This is the end. Across the Bond has covered all 22 James Bond films and we’re all the better for it. It’s been quite a ride, and you’d think Xander and I would be all done with Bond, but that’s the beauty of having this many movies: by the time you’re done you’re in the mood to start all over again. If you didn’t keep up with everything you can click that handy link up there and check out our full coverage of the series.
As for Quantum of Solace… well, it was no Casino Royale, but the Bond series has done worse. With a writer’s strike, a horrible action director and a few other issues it manages to still be fun. Check out our full thoughts below.
There’s a worthy sequel to Casino Royale somewhere in Quantum Of Solace, but it takes a lot of digging to find amid the clutter. One of the excuses given for its lack of focus was the Writers’ Guild strike, which reared its head in the middle of script development. The movie subsequently went into production with what Daniel Craig later described as a ‘barebones’ script, requiring he and director Marc Forster to rewrite key scenes on the fly. That explains the ramshackle plot – completely unrelated to the Fleming short story, an curio from the For Your Eyes Only short story collection inspired by Somerset Maugham’s tales of adultery and failing relationships – but doesn’t excuse the shoddy editing or shaky-cam rendering the action sequences virtually incomprehensible. Guess who was on second unit direction duty? None other than Bourne‘s Dan Bradley, aka the man who murdered the art of action directing. Quantum‘s script may be a mess, but doesn’t deserve to be the sole scapegoat for the movie’s failings when the technical problems are far more serious. For a movie so dependent on its action, Quantum does a terrible job with them.
Once the movie settles down in its second half, it improves immeasurable. While I’m certainly not going to call it a classic, or even particularly good – it’s about on a par with The World Is Not Enough for me – there are things to be enjoyed. First of all, once the plot finds a focus of sorts, Quantum’s scheme to monopolise Bolivia’s water supply may not send pulses racing in the manner expected from a Bond movie, but does present the organisation’s devious nature in a realistic context. The exploitation of natural resources remains a serious debate in environmental discussion and Quantum going after the water supply of a third world country is consistent with their modus operandi of operating beneath the radar and taking power through the incremental acquisition of international influence. The movie wastes its opportunity to satirise the hypocrisies of the green movement, but is at least fuelled by some interesting, timely ideas.
Quantum’s project in Casino isn’t any grander in scope, concerning nothing more than the offering of financial services to an African militia. As that movie proves, a relatively low-stakes plot is far from a death knell if the story is told clearly enough and it is made sufficiently important for the characters to succeed. Bond’s revenge mission should be the movie’s main focus, but because Dominic Greene (the deliciously slimy Mathieu Amalric) is shown to be but another of the organisation’s middle-men, there’s no single figure for him to chase down for Vesper’s death. Mr. White could have filled the role and is the movie’s most fascinating villain – I like how he’s the only one clever enough not to fall for Bond’s trick at the opera – but is kept mostly on the sidelines. In the end, there’s no link between Bond tracking down Vesper’s Algerian ‘boyfriend’ (who was blackmailing her on Quantum’s behalf) and the plot he’s just foiled, rendering it essentially irrelevant to his character arc. Greene’s plan isn’t weak for concerning a South American water supply, but for having next to nothing to do with Bond’s stated goal.
The gradual revelation of the depth of Quantum’s influence is another of the movie’s strong suits, setting in motion all kinds of potentially enormous threats – we learn one of their moles is an advisor to the British Prime Minister – which could fuel countless Bond plots to come. Such a pity, then, that the producers appear to have flaked out on the prospect at the first sign of trouble, asserting that the ‘story is told’ and the series is likely to forget about the organisation hereafter. I hope that’s not the case, because Quantum poses more questions than it answers and we’re still yet to see a figure who could be described as Quantum’s leader. True, it could be argued that the meeting at the opera is effectively a board meeting and by identifying each of the members, Bond has gathered enough information for them to be taken down. A single man at the top is perhaps unrealistic, but isn’t the prospect of a new Blofeld figure – not neccessarily the man himself, although I still think there’s a very strong argument for the character’s return – too irresistible to pass up? Besides, the idea that Bond took down a global criminal network with a fairly obvious ploy and a camera phone would be an anticlimax to end all anticlimaxes. I’m pretty sure Silva’s scheme in Skyfall could have been linked back to Quantum somehow, and would certainly fit the organisation’s fondness for collaborators with colourful names. I’m seeing the movie tomorrow, but given the fervent denials, am not holding out much hope for this to be a late twist, exciting though it would be.
One of Quantum Of Solace‘s biggest disappointments is Daniel Craig’s Bond, who was ferocious but vulnerable in Casino but reduced to a one-dimensional mass murderer for much of Quantum. Licence To Kill showed Bond on a revenge mission but still maintaining a basic level of professionalism and morality, whereas the character more or less wantonly slaughters everyone he comes across here. The human side which levelled out his destructive streak in Casino is almost entirely absent, save one of two heavy-handed reminders of Vesper’s death, and most tellingly, where Bond was visibly shown suffering and taking damage in the previous movie, here he barrels through proceedings with barely a scratch. Even Craig’s performance is more a surface imitation of what worked last time than an extension, keeping a somber facial expression throughout and delivering all his lines in the same monotone. Olga Kurylenko’s near-feral Camille is consequently much more interesting and sympathetic, with a clear target in her quest to avenge her parents’ deaths (General Medrano) and her ferocious exterior hiding deep-set fears and self-doubt. Were it just her trapped in the burning hotel at the end of the movie, crippled by the arsonphobia embedded in her psyche as a child and ready to commit suicide, the moment would have real power. With the quasi-invincible Bond at her side, its bleakness is undeserved and meaningless.
The movie’s use of its characters is a mixed bag throughout. Mathis’ return offers nothing and requires the contrivance of his having been posted in Bolivia earlier in his career for whatever reason, while his death is horribly handled. (His involvement also shows up how pointless it was to have Bond send him off to be tortured at the end of Casino). On the other hand, Felix Leiter gets more screentime – if not enough with Bond – and while I’m not a supporter of ‘colour blind’ casting, there’s no question that Jeffrey Wright’s droll cynicism makes his every appearance one to look forward to. Gemma Arterton is marvellously prim and Strawberry Fields is a fun name for a Bond girl, despite the character only existing to be killed off in a Goldfinger homage that serves no purpose other than for its own sake. She’s still not as irrelevant as Greene’s ally Elvis though, who may be the most disposable character in any movie in the Bond series. Is he really only there for the sake of a toupée joke, which barely even registers?
That messiness drags Quantum down every step of the way. While the writers’ strike undoubtedly had a serious impact on the uneven story structure and unfocused narrative, it doesn’t excuse the incoherent action scenes comprising almost the entire first half of the movie. The elements are there for something special – well, ignoring Alicia Keys and Jack White’s tuneless title track – but in too much of a jumble and surrounded with too much dead wood to create a satisfying experience. It will be a shame if the Quantum organisation never gets a proper payoff to their two movie build-up and the only thing carried from this movie to the next is the senseless displacement of the gunbarrel sequence. Still, if there’s one thing looking back over the twenty two movies for this feature has established, it’s never to bet against 007. Check back tomorrow to find out if Bond’s fiftieth year will be marked with yet another miraculous resurrection.
To begin with I hate Xander. I will not be seeing Skyfall tomorrow and have to wait until Nov. 7 to the see the movie. He is a terrible human being and probably lacks a soul.
However, he is quite correct on most fronts when it comes it Quantum of Solace. When I first got a chance to see the movie I was still pretty high on Casino Royale and Daniel Craig so I think I forgave a lot of its issues. I came out of the theater far happier than after my second and third screening of the film. The shiny kind of wore off once I got over the excitement of another Bond and the cracks in the movie really started to show. There’s really not a lot of cohesion to the story at all, which is perfectly explainable by the fact that the screenplay was only half done by the time the film started and Craig and the director were the ones to take control of it from there. Just goes to show you that screenplays are not the easiest things to write and good ones are even harder. Still even the barebones screenplay must have been pretty lackluster if that’s what the pulled out of it. You can definitely tell the scenes that were a bit more complete (opening interrogation and some of later ones), but one has to believe that general plot was laid out and yet it’s still all over the place.
Xander mentions the action in the film, but it’s worth bringing up again for just how incomprehensible it is. Sitting through the opening car chase is actually painful. After watching it several times I can tell you that there is an awesome car chase sequence in there with some incredible driving, however its edited and shot to shit. It’s like the came into the editing room and looked at all the film they had and decided that putting it together in a comprehensive manner would be too much work so they just stuck shots together that they thought worked. It just turns into a giant blur with random shots of Daniel Craig’s face every so often. The same fault crops up with the airplane sequence, which makes even less sense. At least in the car chase you can tell where the vehicles are. The plane sequence is pretty much a bunch of shots of planes stuck together with absolutely no connection. I’m tempted to think the actually had a random film scene generator on their computer that just selected different bits of film for them to use. I the bright side the crap nature of these two action sequences does make the rooftop chase — only decent in any other situation — seem stellar.
I don’t quite agree with Xander on the character of Bond throughout the film, however. It is true that much of the film Bond is simply a one-man wrecking machine, but if the script had been better this would have been far more understandable. The film was supposed to be not just about Bond getting revenge, but coming to realize that his destructive methods are not the only way to do things. It was supposed to be about Bond truly becoming Bond, and then the future films would have Bondconfronting Quantum as only James Bond could. Two films worth of character development is a lot for any franchise, but if you consider that Bond will most likely have many more films to be Bond in it makes perfect sense. This also justifies the killing of Mathis, as a turning point for the character, Bond‘s lack of sexual advances towards Camille and his closing line to M that he never left. The harsh, angry Bond we see here is a justifiable character in the movie we didn’t get because of the writer’s strike. If the film had been constructed better there would have been less of a focus on the action and water stealing plot and more of one as Bond as a character and his relationship to Quantum. This would have given us a two film story arc for the character where he is torn down in Casino Royale only to rise again in the Quantum. Sadly all we see is Bond acting like Rambo for a good chunk of the movie, though it must be said that Dominic Greene’s death might be one of the cruelest villain deaths Bond has ever doled out. While plenty of Bond‘s kills have been ridiculous leaving Greene in the middle of the desert with only motor oil to drink is seriously fucking messed up. Too bad the movie didn’t set up the death a bit better or it would have been a truly epic moment.
As we come to the end of Across the Bond it’s a little disappointing that we have to conclude on a movie that isn’t the BEST THING EVAR. Ah well, bring on Skyfall.