A previous review of this film can be found here.

A guide to this blog's James Bond marathon can be found right here.


QUANTUM OF SOLACE
Directed by Marc Forster
Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Premiered 29 October, 2008

PRE-TITLE SEQUENCE
Zooming swooshy camera over the Mediterranean - cars! Speed! Cars! Speed! Swerve!

Speed traffic cars! Zoom zoom vrrrrrrrm zoom! Is an Aston Martin car! Trucks! Crash swerve speed crinkle crackle crash! Zoom tunnel swerve driver speed crash! Car cliff speed fall explosion! Traffic police! Swerve! Town! Zoom alley vrrrm speed zoom!

And then, after three minutes of the most fucking incoherent action editing of which the mind can conceive, we find out that it's just minutes after the end of Casino Royale, and that a very, very pissed-off James Bond (Daniel Craig) didn't kill the mysterious, treacherous Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) at the end of that movie, like we'd been so awesomely led to believe, but has merely stashed him in the trunk of his car. "It's time get out", says Bond with jolly menace, like Craig forgot that he wasn't playing Roger Moore's son for that day of shooting.

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Rating: 1 Union Jack Parachute


TITLE SONG
Amy Winehouse, now she was an absolutely obvious, practically perfect choice to sing a Bond theme in 2008. But her legal woes spooked the producers. Next up: Alicia Keyes, definitely not as intuitive a choice as Winehouse, but yeah, I can see where they were going-

-except it's not just Keyes, or even primarily Keyes; it's a duet between Keyes and Jack White duetting on a Jack White composition called "Another Way to Die", because "quantum of solace" would have been even harder to work into the lyrics of a song than all the other weird Bond titles put together. Though the word "solace" does appear. And Jack White is also an intuitive choice, but only in the ugly, negative sense of, "we're making a hip, super-contemporary James Bond picture, and Jack White is hip, so we will seem extra-hip if we have him do our theme song". And heck, I completely like White's work, at least his White Stripes stuff. But Jesus, is "Another Way to Die" a ghastly Bond them, all full of jarring arrhythmia and barked-out lyrics that have been buried underneath the production. Though it's something about the weary life of a spy, with some wordplay that deserves better than it gets and some strained imagery that deserves even less. The whole thing is so rat-a-tat and harsh that even if it was a good song - and it's not, White and Keyes don't pair well together at all - it would still be an awful way to ease into a Bond movie. Coming on top of that gruesomely hyper-edited opening car chase, it would be easy to assume that we're headed into a choppy, erratic sort of movie, which ends up making this an unfortunately good match for the film it precedes.

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Rating: 1.5 Shirley Basseys


TITLE SEQUENCE
Goddamn, this movie is unbelievably anxious to make a bad first impression. In reviewing GoldenEye, I observed that the three opening categories in my review format combined for a higher score than in any other Bond picture, implying that it has the most rousing pre-title and credits sequence of any film in the franchise. Well, Quantum of Solace turns out to be its evil twin, with the worst score across these categories. And to finish off the terrible opening of a movie that - spoiler alert - turns out to also be terrible, we have a credits sequence designed not by the smart and creative Daniel Kleinman, but by graphic arts collective MK12, brought on because of their work with director Marc Forster on his two previous films.

The results are, with all apologies to the independent graphic artist collectives out there, ugly as sin: the whole thing is bathed in teals and oranges, and not just teals and oranges, but subdued, twilight-like teals and oranges, which somehow makes it even more objectionable. There's also a strong reliance on globes, circles, and dots that goes absolutely nowhere, despite being omnipresent. On the other hand, they bring back the silhouettes of naked women, finding an ingenious conceptual hook that ties into the film's plot in a clever but not ham-fisted way. So it's not a complete wash, and there's a naked girl zoetrope near the end that is, while dumb, at least zestfully dumb.

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Rating: 2 Silhouetted Women


THE PLOT
In Siena, Italy, White is interrogated by MI6, and inadvertently reveals to M (Judi Dench) the existence of a massive criminal syndicate heretofore unknown by the British or American intelligence agencies; but no sooner does he spill this secret than he escapes with the aid of a mole in MI6, who attempts to kill M in the process. An infuriated Bond tracks the double agent down and kills him, but even though 007 has cut the trail off cold, angering his boss something fierce, he's able to follow a thread back to Haiti, where he intercepts an assassin sent to kill a woman named Camille (Olga Kurylenko), on behalf of industrial environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).

Hot on the scent, Bond follows Greene to Austria, where an excessively avant-garde production of Tosca serves as the rendezvous for Greene, White, and several other members of the mysterious organization which we now learn is called Quantum. Their goals are unclear, but it's certain anyway that Greene needs to be stopped, and when Bond kills a Special Branch officer in Quantum's employ, M starts howling for his blood, leaving him forced to sneak off to Bolivia, where Greene is orchestrating a coup and installing General Medrano (JoaquΓ­n Cosio) as dictator, all so he can take control of the country's water supply, recognising that in the 21st Century, drinking water will be among the scarcest and most precious of resources. Here, Bond reunites with Camille, who has been playing a long game this whole time, hoping to get in close to Medrano in order to kill him, to avenge her own parents, murdered at the general's own hand many years ago. Bond, who has been driven this whole mission less out of a sense of duty than a desire to get payback for the death of Vesper Lynd in the last movie, approves.

In fairness, though almost all of the worst problems with Quantum of Solace - which are very bad indeed - are there from the concept on up, the plot isn't actually the problem, even as it is self-evidently beaten together by too many writers and script doctors and revisions on the fly during the shoot. Greene's plot is clean and basic, the overall flow of the story happens naturally, and there are some really strong ideas plugged in about the role Britain plays as America's lapdog in the post-Cold War, and the changing face of geopolitics.

On the other hand, these ideas are squandered by a messy script that is tremendously imbalanced on the micro level, feeling both ungodly rushed and ungodly stretched-out, depending on where you are in the film. At 106 minutes, it's the shortest Bond film ever made - and that's without accounting for the expanded length of end credits between the 1960s and 2008 - and it's absurdly obvious that more time, perhaps even much more, was necessary to let this all breath properly. Anyway, the whole thing comes crashing down on the question of why, exactly Bond needs to go on revenge mission anyway, but we'll discuss that later.

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Rating: 2.5 Stolen Nukes


THE VILLAIN
Every Bond movie, even the worst, needs to have its moment of glory, and in Quantum of Solace, it's Dominic Greene, and especially, Mathieu Amalric's performance of him; a Bond movie like we've never quite seen before. Le Chiffre in Casino Royale was already a step in the direction of grounded, workaday bad guys who make sense in a modern setting, but he still had the bleeding eye, and there's always a sense that he's up to a lot more operatic mischief when he's not busily playing poker to save his life. But Greene, despite the vague Elliot Carver overtones of a public philanthropist secretly engineering the exact same crises he's pretending to help, is the antithesis of a Bond villain, in all the right ways; he feels almost like the bad guys' accountant, a petty, small reptile of a man (heck, the first thing we ever see him doing is clerical work, stamping a document). Amalric, of course, specialises in horrid little men, so the role is right up his alley, if, indeed, it wasn't casting him that focused the character in this direction.

At any rate, he's a fascinatingly "little" antagonist who matches well with Craig's more earthly, human-scaled James Bond, and only the obvious way in which the film increasingly has no idea what to do with him keeps him out of the top-tier of Bond antagonists.

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Rating: 3.5 Evil Cats


THE GIRL
You'd think - you'd be wrong - that by 2008, the Bond producers would have solved the issue of how to make a compelling, strong female foil for their hero. And yet here comes the strangely multi-national Camille (her surname is ostensibly Montes), but it's never stated onscreen), a Bolivian with French name played by a Ukrainian, who is clearly built to be a bold new kind of Bond girl with a drive and motivation all her own that overlaps with Bond's only at points, who doesn't even ever once have sex with Bond! And who - this is the important part - is not terribly interesting, although how much of that is because the bulk of her character arc falls during the film's second half, where the entire plot seems to collapse in on itself, is hard to say. Kurylenko fights as hard as she can to do something with the part, and she honestly comes pretty close to making a character out of this bundle of story notes, but her big emotional climax is embarrassingly played by all parties, scuttling a character journey that was already pretty provisional.

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Rating: 2.5 White Bikinis


THE HENCHMAN
I'm not completely certain how to approach this one, but if he's not a "henchman", the designated Second Villain is pretty clearly General Medrano, so let's run with that. In Cosio's hands, he's certainly a burly, charismatic sort of gentleman, and it's obvious even from his little screentime what a wonderful CIA-controlled strongman he'd make if not for running afoul of Bond and Camille; but he's also rather indifferently located in the plot, of interest to us solely because of Camille's existence, and since she is already not really that interesting, it's hard to find Medrano any more worthy of notice than Bond does, and Bond plainly regards him as a plot device. And so he is - an enjoyable plot device, but nothing more.

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Rating: 3 Metal-Plated Teeth


THE SECONDARY GIRL WHO ENDS UP DEAD
I didn't even bother mentioning the bit where Bond is approached in Bolivia by Fields (Gemma Arterton), an agent sent to safely retrieve him from his illegal, vigilante shenanigans; because it doesn't even matter, and Fields is plainly inserted into the plot mostly because with Bond and Camille never even daydreaming about sex, there has to be somebody to do the naughty with him; and also so that after she dies (in a scene far too eager to remind us of Goldfinger), M can go on a tirade that gives Oscar Winner Judi Dench a chance to show off. A good sign of the character's importance to anything: her last action is to warn Bond to run, a warning which he promptly ignores.

And just to add insult to injury, the character requires the fetching Arterton to wear a red wig that you wouldn't expect to see outside of your nightmares.

(The character's first name, incidentally, is Strawberry, but as this is pointedly not mentioned onscreen, I will not hold it against her. Because what the Jiminy Cricket Fuck is that about).

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Rating: 1.5 Golden Corpses


ACTION SEQUENCES
As the more action-heavy companion to Casino Royale, it would behoove Quantum of Solace to have, y'know, good action. And if "lots of noisy action that is super damn busy" is the same as good, then it does. Except that it isn't the same thing at all, and the action in this film, making up a sizable percentage of its running time, is unnaturally terrible; not as humiliating as the worst Roger Moore pictures, and the car chase at the beginning is the worst part; but still pretty terrible overall. I'll be talking about it later, so let's not belabor it now.

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Rating: 1.5 Walther PPKs


GADGETRY
Well, shit, what to do? Still no Q, and still not toys, but there is tech, in the form of MI6's absurdly busy iDesk, which seemed way cooler until similar, and much saner, technology was pretty much mandatory on every new cell phone. And Bond has a little poison pin thingy that I'd ordinarily say was a pretty fine, low-key gadget. But the point is still realism, and thus still not gadgetry, and I will honor that.


THE FIENDISH LAIR (and other sets)
Peter Lamont retired with Casino Royale; to take his place, we now welcome Dennis Gassner, who starts off with an exercise in quality over quantity. There's only one show-off set in the movie (unless, as I presume was not the case, Gassner was involved in staging Tosca), but it's a stunner: the isolated super-modern hotel in the Bolivian desert where Bond and Green have their final showdown. One part stupendously lush foyer, several parts severely geometric interior design, it is the ideal marriage of the new seriousness of the Craig-era Bond with a flourish for style that we haven't seen since the Connery years, which got to cheat their way into style anyhow, since the '60s were already happening all around. The endgame of Quantum of Solace might be overlong and dull, but by God, it takes place in gorgeous surroundings.

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Rating: 4 Volcano Fortresses


ELEGANT LIFESTYLE PORN
Ludicrously erratic. On the one hand, Bond revisits the glorious recipe for a Vesper martini - a drink I happen to have been enjoying while writing this very review, with all due thanks to Mr. Ian Fleming - and on the other, he gets so hammered that he actually forgets what he's been drinking. He sneaks into what looks like the world's coolest opera house, and it's during a crazily inventive (to the point that it looks kind of stupid) production of an opera desperately in need of rejuvenation, and he doesn't even care. He puts on one of the sleekest tuxes in the franchise, and- okay, Craig looks heavenly in a tux, we have to credit him with that.

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Rating: 2.5 Vodka Martinis


APPEARANCE OF "BOND. JAMES BOND."
Isn't one. Because that would make it too much like a fucking James Bond film, duh.


BEST QUIP
BOND: "I promised them Le Chiffre and they got him."
M: "They got his body."
BOND: "Well, if they wanted his soul, they should have made a deal with a priest."


ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
Prior to this retrospective, Quantum of Solace was the only Bond film that I had seen just the once, during its U.S. opening weekend, and I had truly hoped that I might feel a bit warmer to it now that I knew what to expect. In the event, I was surprised: I liked it less.

Its chief problem remains as obvious as ever, and that is that it was directed by a man with an avowed dislike for the Bond franchise, who came on board only because he saw in Casino Royale a film that undid all the things he disliked about the character. But, as should be obvious to anyone with a brain, the genius of Casino Royale was not that it was a massive "fuck you" to James Bond, but that it reduced Bond to his essence, stripping away all the accretions of 44 years, whether they were delightful (Moneypenny), dubious (puns), or both (Q Branch). It was brilliant, in short, because it was a re-configuration of Bond that stayed entirely loyal to what we all loved through all those decades.

But Forster didn't see it that way, and used Casino Royale as a license to make Quantum of Solace the least Bondian Bond film outside of, arguably, Licence to Kill. Which it also followed, in that it resembled the mainstream of contemporaneous action cinema rather than the formula established by Eon Productions: in LtK's case, that meant a thousand films about Americans trudging through South American jungles, shooting at copper-skinned folk, while for QoS, it meant ripping of the Jason Bourne trilogy as vigorously as possible.

The important caveat is that Licence to Kill was a essentially non-Bond film that was still pretty good action cinema; Quantum of Solace is a non-Bond film that is shitty action cinema. I still adore The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, but I am truly sorry about what the the latter film's editing Oscar win did to the world: countless action sequence in countless action movies that have been assembled without any eye whatsoever to continuity or coherence. In QoS, that means an opening car chase that is such a violation of every rule that has ever governed narrative or experimental cinema that simply re-watching it feels like digging out the old VHS tape of the time burglars cannibalised my parents, a fistfight between two white blond men in suits where it becomes instantly impossible to tell which one is which, a footrace that besmirches the elegant one in Casino Royale so fully that it actually makes the earlier film seem worse, and which can only communicate the simple detail of who is winning by means of overwrought Foley effects, and a plane crash that is genuinely boring, it's so hectic and inscrutable.

It's such an abominable action movie that everything else must seem better in comparison, although there's still the one other hugely awful mistake the film makes: ignoring the entire arc of Casino Royale, which was already, in every way, a better Bond film and better cinema generally. See, that film was about how James Bond, new recruit to MI6, became the cold-blooded Agent 007. That's literally how every last detail of the concluding 15 minutes is structured: "the bitch is dead", the smirk when he shoots White, "Bond. James Bond", Monty Norman's 007 theme finally ejaculating all over the soundtrack after rubbing the tip around several musical cues throughout the film. So what is the basic, most essential dramatic nugget of that film's sequel - the first and, thank Christ, only direct sequel in the franchise? Watching James Bond become James Bond. It even ends with, literally, the exact same narrative and aural beat: Bond exorcises his demons about Vesper, and Monty Norman's theme bursts out, only this time the gun barrel sequence that was mysteriously absent from the opening of the film comes along to make the same point even more aggressively.

It's all so pointless and incompetent and dumb. Seriously, fuck you, Quantum of Solace. I'm drunk on Vesper martinis, and I just don't like you.

Let's get to Skyfall, already.


OVERALL SCORE
25.5/55 [eq. 27.81/60]