Musings on Bond at 50: Quantum of Solace

Posted: 3 November 2012 in entertainment, film
Tags: , , , ,

James Bond attempts to regain his Quantum of Solace as he sets off on a campaign of revenge for the death of his lover.

It’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for someone he loved.

Quantum of SolaceDaniel Craig’s second outing as 007 is the first direct sequel in the history of the franchise and began development even as Casino Royale was being critically acclaimed as the best James Bond film in decades. Quantum of Solace chronicles 007’s quest for revenge following the death of Vesper Lynd and his confrontation with supposed environmental champion Dominic Greene and the shadowy Quantum organisation.

Equalling or bettering Casino Royale was never going to an easy task for any successor and so there was a certain inevitability about Quantum of Solace failing to live up to expectations. One of the biggest bones of contention is the supposedly bewildering and nonsensical title. Film critic Mark Kermode (who is correct about Michael Bay being beyond terrible but incorrect in regarding The Exorcist as the greatest film ever) referred to the film as Question of Sport on one occasion. The original Quantum of Solace is one of the five tales published in Ian Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only short story collection of 1958. According to Fleming, when the “Quantum of Solace” drops to zero, humanity and consideration of one human for another is gone and the relationship is finished. For fans of the literary James Bond (or anyone who cared to Google) the significance of the phrase was easily understood. Bond is unable to care or love following his betrayal by Vesper and must learn to trust once more.

The first thing you should know about us is that we have people everywhere.

Quantum of Solace - ToscaOne of the most intriguing elements of Casino Royale is the criminal organisation behind Vesper’s betrayal and Mr White’s walking off with Bond’s winnings from the game at Casino Royale. A highlight comes with Bond’s infiltration of the organisation’s black tie “board meeting” under cover of a performance of Tosca in Bregenz, Austria. Such a scene would not have been out of place in one of the early Sean Connery Bonds. Taking inspiration from the film’s title producer Michael G Wilson named the organisation Quantum – which unfortunately conjures up images of a marketing company rather than a global criminal cabal. A for-profit pseudo-terrorist organisation with connections to the highest circles of government and corporate power in the world has already been encountered in the Bond universe. It is named SPECTRE and headed up by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Save for Goldfinger SPECTRE was a staple of all the 007 films in the 1960s and it’s a shame that it was not resurrected for the new timeline created by Casino Royale. A new faithful interconnect version of the Blofeld Trilogy of Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice is begging to be made with a grittier Bond in the style of Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig. The end of Quantum of Solace cried out for a conclusion of a pair of hands stroking a white cat and declaring that James Bond is a threat to SPECTRE…

We deal with the left and the right, dictators or liberators.

Quantum of Solace - Dominic GreeneIn both Licence To Kill and Quantum of Solace 007 is disavowed by MI6 whilst engaged upon a mission of revenge in Latin America after the death of a female he cared for. He even punches out MI6 agents in order to avoid enforced return to England. The two have very different central plot elements though. Timothy Dalton’s second and final outing as Bond evolved around drug lords and Craig’s involves the acquisition of seemingly barren land in Bolivia in order to seize control of the nation’s water supplies. Whereas the underlying theme of Casino Royale had been one of terrorism the sequel focuses on environmentalism. As producer Michael G Wilson explained the concept was a timely one:
“If you remember in Chinatown, if you control the water you control the whole development of the country. I think it’s true. Right now it appears to be oil, but there’s a lot of other resources that we don’t think about too much but are all essential, and they’re very limited and every country needs it. Because every country knows that raising the standard of living (and populations are getting bigger) is the way we’re all going.”

Hindering the creation of a wholly coherent narrative for Quantum of Solace was the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike. Screen writer Paul Haggis delivered his final rewrites only two hours before he was obliged to down tools and writers registered with the guild were forbidden from tweaking the script until the strike had concluded. Daily rewrites are always an element of Bond films and Tomorrow Never Dies couldn’t have been made without the option to change the script. Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster constantly reworked elements of the script themselves as they were amongst the few permitted to do so.

You two do make the perfect couple, you are, what’s the expression, damaged goods!

Quantum of Solace - Bond and Camille A bizarre criticism levelled at Quantum of Solace is Bond failing to get off with the leading lady Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), even though he did bed the delightfully named Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton). The non-consummation of the relationship between Bond and Camille makes perfect sense in the context of the narrative. Both characters have been psychologically damaged by experience and aren’t prepared to fully open up. Camille is a tougher, rougher and angrier individual than Vesper and the contrast makes her a perfect foil for 007 in their respective quests for revenge. Whether glamorous in an evening dress or bruised and battered, Kurylenko is nothing short of stunningly attractive in each scene in which she appears and has great physicality. Following the release of Quantum of Solace the producers voiced an interest in Camille returning to counterpoint 007 in another adventure. Such musings didn’t follow in the wake of Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight after The Man with the Golden Gun.

One aspect that gained near unanimous consensus was the unmitigated awfulness of the theme song Another Way To Die as performed Alicia Keys and Jack White. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name imbued a thundering pace to carry Casino Royale from the pre-credit sequence into the main body of the film. This first duet in the history of the franchise induces a near coma with its monotonous and uninspiring nature and vies with Rita Coolidge’s All Time High from Octopussy as contender for the worst Bond theme ever. The opening title sequence from MK12 (replacing Daniel Kleinman who’d been present since GoldenEye) are equally as bland as the song they accompany.

Quantum of Solace - Aston MartinThe frenetic editing style employed by Marc Forster was also rightly criticised. Often it became difficult to keep tabs on who was doing what where – a prime example being the opening chase involving Bond’s Aston Martin. When the car begins spinning after a collision it becomes a perfect metaphor for the inside of the viewer’s head. Forster had wanted his film to move faster than Casino Royale, which he considered far too long at 144 minutes, and clocked in with a running time of 106 minutes, making it the shortest of the Bond films. But in the process far too much progressional sense was sacrificed and despite a highly respectable box office of $586 million the rehabilitation of the franchise stalled with Quantum of Solace.

1 From Russia With Love
2 Goldfinger
3 Casino Royale
4 Licence To Kill
5 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
6 GoldenEye
7 The Living Daylights
8 The Spy Who Loved Me
9 Thunderball
10 Dr. No
11 Quantum of Solace
12 For Your Eyes Only
13 You Only Live Twice
14 Tomorrow Never Dies
15 The World Is Not Enough
16 Die Another Day
17 Octopussy
18 Moonraker
19 Diamonds Are Forever
20 A View To A Kill
21 Live And Let Die
22 The Man with the Golden Gun

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