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By Thom Yee

Quantum of Solace images courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

“Oh crap,” I thought to myself as the realization set in.  After completing a review of Casino Royale (CR) in the lead up to Skyfall, it dawned on me that I would also have to do a Quantum of Solace review.  Well, here it goes.

Ask any Bond fan, any real Bond fan.  It doesn’t matter if you like Daniel Craig by a little or a lot; Quantum of Solace (QoS) was not good.  That’s an opinion that’s sort of warranted, but also a little perplexing, because, frankly, there are a lot of crap Bonds (or “junk Bonds” as my screenwriting instructor likes to call them, though I haven’t gotten him to commit as to which ones he’s referring).  Certainly to me and to a lot of newer Bond fans, CR was a revelation.  If you read my CR review, you know that Daniel Craig’s Bond was not only my first real exposure to the franchise, but that CR is almost wholly responsible for my being a fan.  And despite my natural inclination towards psychological sedation and withdrawal (and the mixed advance reviews), I remember actually being excited to see QoS.

And then I saw it.

And y’know what?  It wasn’t that bad.  The thing about QoS is that, even despite its flawed execution, it’s a Bond film that still has a soul.  You can tell when Bond kills Slate in that Haitian hotel room early in the movie, the way he looks around and away while his victim bleeds to death, that he’s still not over it.  He’s still not quite the 007 we’re looking for.  It’s moments like these that show us that, for better or worse, the double-0 status is something to be earned, and it’s moments like these that help QoS earn its place as, at least, one of the better Bonds.  Or maybe he just didn’t like the guy’s face.

As the first and only direct sequel in the James Bond franchise, QoS had the unenviable task of not only following the superlative CR, but of turning James Bond from mere superspy to full on double-0.  Exploring the lingering questions left from its predecessor, namely who and what is the mysterious organization behind Le Chiffre’s shenanigans and how will Bond get over Vesper, QoS had more than enough ground to cover even beyond the central story it was trying to tell.

What was that story again?  Something about oil or water or some other commodity?  Far be it from me to feel that plot should hold any real centrality (I have almost no recollection of what was going on in Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, or A View to a Kill), but QoS boasts one of the most forgettable Bond plots of all time. I think the bad guy was trying to control the water supply in some village in… South America?  It really felt like the kind of plot that was trying to be relevant by having some sort of corporate or environmental bent, but I just didn’t care.  There are other aspects of the movie that were more interesting and, besides that, who in their right mind cares about abstract concepts like the environment, sustainability, the suffering of others or the future?  Those things are far away.

Compounding this plot problem is probably the most indistinct villain from any Bond movie ever.  It’s a well-worn truism that the hero is defined just as much, if not more so, by the villain he faces as he is by his own actions.  It’s too bad that for this instalment we have Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene for Bond to contend with.  Not only does Amalric just have one of those dumb-lookin’ faces, but he’s small, unintimidating and just plain annoying.  Especially considering how hard Daniel Craig works out before a Bond movie, would it be that much to ask for whoever’s playing the villain, particularly if they’re going to get into an actual fight with Bond, that they also work a little on their own physique?  Though I will admit that there probably wasn’t much to be done with Amalric’s 5’6” frame.  Physical issues aside, I’m not leaving the blame for the villain entirely at the feet of Amalric.  The screenwriters either couldn’t or just didn’t want to form a strong opposing force.

But that’s okay, because anything they could have done right in QoS would just have distracted us from what it’s there for:  completing the arc begun in CR.

Drinking a vesper

In no uncertain terms, the best parts of QoS are the parts that deal with what’s left.  Right about when Mathis shows up is when the movie feels like it’s truly alive for the first time since the opening car chase.  There’s a lot of emotional ground from CR still left to tread; the interplay between Bond and Mathis, whether it’s between the two men themselves or about Bond being forced to further confront his feelings, is what makes this film.  When we see Bond on the plane to Bolivia, drinking a vesper that still tastes like her, you can feel just how deeply Vesper’s death cuts — right into what’s left of Bond’s soul.  When we follow Bond and Mathis (and the somewhat incidental Ms. Fields) through Bolivia, you can feel that Bond is almost back to enjoying himself.  And when we lose Mathis a bit later and that familiar piano music from CR plays, we’re left all the sadder for the loss.

And man, that opening car chase.  Not only was it genuinely thrilling to be thrown right into the action from the beginning, but the scene was actually comprehensible (unlike a lot of car chases), and it had a great pay off before the opening sequence.  Unfortunately, not a lot of the rest of the action was so easy to follow.  While I liked the idea of the opera house shoot out, the muted nature of the audio really obscured what was going on.  Combine this with the type of quick cut away shots that pervade most of the rest of the film’s set pieces, and you have an action movie that just isn’t much fun.  But man, that opening car chase.

Carried over from Casino Royale is Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter, and he’s one of the highlights in this film.  He doesn’t necessarily do a lot, but his presence affects so much of the movie that it’s easy to forget that he has so little screen time.  More than anything else, it’s an attitude that Wright brings to the role that shows us that, even if it’s unlikely that Leiter could match Bond physically, he could easily be a pivotal player in any scenario he’s involved in.  He’s a lot more of a Jack Lord Felix Leiter than a David Hedison one in that Wright is too much of a bad ass to ever lose a leg to a mere shark.  Here’s a nice little Felix Leiter overview if you’re feeling particularly frivolous.

Even though she’s not a girl that Bond actually gets, Olga Kurylenko’s Camille is a nice addition to the movie.  Though not particularly necessary (well, she did make the posters look a lot better), her presence provided a reasonably satisfying side story.  Certainly more so than Jinx, even if we never see Kurylenko pop out of the ocean in a bikini.  Judi Dench provides another great M performance, and she was certainly the smartest hold over from the Brosnan days.  We also don’t see her pop out of the ocean in a bikini.

I guess in the end, this wasn’t really a fun review to read (or write).  And it shouldn’t have felt fun, because QoS isn’t a fun movie.  It’s a sad one.  It’s a movie that shows us just how far Bond had to fall, from his emotions, his relations and his humanity, to become the Bond we all expect to see.  And in the film’s final scene, we have all the resolution we can expect to get about the Bond-Vesper Lynd relationship.  It ties things up well and leaves us where we need to be, with a great gun barrel sequence, knowing that James Bond will be back.  It’s just too bad that, in completing James Bond’s opening arc, the filmmakers had to build a boring movie about environmentalism around it.

Quantum of Solace final score: 6.5

On the Edge

  • Bond’s actually a little lucky that his DBS’ driver-side door got blown out in the car chase.  Judging by how close to the wall he was parked, I don’t know if he could’ve gotten out if there was still a door to push out of the way.
  • Looking at the computer interface they were using when examining Mitchell’s money, I was reminded a bit of the Windows 8 UI.
  • Go Ford Ka!
  • I love the way Bond keeps randomly stealing things:  the guy’s jacket, his briefcase, the motorcycle, the boat, the jeep, that guy’s tuxedo, that other guy’s gift bag…
  • Is it me, or was Fields made to look like she has nothing on underneath her trenchcoat?

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Image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Casino Royale review

Image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Skyfall review