“I don’t think the dead care about vengeance.” – James Bond
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga. This week, we take a look at the second James Bond film for Daniel Craig, and something slightly different for a movie in the series, Quantum of Solace.
Casino Royale was a fantastic movie. For the following entries in Daniel Craig’s run, the film had a ripple effect through them all. It also was an important starting point to try something slightly different for the series as a whole. Casino Royale was the beginning of a multi-film character arc.
We can argue the point whether or not that was always the producers’ plans from the beginning, or if it was an accident after seeing Marvel begin their universe building successfully in the years in between this film or the next, or if it was a happy accident.
What cannot really be argued, though, is that this 22nd Bond film is the first film to truly act as a sequel to the previous entry. There are series that feature characters that go on various, episodic adventures. There are sequels that tend to either continue a story or continue a structure from one movie to the next. Then, you have sagas that are a little bit of a combination of both. The difference, though, sagas tend to have a beginning point for a hero and an ending point in which that hero has learned something or completed a journey, etc.
Most of the films in the Bond series continue from one adventure to the next with no real deep connection from the previous adventures. Oh, sure, there have been mentions of something that happened in a previous film, or Felix Leiter shows up, or SPECTRE and Blofeld show up, etc. There was that one time at the beginning of Diamonds Are Forever when Bond is really hot on trying to find Blofeld for the assassination of Tracy at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but after that happens, nothing more is ever said about the tragedy until many movies later.
Make no bones about it, Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale because the beginning of this film happens literally moments after the end of the previous. Bond injured Mr. White at the end of Casino Royale and tossed him into the boot of his Aston Martin so he can deliver him to a place to be interrogated by MI-6. The opening sequence is quite peculiar. The entire scene is a chase from Mr. White’s home to the MI-6 hideout in an Italian town. It’s a thrilling chase, but it might be my least favorite opening sequence. There’s little substance here. It proves that you can have all the great action you want, but if it doesn’t contain any substance, it’s hard to truly connect with. It sets an odd tone for this film.
Well, neither Bond nor M get any real information from White other than his organization has fingers in everything and people everywhere. As it turns out, one of the MI-6 agents accompanying M is part of White’s group. This leads to another chase, this time on foot, featuring Bond and that turncoat agent. So, again, we’re less than 20 minutes in and there are two big action sequences, but little substance.
Five more minutes pass with M trying to figure out how she didn’t know that they had a mole, and then learning that guy had a contact in Haiti. Bond is attacked by the guy, Slate, and is picked up by Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko). Apparently Slate was sent to kill Camille by her lover, and environmentalist business man, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Okay, so here’s the problem. This movie moves at a breakneck pace. We’re still trying to suss out the threads left untied from Casino Royale, now Bond has killed many people in the first 20 minutes, and we learn about an environmentalist that wants to help destabilize governments and control the water supplies in South American countries. There’s something to do with the thought that Camille was only sleeping with Greene to get near a Bolivian general, Medrano, who killed her parents, but it’s happening very fast in this movie.
There’s nothing wrong with a fast pace. I’d argue that many of the Bond films have fast paces, but you also must have something that you can hold onto in order for you to settle into the movie’s plot at large. This movie drops us right into the middle of a story, and then gives us three different kinds of chases in the first 30 minutes – car, foot, and boat. When you’re not able to get your footing for nearly one-third of the film, it’s hard to really get comfortable and you will start asking questions.
Alright, we finally get get some idea of what’s going on. Obviously, the British, thanks to Bond running a check on Dominic Greene, know that Greene might be up to some shenanigans. Greene buys up a whole bunch of land with the purpose of setting up geological reserves. He wants land in Bolivia and has set it up so this General Medrano can take over the government. You see, there’s oil in that land, but Greene needs to get rid of the people living on the land by diverting water supply away from those villages. Or something.
However, in order to make sure no one gets too wise to anything, Greene has a deal with the CIA to do nothing when Bolivia’s government topples and the Americans will get oil from Greene’s drilling the land.
Bond, thanks to a little good ol’ spy work, figures out how Greene’s cabal of goons, Quantum, communicates their plans. They use transceivers at an opera and Bond interrupts them, and, as they start to leave, he snaps pictures of them all and sends it back to MI-6. This leads to Bond facing off against some of the Quantum goons. Now THIS is a great scene. You have operatic music plays as Bond stares down Green and his goons before a chase goes down. He even drops a guy off a building similar to how Roger Moore did on The Spy Who Loved Me, but this backfires on him. The man who is dropped off the building is killed by Greene’s guys and turns out to be a member of Special Branch so M is forced to cut Bond off.
Without support from the British government, Bond looks up René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini returning from the previous film). Giannini is great in these two films. He’s so damn likable. Bond fingered him as betraying him in Casino Royale because Le Chiffre said he was working for him to throw Bond off Vesper’s trail. Here, he has nothing but Mathis to help him because Mathis did spend time stationed in South America, so he has some contacts still there. This sadly, ends with Mathis going on his final mission as an agent. Really, this is Bond’s only friend and he loses Mathis because of his obsession to find the people who set him up with Vesper. I feel like this only adds to that character arc that Bond has. Craig’s scenes with Mathis are some of his best in this movie. It’s terribly sad that Bond has to toss Mathis into a garbage can and take what money he has after he’s killed. It just shows the unfortunate life of an outed spy.
And that’s a bit of an issue in this film. The movie has the right ingredients. We have a sinister guy who the world thinks is righteous. We have Bond doing lots of action things. We have two different, but very pretty, Bond Girls (we’ll get to them) with one in particular looking for some revenge for her family. Mathis is back and just as likable as he was in the previous film. The problem is all the best scenes are when Bond is dealing with something ties directly with Casino Royale – not Quantum of Solace.
I don’t so much mind the Greene character and Amalric is playing the character perfectly fine, but he’s a lead villain who is only a cog in a greater machine. That creates undue turbulence to a movie that flies out of the gate. I’d rather he be a larger part of the organization they are chasing down and maybe using that Bolivian general as muscle for this shadowy group. The always lovable David Harbour plays a dorky looking CIA section chief who agrees to look the other way when Greene does his stuff, but he’s kind of cartoonishly villainous and duplicitous. It’s the old “Hey, the CIA is up to some nasty stuff, but that’s just the way things are” trope that isn’t really necessary. Greene says he was duping the CIA as well, but I guess that just gives Jeffrey Wright’s Leiter the chance to be more virtuous by saying he’s uneasy with them getting in bed with the likes of Greene and all the shenanigans they know he’s up to.
What’s really unfortunate are the two Bond girls in the film. Let’s start with the one I’m not entirely sure of the point of her being in the film – Gemma Arterton’s Strawberry Fields. First, the name is bad – even if all we know in the film’s dialog is that her name is simply “Fields”. Is it kind of a Bond name? Sure. But it’s also a Beatles song and the mix is awkward. She is a complete innocent in this film. She was an office worker for the consulate who was meant to immediately stop Bond and put him on the next plane before he even left the airport.
Bond refuses the hotel room she puts them in, takes her to a five-star hotel, and beds her. He then brings her to the party that Mathis gets Bond into with Greene. Her involvement in Bond’s goose chase ends with her being drowned in oil and left as a message in his hotel room. I know the point is for her to be a victim of Bond’s “inconsolable rage” (as M put it in the previous movie), but the problem is, it kind of makes Bond a villain. M attempts to arrest Bond and send him home so he doesn’t get killed. However, Bond escapes and beats the shit out of fellow MI-6 agents, but she lets him go in order for him to continue on despite trying to lay a suspension on him. It doesn’t do much to make Bond sympathetic to the audience. Without a doubt, Mathis and Fields’ blood is on Bond’s hands. What makes it worse is that Bond gets really nothing from it only a single additional puzzle piece in the grand scheme of it all.
The other Bond Girl, Camille, is only barely better. When I say she is somewhat forgettable, I don’t mean to say that about Olga Kurylenko – because she is gorgeously exotic. I say she’s somewhat forgettable because 1) Fields dies for being an innocent and collateral damage in Bond’s rage and 2) we’ve seen this role done better before. Camille is angry at General Medrano for killing her family. She wants to take righteous revenge on him. This is not too much unlike the character of Melina Havelock in For Your Eyes Only. However, Melina is a well-rounded character whose anger we see born when she witnesses her parents’ murder. Camille’s anger and revenge plot is only relayed to us by dialog. Her getting her revenge is hardly as interesting as Greene’s comment to Bond that it sounds like he “lost another one” when they hear a gunshot in the next room.
Her best character attribute is how he lets Greene go to go and save her. Her backstory involves Medrano killing her family and leaving her in a fire. She has a scar on her back from that incident. Bond protects and saves her from another fire in the climax. It shows some growth for Bond. That’s okay, but not terribly memorable.
I definitely do not hate this film. There are still exciting things that happen while you watch it. However, it doesn’t feel like a full-fledged Bond film. That is because of how short the film is. Quantum of Solace is a full 40 minutes shorter than Casino Royale and the shortest film of the entire series at 106 minutes. It’s a film that, like I said, has all the right ingredients, but wants to rush through it almost to act more like an epilogue to the previous, far superior film. You know… It acts like a sequel. It’s not a normal situation for the series. It uses things like how Bond drops a guy off the building and how Arterton is laid on the bed like Shirley Eaton covered in a substance (oil in this case) to help remind us we are watching a Bond film.
It’s just out of sync. It’s not the worst, but it is definitely in the lower tier of films in the series. It wants to do lots of exciting and intriguing things. It wants to build upon the last movie while building upon the untested Bond character. All of this is fine, but it rushes through it in that compressed story telling style that it just feels so much more like a run of the mill sequel than a part of a larger series with its own legs to stand on.
Join me next week for a look at the music of Quantum of Solace. In two weeks, we take a look at the crown jewel of the series to date, Skyfall.