Countdown to Spectre: Quantum of Solace Revisited

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The Bond: Daniel Craig again, getting into even rougher fights.

The Release: The rebooted Bond’s second adventure took longer getting to screens than originally expected. The 2008 writers’ strike started before the script was fully polished (Craig and director Marc Forster were even adding material as they filmed) and once writers Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade got back to work, filming had already begun. Released on Halloween 2008 in the UK and November 14 in the US, it improved on its predecessor, grossing $168 million domestically and $586 million worldwide.

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The Girl: Quantum of Solace is the first film in Bond history that picks up directly where the previous film left off. The way Bond conducts himself with this film’s two women is a direct result of the fallout from Vesper’s (Eva Green) suicide.

The first girl is MI6’s Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton). The actress doesn’t get much to do except recreate Goldfinger‘s iconic image of Shirley Eaton covered in gold, except she’s covered in oil. More importantly, she represents Bond reverting back to callous womanizing in hopes of forgetting his grief.

The second girl is Olga Kurylenko’s Camille. For years, I despised both the character and the actress who plays her because she and Bond never sleep together. What’s the point if Bond doesn’t bed every beautiful woman he meets? However, I see now that it’s the right move for the story. Camille isn’t a love interest, she’s a foil. She is seeking revenge for the massacre of her family and finally killing the man responsible gives her closure. Bond, on the other hand, will never fully get revenge because there’s a nameless, faceless evil organization responsible for his pain. And that drive to punish those people–and himself–for what happened to Vesper is exactly why he can’t be in a relationship. The kiss they share at the end isn’t about love; it’s an acknowledgment of their similarities and a wish that things could be different.

The Villain: In the traditional sense, the villain here is Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene. He’s the slightly crazy criminal mastermind with the over-the-top plan to take over the world. However, the real enemy is the evil shadow corporation Quantum. Long before Eon and Danjaq acquired the rights to use SPECTRE, they were essentially setting it up as Bond’s adversary under a different name. Though we glimpse a few Quantum members in the fantastic opera sequence, there’s no apparent leader, and the film is really about setting up a trail of villains for Bond to destroy in the future.

The Gadgets: There aren’t any. The closest things are either the Minority Report-esque touch screens used at MI6 headquarters or the Q-shaped (the letter, not the person) earpieces the Quantum members use to communicate during the opera sequence.

The Song: While I’ve already declared Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” my least favorite Bond song, there are days when I think “Another Way to Die” might take the cake. You know at the Grammy’s when they have two artist with very different styles perform together and it turns out awesome? This song is what it would sound like if it went horribly wrong. Alicia Keys is a great pianist and Jack White is a rock god, but the mash up of their styles here is like a Frankenstein’s monster of energy-less verses and conflicting styles.

Sadly, this horror could have been avoided. Composer David Arnold (in his last film with the franchise) wrote a song called “No Good about Goodbye” and recorded it with Shirley Bassey. It’s roughly 1000x better than the official theme. The lyrics are more relevant to the story too (they even include “solace”) and the tune sounds like a classic, if outdated Bond theme.

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The Book: “Quantum of Solace” is part of the short story collection For Your Eyes Only. For the movie, the title refers to Bond’s need for revenge as a means of consoling himself over Vesper’s death. It means something similar in the story, but on a smaller scale.

In it, Bond shares a boring dinner with the Governor of Jamaica and a rich Canadian couple and after, the Governor tells him about his old friend Phillip Masters. During a long international flight, Masters fell in love with a stewardess, Rhoda, and eventually married her. She quickly manipulated him into subservience and began an affair with a rich young man. Phillip’s work slipped and he was sent away on a five-month business trip in hopes he would pull himself together. Shortly before Phillip returned, Rhoda’s lover broke things off and she committed herself to making Phillip fall in love with her. However, he returns a new man, cold and cruel. He tells Rhoda they will no longer speak in private and will live separately within their home until he divorces her in a year’s time. When the marriage finally ends, he leaves her destitute and alone.

Bond, remarking that he almost feels sorry for Rhoda, wonders how Phillip could do it and the Governor explains that he had lost his “quantum of solace,” or the comfort of knowing that his wife at least cared whether he lived or died. The Governor then reveals that the dull woman they had dinner with that night was a remarried Rhoda and Bond suddenly feels that his life of danger and adventure isn’t half so exciting as the emotional dramas of everyday people.

The Movie: As the Bond franchise’s first true sequel, QOS is a disappointment. The film takes off like a shot and never stops. As a result, the heavy emotional stuff the film is dealing with feels wedged in between the action. The scene where Bond chases a Quantum double agent through a horse race and construction site comes so quickly on the heels of the opening car chase that the viewer doesn’t have time to take in the Quantum reveal. That pace–unaided by the frenetic and often hard to follow camerawork–quickly becomes exhausting. And it doesn’t help that the action is incredibly violent.

The fights are rough and nasty and frequently end with someone dying at Bond’s hands. Of course, much of it is story based. Bond is taking out his rage over simultaneously being tricked by Vesper and letting himself fall in love with her by viciously pursuing those who caused his pain. It’s a point we as an audience get by the second action sequence, but the film keeps making it over and over.

That’s also true of what it means for Bond when the violence stops. When he spares Greene at the end, it’s an act of mercy meant to suggest that he’s under control again. However, that same point is made again and in a more meaningful way later, when Bond tracks down Vesper’s supposed-to-be-dead ex-boyfriend. Here, he’s showing mercy to the person who, arguably, least deserves it. By letting MI6 bring in the boyfriend for questioning, he’s letting what’s rationally good for the agency take precedence over his need for revenge. However, in some way, he’s also sacrificing his emotions for the good of the company, taking another step toward becoming an emotionless cad.