was hiring director Marc Forster. Although Forster instilled a sleek visual palette to the film, it becomes evident quickly that his idea of shooting action scenes was to simply ape the frenetic editing and camera work pioneered in the Jason Bourne movies. Like World War Z, the colossal mess he would direct a few years later, Forster’s direction of Quantum of Solace’s big action set-pieces—the opening car chase, the foot chase through Siena, the boat chase, the air dogfight and the fiery finale—are a study of how to disorient audiences. These action sequences were such rip-offs of the Bourne movies that they made the new rebooted series look like a cheap knock-off—extremely damaging considering the amount of goodwill earned by Casino Royale.

Still, considering the problems faced during the production of the film—an incomplete script, a director not known for his experience with action scenes, and unmemorable villains—it’s kind of a miracle that the movie managed to turn out as well as it did. I know many fans slam it but when taken as a companion piece with its predecessor, it really is a fine film that doesn’t deserve its rap as one of the worst films in the franchise.

THE DOSSIER

Illustration by Mike Mahale at DeviantArt

Illustration by Mike Mahale at DeviantArt

COLD OPEN

At little under five minutes, Quantum of Solace’s cold open clocks in as one of the shortest in the series. It picks up immediately after the final scene of Casino Royale in which Bond shoots Mr. White at his Italian Villa and then daringly outwits three Alpha Romeos with his Aston Martin DB5 on a highway overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The sequence ends with Bond entering a safe house in Siena where Bond opens the trunk of his nearly-destroyed car, revealing a bloody and disoriented Mr. White. It’s a nice touch of humor to an otherwise vicious, albeit very short chase sequence. The scene is the first hint that this movie’s action sequences will have a lot in common with those in the Bourne movies.

Fun fact: First Unit Director Don Bradley also served as First Unit Director on both Bourne movies directed by Paul Greengrass.

Grade: B

Image: Art of the Title

Image: Art of the Title

TITLE SEQUENCE

Title Designer: MK12
Title Song: “Another Way to Die” by Alicia Keys & Jack White
Famous Quote: “Another ringer with the slick trigger finger for Her Majesty”

The first duet in the franchise’s history is also a shockingly-bad mismatch of styles. In the opening stanzas that they sing individually, Alicia Keys and Jack White’s vocals are a mix of sultry and enigmatic. But they then make the mistake of singing over each other during the chorus and for the rest of the song. The result is an over-produced, unmemorable tune in which White’s overbearing vocals overshadows Key’s sultry chords. The song may have worked out better had Keys been the sole vocalist on the track.

As for the actual title sequence, digital house MK12 took over design duties from Daniel Kleinmann for the first time in the series. The sequence incorporates elements from the film including water that villain Greene is attempting to use for his advantage, sand, which is where his base is located, and a globe which represents the global power of Quantum. Bond staples, women and guns, also make appearances, as does Daniel Craig.

Grade: C

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VILLAINS

The Big Bad: Businessman Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), CEO of the eco-friendly global fundraising organization Greene Planet and member of Quantum, a global underground criminal syndicate. A sly and manipulative man, Greene makes up for his diminutive stature and small build with his deviousness and ability to strong-arm political dictators using his near-endless connections and deep pockets.

Henchman: Effeminate and awkward bowl cut wig-wearing Elvis (Anatole Taubman), Dominic Greene’s cousin and head of security.

Others:

The ever evasive and shadowy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who will return again in SPECTRE.

Mass-murdering rapist and power-hungry Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) who has been hand-picked by Greene to become the next puppet leader of Bolivia.

Seedy and corrupt CIA agent Gregg Beam (David Harbour) who epitomizes the U.S. government’s penchant for having “no friends, only interests.”

Organization: Quantum, Greene Planet

World Domination Plan: By staging coupes in unstable third world countries using the funding provided by members of Quantum, Dominic Greene has succeeded in gaining the support of at least 24 governments. His latest plan includes instilling the puppet dictator General Medrano as the president of Bolivia in exchange for a vast piece of land in the desert which, unbeknownst to Medrano, will enable his organization to control the country’s large water resource, and thus the country.

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BOND GIRLS

Primary: The vengeance-fueled and exceedingly crafty Camille Montes Rivera (Olga Kurylenko) who infiltrates Dominic Greene’s organization in order to get closer to, and eventually assassinate General Medrano who was responsible for the brutal murder of her entire family. Camille is rare among Bond girls because she resists Bond’s advances and sees straight through him as a fellow vengeance-seeking soul still reeling from loss. Good with weapons and self-serving, she’s nevertheless an independent woman who makes for an excellent ally to Bond and an unpredictable foil for the villains. One of the most interesting Bond girls.

Others: Young and courageous MI6 desk clerk Agent Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) whose affection for Bond leads to tragedy.

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ALLIES

M (Judi Dench)
Judi Dench’s role in the Daniel Craig Bond films continued to grow in importance as they went along. Like in the film that preceded this, she plays a motherly figure that isn’t afraid to punish an agent when they err. Her relationship with Bond in this film isn’t exactly adversarial but one of regret. Although she trusts Bond to do the right thing, she fears that he’s so blinded by inconsolable rage that he doesn’t care who he hurts, and that she may have made the incorrect decision to promote him to a 00. She chastises Bond on his blunt nature and his carelessness.

Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Mathis returns to the series after his memorable turn in Casino Royale as one of Bond’s few confidantes. After the misunderstanding in Casino Royale, MI6 gifts Mathis a delightful villa in Tuscany, the Italian chooses retirement. However, overcome by guilt due to Vesper, he decides to help Bond for one more mission in South America—a decision that will eventually prove to be his downfall.

Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Jeffery Wright returns as CIA agent Felix Leiter. Although the role is much smaller than the one he had in Casino Royale, he does play a stronger role, helping Bond with finding the location of Greene’s desert headquarters.

Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear).

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NOTABLE GADGETS

None! Unless you count all the computer and tracking devices at MI6 headquarters or Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 which has no special gadgets.

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ODDS & ENDS

Best Quote:
[Mr. White introducing M to his organization Quantum]
Mr. White: The first thing you should know about us is…we have people everywhere. Right?


Most Memorable Moment:
Since none of the big action set-pieces made much of an impact on me, I’m partial to the opera sequence in Bregenz, Austria where Bond infiltrates a secret meeting between Quantum members as they conduct a meeting while watching the opera. Suspenseful and straight out of the SPECTRE handbook, the sequence harkens to the old days of Bond where SPECTRE members used to meet in cold rooms to discuss the destruction of the world. Forster’s decision to use the opera and play it over the action sequence that follows the sequence was a very effective one.

Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
Bond’s cringe-worthy seduction of Agent Strawberry Fields, who after finding Bond repulsive, has no trouble jumping into his bed when he secures them a fancy suite.


Most Touching Moment:
A running theme of the movie is vengeance and pain. Throughout Quantum of Solace, composer David Arnold peppers “Vesper’s Theme,” his love theme from Casino Royale into various moments of the film. At the end of the movie, when Bond finally apprehends the man responsible for blackmailing Vesper, he drops her necklace into the snow, and walks away, signifying that he has finally overcome his grief and is able to move on. As the camera lingers on the necklace in the snow, Vesper’s theme plays one final time, thus bringing to close, a two-film arc.

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Funniest Moment:
[Agent Strawberry Fields takes James Bond and Rene Mathis to a little motel that they will be spending the night at before being flown to London the next day]

James Bond: [at a dirty, small motel] What are we doing?
Strawberry Fields: We’re teachers on sabbatical. This fits our cover.
James Bond: No it doesn’t. I’d rather stay at a morgue. Come on.
[they go to a ritzy hotel]
James Bond: [to the hotel receptionist] Hello. We’re teachers on sabbatical and we’ve just won the lottery.

 

Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
When trying to protect Bond from a pair of corrupt police officers in Bolivia, Rene Mathis is shot dead right in front of Bond and Camille. As Mathis dies, he asks Bond to stay with him until he is dead. Just before he dies, he reminds Bond that he needs to forgive Vesper and forgive himself too. As Vesper’s Theme plays, Bond carries Mathis’ body to a garbage dumpster and coldly throws him there. Before he leaves, he makes sure to take his money, just to give people the impression that Mathis was robbed and killed. When a shocked Camille asks him if this is how he treats his friends, Bond coldly replies, “He wouldn’t care.” It’s an incredibly brutal scene in an already dark movie.

Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[After killing a contact called Slate, Bond calls Bill Tanner]
James Bond: [on the phone to Tanner] Slate was a dead end.
Tanner: He says it was a dead end.
M: Damn! He killed him.


Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
N/A

Best Stunt/Action Scene:
In a movie full of incoherent action sequences, I’d probably have to go with post-title sequence action sequence in which Bond chases an MI6 agent who has revealed himself to be a Quantum agent through a bull-fighting festival, then across the rooftops of Siena and finally into a building under construction. The fight ends with Bond and the rival agent dangling from ropes on scaffolding.

Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 1 (Strawberry Fields)


Number of people Bond kills:
 
16

Bond’s Best Kill: Bond killing a Quantum contact named Slate after a rather vicious Jason Bourne-like hand-to-hand fight in a hotel room in Haiti. After overpowering Slate, Bond brutally stabs the man in the neck, thus killing him. Best of all, he just walks away from the room as if nothing happened.


Locations visited (In order of appearance):
 Siena, London, Port au Prince, Talamonc, Bregenz, La Paz and Kazan


Misogyny Meter:
 3/10
Bond treats Agent Strawberry Fields like a nuisance and then uses her for sex, before dumping her at a party full of criminals. After she is killed due to Bond’s carelessness, M chastises him.


Homophobia Meter: 3/10
Elvis, Greene’s henchman is depicted as an effeminate creep who wears a bowler hat and stares longingly at other men.


Racism Rating:
 3/10
The film’s depicts South American military generals as rapists and power-hungry–a cliché straight from a 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie.


Box Office:
 $168 million ($190 million adjusted – 13th highest grossing Bond overall)


Oscars:
 none


007 Chronological Listing:
 22/24


Overall Grade:

B

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriters: Paul HaggisNeal Purvis, Robert Wade
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu AmalricJudi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini
Producers: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson

Editors: Matt Chesse, Richard Pearson
Cinematographer: Roberto Schaefer
Music: David Arnold
Production Design: Dennis Gassner

Running time: 106 minutes
Companies: Sony Pictures, MGM, Eon Productions
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content

The 007 Collective will return in:

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

Previous entries in The 007 Collective:


Data References:
MI6, IMDb, Box Office Mojo

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