Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quantum Of Solace - 2008

Background: as so often seems to happen with Bond when an instalment sets the bar high, elements come together to conspire to make the followup a disappointment, and I think that happened with Quantum Of Solace.

Michael G. Wilson began developing the plot while Casino Royale was being made and then regular Bond writers Robert Wade and Neil Purvis along with Paul Haggis became involved. The script was rushed so that the production could avoid the writers strike, this meant that Wilson had to be more involved than he wanted to and in a recipe for disaster director Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig also had significant input into it.

Martin Campbell must have stuck to his guns about not doing two Bonds in a row, because German Marc Forster was appointed as the director for Quantum Of Solace (more on that in Casting).

The title was another thing I never really liked. It is actually the title of an Ian Fleming short story, although the story is vastly different, and probably only uses Fleming's title. I still want Risico, that's short, sharp, punchy, exotic sounding and has an international flavour, it also means risk, which is what Bond takes a lot of. Quantum Of Solace always sounded rather pretentious, kind of an art house title, which isn't Bond, however much certain people involved with it may want it to be. Daniel Craig pushed very strongly for the title, although I think his experiences with Quantum Of Solace and the reactions to it may have cured him of any aspirations with the Bond films beyond playing the title character.

There were also troubles shooting the film. I believe at least one stuntman was killed while performing a driving scene. There seemed to be a bit of a curse hanging over it. 

There didn't really need to be a rush and there was. I think fans would have waited a year or two for the film if it meant that they got a better end product. After the tour de force that was Casino Royale I found Quantum Of Solace an enormous let down.

Story: it's basically about revenge. Bond is upset about Vesper and he will make everyone pay the price for what happened to her. To him that means taking down Quantum, the organisation that Mr White is apparently highly placed in and that has tentacles everywhere, to the extent that M's trusted bodyguard of a number of years was in their pocket and tried to kill her.

While Bond isn't rogue as such, he is working independently of MI6 for much of the film and at times they're actively trying to hamstring him and restrict his operations. Quantum as an organisation turn out to be pretty stupid. Bond infiltrates one of their meetings with ridiculous ease at an opera in Austria, and then when he lets them know he's listening in, a whole bunch of them walk out, which clearly identifies them to him and allows him to film them and send the pictures to MI6 for identification. Tellingly Mr White is one who keeps his seat, which indicates that he is not only smarter than most of the others, but is possibly running the show or if he's not is very close to whoever is. I suspect they're actually SPECTRE, but with another name. I think negotiations with the estate and family of Kevin McClory for Eon to regain control of the name and the concept were still ongoing at the time.

Bond winds up in South America with the odious Camille Montes (commonly known as simply Camille). I know I described her as odious, and for me that was true. I simply didn't like the character. The acting or lack of it from former model Olga Kurylenko didn't help (again more in Casting). Camille is also seeking revenge. She's doing it for her family and the target is not Quantum or any of it's members, although she wouldn't be heartbroken if Dominic Greene (honestly that was the villain's name. What sort of name is that for a Bond villain? He sounds like a furniture salesmen from the suburbs) got caught in the crossfire. Her target is the evil general that Greene wants to put in control of Bolivia.

There's some work going on in the shadows involving the CIA (that's how they manage to shoehorn Felix Leiter into the plot) and MI6 are trying to rein in Bond, who has turned into an emotionless killing machine. That's where Agent Fields comes into play. She's a desk jockey assigned to make sure Bond doesn't get out of control again. She falls for him and his lifestyle and that gets her killed. I think they may have been trying to do a bit of a callback to Goldfinger with Fields' death. She's covered in oil and left on the bed. The method of murder and the posture made me think of Jill Masterson from Goldfinger. The point I think that was trying to be made is that innocents like Field and Solange get involved with Bond and wind up dead, M all but says that, she doesn't mention Solange's name. However come to think of it Jill Masterson had that in common with Fields.

Greene eventually shows his true colours to the general and exactly why he's gotten into bed with the guy in the first place. He wants to rule the country for Quantum through Medrano and having control of 60% of the water accomplishes that. The party is crashed by Bond and Camille who proceed to destroy the general's desert hotel complex (exactly why he had a hotel in the middle of the desert is never actually explained, like a lot of the plot). Camille saves a girl working at the hotel from being raped by the general and manages to have her revenge. Surprisingly Bond has trouble with the diminutive Greene and doesn't kill him, but does manage to cripple him. He later catches him in the desert and dumps him in the middle of nowhere with a can of motor oil. We later discover that Greene was found in the desert with two bullet wounds to the head and motor oil in his stomach. The oil was a bit of tit for tat for what Greene did to Fields.

Somewhere along the line Mathis got involved and wound up dead. I was a bit annoyed about that. I liked Mathis and he didn't even bear much of a grudge over being accused by Bond and tortured, although as his much younger partner pointed out MI6 did buy him a villa on the Italian coast over that misunderstanding, so in some ways Bond may have done him a favour.

There's a little coda, which seemed tacked on as an afterthought, but really should have played a much larger part in the film, especially given it's theme of revenge. Bond goes to Russia and finds a female Canadian agent in the company of a handsome Algierian. The Algierian was Vesper's boyfriend, the one she betrayed Bond for and largely the reason she died. The Canadian is wearing a pendant like Vesper's. Bond tells her what her 'boyfriends' game is and tells her to leave, he then kills the Algierian, which I presume closes the page on the Vesper chapter of his life.

It's a dirty violent film which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I understand that Bond films often don't, but usually they have some sort of story that gives all the violence and action a reason. This one doesn't, it basically seems like an excuse for a bunch of poorly directed action sequences, that quite frankly, with one exception (the pre credit sequence) are tedious and only serve to wake the audience up in between explosions. I believe a study was done on it and it came in as the most violent film in the entire 22 to that point.

Despite the possible Goldfinger reference there seemed to be a determination to move away from what people recognised as Bond pre Daniel Craig. I can't remember hearing him use the 'Bond...James Bond' line or ask for a martini to be shaken not stirred. The shooting of the eyeball also came at the end of the film, whereas before it had always been at the start or on one occasion after the pre credit sequence. 


Director: the reason Martin Campbell didn't also direct Tomorrow Never Dies back in the '90's after the success of Goldeneye was that he didn't want to direct two Bond films in a row. I assume he still has the personal rule after Casino Royale, because a new director was appointed for Quantum Of Solace. Campbell did Green Lantern in 2011, which was a monumental flop and hasn't done a lot since, although he's in his 70's so the slowdown may be voluntary. German Marc Forster was an odd choice. His breakout was Monsters Ball (the film that won former Bond girl Halle Berry her Oscar) and he'd also done Finding Neverland, the thriller Stay and The Kite Runner, nothing that really says I want to direct a Bond film. Daniel Craig was also involved in the decision on the director and I think he liked the idea of working with an art house director. He didn't even like the films when he was contacted, but did some research by watching them. He was involved in the script, which I think was a mistake. He didn't really seem to know how to direct an action film. He intercut some of the chase scenes (under the streets in Siena and at the opera) with scenes of the crowd at the medieval race reenactment in Siena and of the opera onstage, which didn't add to the sequences and just made them confusing, he seems to try for artistic shots that aren't there and aren't needed. His idea of an action film seemed to be to throw as many explosions and stunts at the screen as he could and just hope that no one noticed that there wasn't really any explainable story to hold it all together. Since Quantum Of Solace he's done Machine Gun Preacher and World War Z, both action oriented films, so maybe he thinks he's found his niche, although I don't think either film was as successful as might have been hoped.

James Bond: more than any previous actor, Daniel Craig had involvement in this picture. By necessity he had something to do with the script and unless the actor has a track record or is in part financing the film or directing it I think that's a mistake, especially with something like Bond, which has such a history behind it. He was involved with the decision on the director and he also helped select the title. I don't have an issue with Craig's portrayal, it has less humour than in Casino Royale and at times he's almost too surly, but I can see why. This is his revenge for Vesper and in the past I feel other actors have shown too little remorse for their lovers and moved on far too quickly. Bond was deeply in love with Tracy, but almost as soon as he's 'killed' Blofeld in retaliation he's starting things up with girls like Plenty and Tiffany (admittedly the Bond in those two films was played by different actors), but it's on show again in The World Is Not Enough where Bond is in bed with Christmas almost before Elektra's body has cooled. Once the film is done and he's killed Vesper's Algierian lover he gives hints that he can move on. Audiences also have to bear in mind that Quantum Of Solace begins literally days after Vesper has died.

Dominic Greene: firstly the name. What sort of name for a Bond villain is Dominic Greene? It's just ordinary and mundane. What happened to names like Dr. Julius No, Auric Goldfinger, Emilio Largo, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Francisco Scaramanga, Hugo Drax, Aris Kristatos, Kamal Khan, Max Zorin, Alex Trevelyan, Elektra King and even Le Chiffre? You don't to give the villain a jokey nick name, but it should be something exotic. Dominic Greene sounds like they weren't even trying. Mathieu Amalric tried his hardest, he even wanted to wear makeup to give the character that Bond villain look, but was dissuaded by Forster. He's not at all physically imposing though and he simply isn't menacing or scary, it makes the scene when he gives Bond trouble in a fight rather silly. They could have at least given him a henchman. I could see keeping someone like Jaws, TeeHee or Oddjob on hand as making sense for the likes of Greene. Despite the name he does have a scheme worthy of any good Bond villain in trying to take control of Bolivia's water supply. Blofeld would have been proud of it.

Strawberry Fields: the first name isn't mentioned in the film, it is in the credits and everyone knew that was her real name when the film was released. I can understand the character's reluctance to let it slip, especially as she does want Bond to take her seriously and that name combined with her youth and prettiness wouldn't do the trick. The role went to model and actress Gemma Arterton and she's really good in it. I would have preferred that Arterton get the main Bond girl role. She was already an experienced actress by the time she did Quantum Of Solace. She had attended drama school and performed Shakespeare onstage, and had done comedy (St Trinians and Lost In Austen) and drama (RocknRolla) on screen both large and small. Since Quantum Of Solace she's kind of made herself a name for rather silly action roles in films like The Prince Of Persia, Clash Of Titans and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (although I kind of liked the last one and think it's been sold a little short as a concept at the very least). She modelled her performance on Diana Rigg and connects more with the audience in her small and brief part than actual Bond girl Olga Kurylenko manages with her part of Camille. I think they made a mistake by not using the name really. Strawberry Fields carries on a long and proud tradition of stupid Bond female character names: Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore, Domino, Kissy Suzuki, Tiffany Case, Plenty O'Toole, Solitaire, Mary Goodnight, Holly Goodhead, Octopussy, Xenia Onatopp, Christmas Jones and Jinx, own it, celebrate it!

Peripheral roles: Judi Dench returns for her 6th film as M and once again outacts whoever is on screen with her at the time. Giancarlo Giannni reprised his role as Rene Mathis and as the European spy was unfortunately killed (for no real reason than I could see, other than give Bond something else to be pissed off about) we won't see him again. Once again they added Felix Leiter into the story, and unlike the previous Bond films where the character was nearly always played by a different actor every time he appeared (David Hedison did it twice, 16 years apart!) Geoffrey Wright reprises his role as the CIA agent. He doesn't do a lot other than be silent and no doubt dream of killing his loud obnoxious moustachioed section chief Gregg Beam, played by David Harbour with scenery chewing relish. Bill Tanner returned, this time played by Rory Kinnear (most recently seen as Frankenstein's monster in Penny Dreadful) and has a bigger role than I've ever seen since he filled in for M in For Your Eyes Only, he appears to have replaced Villiers as M's assistant/gofer (I do understand, poor old Villiers went through a lot in Casino Royale and I don't think he ever slept. Possibly Tobias Menzies also wasn't available to reprise his role, either). Jesper Christensen also returned as Mr White and was every bit as mysterious and dangerous as he was in Casino Royale, if he's highly placed in Quantum and if Quantum is SPECTRE then that won't be the last time we see the character or the actor.

General Medrano: the character that Greene wants to install as the puppet leader of Bolivia (interesting that they used a real country, not just a made up banana republic like in Licence To Kill). He's very stereotypical: large, swarthy, moustachioed, rude and loud, seems to have murder and rape as hobbies. Mexican actor Joaquin Cosio doesn't add anything new or surprising to the interpretation. I wonder if Pedro Armendariz Jr. was available? That would have been a nice touch.

There are a few other peripherals, but the only one I really want to add is the receptionist at Medrano's middle of nowhere hotel, and that's largely because she's played by Oona Chaplin, the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and she recently made a big splash as the ill fated Talisa in Game of Thrones.

Camille Montes: she's generally referred to as simply Camille (again, what sort of name is that for a Bond girl?). She's a Bolivian agent who has a vendetta against Medrano as he murdered her parents, she's also not on good terms with Greene. She's described as agent for Bolivia, but she seems to be freelancing on her mission of revenge, I guess Bond is kind of doing the same thing, so it doesn't really matter that much. Apparently former supermodel Olga Kurylenko beat out 400 other girls for the role because Marc Forster found her the least nervous. I personally think that as they often do Eon cast for looks and hoped to get lucky. They didn't. Kurylenko had some small success in France (where she lived most of her life, although she's Ukranian by birth and parentage), but was awful in this role. She took the role seriously doing some fighting training and watching the films on DVD because she hadn't encountered them before. Camille is very one note as played by Kurylenko and there's is no chemistry at all between her and Craig, which although they don't sleep together, does hurt because he's meant to risk his life for this woman.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: if anything it's been the opposite for Olga Kurylenko. The role hasn't spring boarded her into the top echelon of actresses, but she has worked. She seems to be determined to make a success of being an actress. I've seen her in a couple of things since Quantum Of Solace. She was very good as Vera Evans, wife of club owner Ike Evans in TV's Magic City and she had a lot of fun playing the headmistress in Vampire Academy. It's a bit of a shame that she didn't have this experience when she played Camille, of course it could have also helped if the character she played wasn't completely two dimensional which gave her little to work with.

Pre credit sequence: this is the best directed action sequence in the whole thing. It takes place immediately after Bond has shot Mr White. He's bundled him up in the back of his car and is desperately trying to convey him to an MI6 holding place in Siena. It's a wonderful car chase, plenty of crashes and bangs, with lots of tension and wrecked cars. I've seen better, but it could have also been a lot worse, judging by the rest of the film.

Gadgets: no Q again, so light on the gadgets. Bond's Ericsson phone has a built in identification imager (pretty sure that's not standard, no matter what plan you're on), and it's linked directly to MI6's computer network. Seeing the tech they now use makes me laugh when I think of how they trumpeted their old disc driven imager in For Your Eyes Only, and that was just under 30 years ago. Quantum had an earpiece that they used to talk and conduct their meeting during the opera that was also rather nifty.

Music: it took them a long time, but I think they finally managed to top the awfulness that was Lulu's The Man With The Golden Gun in Quantum Of Solace. The song again doesn't use the title. It's a piece of horribleness called Another Way To Die. Despite having been written by Jack White of the White Stripes and featuring his vocals and those of Alicia Keys it is simply horrendous. They both sound out of tune and their voices do not work at all well together, it's vaguely reminiscent of cats mating. It peaked at 9 on the UK singles chart, but only lasted one week in the US not making it any higher than 81. It doesn't help that the opening credits are quite uninspiring, because even they don't distract from the song the way that Casino Royale's clever and eye-catching credits did.

James Bond will return. I hope so, because I wouldn't want my last image of him to be Quantum Of Solace, which the more I think about it, the lower on my list it drops.

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