“Friend of yours?”
“I don’t have any friends.”
In an age when audiences crave more than just glibly e-quipped, perfectly coiffeured, impossibly unflappable heroes to don the Bond mantle, more from villains than skills with hats or tough teeth, and more from heroines than ridiculous monikers and training in the art of being a pathetic damsel in distress, we were introduced to Casino Royale, the 2006 series re-boot starring the latest James Bond, Daniel Craig. Based loosely on the Ian Fleming story by the same name, Royale introduced us to a tougher, more brutal British assassin, an almost-rogue, force-to-be-reckoned-with, who jets across continents tracking foes using the latest hi-tech equipment and preventing global terrorism.
He made mistakes, got beaten and tortured as if it were par for the course, left a swathe of dead bodies and wrecked vehicles in his wake, and even had what little was left of his increasingly cold heart broken along the way. And at the end of an intense two-and-a-half hours (the longest film to date in the series) Bond, having been betrayed by the late love of his life Vesper, was in a vendetta kind of a mood, determined to get to the bottom (or top) of the mysterious organisation that she was being blackmailed by, and that the villain he beat at poker, were working for. The credits only rolled after Bond had tracked the shady Mr White (a post-partum tip from Vesper), his only lead left in the investigation, to a secluded residence on Lake Garda. Despite the long back-to-basics introduction, audiences knew in no uncertain terms that this was just the beginning.
“I was always very interested to meet you. I’d heard so much about you from Vesper. But the real shame is that if she hadn’t killed herself, we would have got you too. I think you would have done anything for her.”
Quantum of Solace picks up just a few minutes after the end of Casino Royale, continuing where the first film left off, and kick-starting straight into what would turn out to be 106 minutes (officially the shortest Bond film) of back-to-back action set-pieces, charting Bond's quest for revenge – or at least the truth – as entwined with a complex plot involving the shady organisation behind it all. A car chase (in the vein of Bourne) leads to a foot-chase across the Italian rooftops (parcour really has become the next big thing), a boat chase in the Caribbean (an edited-in-a-Bourne-style variation on the Boat chase in From Russia with Love), and a plane chase and skydive in Bolivia.
There is no time to even catch your breath as Bond crosses continents and kills his way to the truth, uncovering the name of the shady multi-global terrorist organisation – Quantum – and one of its minions, a nasty little man called Dominic Greene, who is planning to choke the water supply in Bolivia and then massively raise the utilities prices, and is using a sadistic General – who wants to become a Dictator in the region – and the double-dealing CIA, to put his dastardly scheme into action. Sigh. Take a breath.
Let me start by saying that, in its own right, Quantum of Solace is a pretty mediocre Bond movie at best (if it can even be classed as one, given the distinct lack of trademark characteristics). As a post-Bourne-era spy-thriller, it is hard-nosed and brutal and thoroughly action-packed, but in this series it stands out as the least glamorous, least 'Bond'. I know that many big fans out there are crying out that these last couple of movies have been the most faithful to the original source material but – really – how many of the books pitched the cynical, edgy character as a man who could perform any of the stunts, let along fight, like Craig’s Bond does?
Bond was, and always will be, about the glamorous girls, big action set-pieces, suits, martinis, expensive fast cars, scheming villains and global threats. The three Craig films established all of his key traits. But rather than split it into two, with Royale giving us half of these things, we had to wait until Skyfall to reach the conclusion, with Quantum effectively becoming little more than an extended continuation of Royale’s plot.
The end result is the first official Bond sequel but, for me, it was less of a sequel and more of the completion of one single Bond story arc. If you watch the movies back-to-back you basically get the plot elements of any of the previous Bond movies – in the aforementioned order – and you also get a much better feel for where they wanted to go with this reboot. This really is Batman Begins for Bond, only rather than getting The Dark Knight to follow up, Quantum was still just rounding off what happened in the first story and further establishing the familiar elements that define the franchise (indeed, it actually takes another whole movie – Skyfall – to finally round things off with Bond back where he was at the start of Dr. No and every other notable entry in the franchise).
I think that it is quite telling that you can’t write a review of Quantum of Solace (or, to some extent, Casino Royale), without using the word ‘Bourne’ at least once. Across five decades of movies featuring this iconic character there has arguably never been such a influential alternative franchise. Sure, Michael Caine’s Len Deighton-based Harry Palmer Trilogy (The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain) arguably offered up an anti-Bond during the sixties – a short-sighted, cockney, low-level spy who has to worry about paperwork and whether he can get a small advance to afford a cheap car but still gets embroiled in relatively plausible espionage plots in Cold War Europe and Communist-paranoid America) but it was certainly influenced by the Bond franchise as much as vice versa.
Similarly in the late eighties and nineties, when Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books started hitting the big screen with stars like Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford (who made the best Jack Ryan) took on the role, we were given another thinking-man's spy hero, but – again – it did not really affect the debut of Brosnan in the Bond role. Indeed you could argue that Vin Diesel’s XXX had more of an influence on Brosnan’s Die Another Day jump-the-shark outing than anything from the Clancy fold.
With Bourne, however, it appeared that Hollywood sat up and took notice (probably watching the Box Office receipts), even going so far as to employ many of the same production crew members, and stunts and photography experts to work on the new Bond films so they would have the same style of film.
Crash’s Paul Haggis, with the assistance of Bond regular writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, worked on these last two reboot tales – ostensibly penned by Bond producer Michael G. Wilson – and they even follow the same loose arc-plot as The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, mirroring the basic story and even some of the scenes (Identity effectively charted the evolution of the character, and showed us what he was capable of, then giving him the chance at a new life with a newfound love, Supremacy had her killed and had him track across the globe to get to the truth and bring down those behind it all, whilst clearing his own name and dealing with some past demons), so between all that and the fact that the unarmed combat scenes and all the chase sequences are done in the new Bourne style (fast editing, harsh impacts) what you have here is a reboot that is actually very familiar indeed. Stick Bourne in a suit and you would be forgiven for getting confused between the two. This new creation strikes more of a resemblance to 24’s superspy Jack Bauer than the quintessential Bond of days gone by. Whilst I do understand why this had to happen – audiences now crave believable superheroes (like the Nolan/Bale Batman) and intelligent plots – the series has never before gone quite so far off the rails in the name of cultural changing with the times.
Bond, for me, always existed on its own plane – never playing by the rules and living in a fantasy world of gadget-laden cars, one-man-against-an-army scenarios and impossibly beautiful women who seem to actually desire to become just another notch on his bedpost after the merest of glances from the suave super-spy. Die Another Day was possibly the nail in this character's coffin - too much of an extreme in all of those respects, with invisible cars and para-surfing on CG icebergs pushing even the biggest fans over the edge. It was such a shame considering the promise offered by the opening credit sequence, where Bond is captured and tortured, released on prisoner exchange and then has his very loyalty questioned by his own Government, but with the emergence of annoying diva Halle Berry and one too many silly setpiece, culminating in an inane fight with a robot-suit-wearing villain on board a plane, things had clearly gone too far. It was too ludicrous even for this fanciful franchise, and so a reboot was understandably commissioned.
Bringing back the old traditions appears to be the intention even with this new franchise, so while Daniel Craig’s Bond is on his driven, near-vendetta mission we do get plenty of nods towards some of the best of the classic tales – the vengeance-spurred female ally Camille (the exotically camouflaged Olga Kurylenko) is reminiscent of Carole Bouquet in one of the best Roger Moore efforts, For Your Eyes Only (Moore's The Spy Who Loved Me was also paid homage to in the scene involving dropping a villain from a roof); Bond ally Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) reappears as a nod to Connery's ally in From Russia with Love; the franchise’s classic CIA counterpart Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) finally comes into his own; and there's more than a little On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Licence to Kill thrown into the mix (the death of a loved one and the subsequent revenge), as well as the creation of a SPECTRE-like phantom terrorist organisation which Bond can repeatedly go up against.
However, even with this double-whammy reinvention, Bond was far from complete and it was difficult to tell where they were going to go next. Sure, there was now the potential for grandstanding villains, more gadgets, more trust from M and more of a mission. But with every single girl he’s been intimate with getting drowned – or tortured and drowned – it didn’t exactly set things up for a return to the Bond girl frivolity of old. Certainly you could see why fans would be wondering where exactly Quantum of Solace left us.
“How much do you know about Bond? Because he’s rather a tragic case... His MI:6 file says he’s difficult to control; a nice way of saying that everything he touches seems to wither and die.”
Thankfully the answer eventually came, in this year’s masterful Skyfall, which completed what could arguably be called the Daniel Craig reboot trilogy – the full arc of Bond Begins. Unfortunately, more so than ever, Quantum of Solace feels like little more than an action addendum; certainly not a full Bond movie in its own right, and certainly nowhere near the standard of the excellent entries that bookend it. It’s as if they rushed to get a Bond film in before MGM got into financial difficulty, and didn’t really worry too much about the fact that they were ill-advisedly cashing-in on a previous storyline and not really bringing much new to the table.
Hopefully the next two Daniel Craig Bond films will only further his success in the role, and not fall into the Quantum trap of underdeveloped half-hearted plots that rely more on action than story. Quantum of Solace is certainly Bond for the Bourne generation; great entertainment, but shallow and empty at its core.
Remember it for its frenetic chase sequences – the brutal and punishing Aston Martin pre-credits sequence and the thunderous but at times incomprehensible boat chase; remember it for its massive – and massively over the top – set-pieces, like the dangling-from-the-ropes crash-bang foot-chase; remember the exotic locations, the return to the classic villain’s lair – this time a ludicrously flammable complex in the middle of the desert – and the ensuing explosive action scenes that it specifically caters for; remember the evil SPECTRE-like organisation, Quantum, and the ease with which Bond takes them down – simply with a mobile phone; remember the breakneck adrenaline-fuelled pace that simply never lets up and the satisfying conclusion that we finally get to the overall arc started off in the preceding chapter.
“Bond...I need you back.”
“I never left.”
Quantum of Solace can be enjoyed, but only really if watched immediately after the far superior Casino Royale. It’s a rush-job entry that works as an extended action ending to the unfinished storyline from Royale, but not as a movie in its own right, nor as a film which distinguished Bond from all the Bonds and Bauers of this world, unlike the undoubtedly top tier entries that sit either side of it.
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