Serial, Super Serial: Quantum of Solace

Quantum

Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components

It’s been a long, hard journey. We’ve been from Russia with love, to the Swiss Alps, and even to outer space. Through 22 (+1) films, I can’t say I’m a diehard fan — hell, I can’t even say I liked most of these films — but it was important for me to fill this gaping hole in my cinema experience. If anything, seeing all of these films over a few months span has allowed me to closely identify the running themes, similarities and differences between them. I’ll never forget some of the Bond Girls, villains, gadgets and songs (for better or for worse). Now that I’ve seen these films, there is no doubt in my mind that they are truly “iconic.” And even when they’ve been bad, they’ve still been fun.

As for Quantum of Solace, this is strangely the least substantial film of the series. Perhaps this has more to do with the momentum built by Casino Royale, and it may not be completely fair to have held such high expectations. Quantum isn’t at all a bad film, and there are few major problems, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere in its brisk 107 minute runtime — making it the shortest film of the series. It feels much more like a bridge between films than a complete film itself, which is a bit troubling given the financial nature of MGM and the consistent hold-off Bond 23. Lucky for us, Skyfall is in the works. Hopefully it will answer many of the questions put forth.

Quantum does feel like a very contemporary Bond flick. The way the action is directed is very reminiscent of many other blockbuster films in cinemas today. If I had to guess, I would say the average shot length here would be less than a second. I’ve heard a lot of grumbling from critics about the fast-paced action, but I don’t know if I can say it better than former Bond Roger Moore: “I enjoy Daniel Craig, I think he’s a damn good Bond, but the film as a whole, there was a bit too much flashy cutting for me.” In a nutshell, that wraps up Quantum of Solace pretty well.

[Bond, James Bond]

For as much as we learned about Bond in Casino Royale, we don’t learn much more about his inner workings here. One of the major aims of the film is to build the tension between Bond and M and present Bond in the light of a killing machine — almost to comical lengths. Throughout the film, the only purpose of M is to keep harping that Bond is killing everyone in sight. He even gets blamed for people he didn’t actually kill. This all works in to a greater theme of trust: with a new crime syndicate on the horizon, it’s becoming more important to know who you can and can’t trust — and for some reason, M can’t seem to trust Bond, the only person in the film who does his job pretty well.

The film also tries to push Bond’s brooding state even more, building onto his reaction of the aftermath of Casino Royale and his relationship to Vesper Lynd. For the most part, this didn’t do much for me. Perhaps it was the fact that the film really feels more concerned with delivering action than it does in building the character. Like many elements of the movie, however, there are places to build in future films.

[The Mission]

Quantum of Solace begins directly after the end of Casino Royale, making it perhaps the most direct sequel of the franchise. Though there are interlocking threads throughout the series, there has never been any actual indication as to how the pieces all fit together. All of the films seem to exist in something like their contemporary times (though a few have a technological edge that really still doesn’t exist), but with the changes in cast and direction, the films tend to feel connected by the slightest of margins. I actually like the idea of the direct sequel and it is pretty fun moment when you realize the connection between the two films — as we’ve been trained for these films to have little connection to each other, it comes as a bit of surprise.

There are problems with this structure, though. Quantum of Solace attempts to expand on a particular story that didn’t seem begging for expansion. While Casino Royale ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, the film feels like its complete story. The extension of the story also makes it more difficult for the film to bring in really interesting villains and Bond Girls, as the film isn’t built around Bond interacting with these characters, but Bond following up on information from the first film.

The best scene of the film, however, is a direct tie in with Casino Royale — probably having more to do with that film than this one. The final scene of the film fully explores spoiler territory from the first film and should prove to be a very good jumping off point for the next movies in the series.

[The Villain]

Probably the most interesting thing to come out of Quantum of Solace is the introduction of a new major terrorist organization. Even though SPECTRE has had a great impact on the films, it has been a long, long time since they’ve had a major villain, even though I don’t think they had an actual end. There isn’t a lot of information or action from this new threat (known as “Quantum”), so yet again there’s something to build upon. We do know, though, that Quantum can be a force to be reckoned with, and they have agents everywhere, even within MI6. That is one thing that SPECTRE never had — an influence within government agencies.

Dominic Greene is our major player here, a top agent of Quantum who poses as a leading environmentalist. In the film, Greene is working with a Bolivian general to overthrow his country’s government, which would be a pretty awful thing for a terrorist organization to do. Greene, on the other hand, doesn’t seem quite so threatening. He ends up being one of the blander villains of the series, which seems to be by design — as Forster has noted he didn’t want the character to look grotesque. Looking at the Wikipedia page for the film, I also see that there was previously a “special skill” Greene was supposed to display, but this was changed in the final script. This sort of reads to me that Forster doesn’t quite understand what makes Bond villains great.

[The Bond Girls]

Whereas Quantum of Solace tries to work away from the norm with its villains, the Bond Girls are pretty ordinary with the series’ standards. Camille Montes is a sexual partner of Dominic Greene who is actually a former Bolivian secret agent trying to get close to the villain. Before we know her true identity, we see her used as a sexual pawn during business transactions, though she seems strangely okay with it. We also have a touch of Melina Havelock in Montes, as her parents were murdered by the the baddies. None of these Bond tropes come together satisfactorily, though, and she doesn’t have much emotional impact on the film. She mainly just feels like a tag-a-long, even when the film wants to make an emotional connection between her and Bond.

To me, the more interesting Bond Girl in the film is Gemma Arterton’s Strawberry Fields. Though she is only in the film for one or two scenes, she is able to make her presence felt in a way Camille never could with much more weighty material. I appreciated how the film seemed to cut out all of the games Bond Girls tend to play — it’s become much less interesting to see them continue to say they won’t end up in bed with Bond but then ultimately do anyway. Instead, cutting directly to Fields and Bond in bed together cuts out a lot of treading water and becomes a pretty good visual joke. Even though M describes Fields as someone who “just worked in an office,” she is surprisingly charismatic and the film uses her in a charmingly matter-of-fact way. Unfortunately, she is added to the list of Bond Girls that die young, though her being killed by being covered in oil is a nice call back to the greatest of Bond Girl death scenes.

[The Song]

As a fan of Jack White, I think his music fits well with a modern Bond film — it’s soulful, yet hip, and White’s talent allows him to adapt to a Bond-like theme. The duet with Alicia Keys even works pretty well, as it’s not the ballady sort of song I’m used to hearing from her. I don’t think “Another Way to Die” has as much fanfare as other Bond songs, but it’s among the best.

“A door left open
A woman walking by
A drop in the water
A look in the eye
A phone on the table
A man on your side
Oh, someone that you think that you can trust
Is just
Another way to die”

The opening title sequence is another example of something much better achieved in Casino Royale — here they are fairly bland and forgettable. Without having written any specific notes on them, I actually don’t remember what happens in them.

[Random Thoughts]

- OK, I watched this entire movie and I still don’t know what “Quantum of Solace” means.

- Where can I get one of those tables you can push around graphics on? Can I put it in my Amazon wish list?

- No one said anything about Bond having a license to grand theft auto.

- It’s assuring to know that Bond packs a tuxedo wherever he goes.

- The next time I’m at the opera, I’m going to be looking around for terrorists.

- Forster chooses to inter-cut a shoot-out with scenes from an opera — I didn’t realize I was watching a John Woo film.

- Rule of thumb for secret agents: Always have a personal line of credit.

- It’s not easy reading two subtitled conversations at the same time.

- Not that we didn’t know it already, but Bond is incapable of staying at a hotel of less than five stars.

- Even though the main villain is a bit bland, there is truly nothing scarier than an environmentalist.

- I imagine that most times Bond gets pulled over for a traffic incident it ends in a shootout.

- It would have been a little sad if this is how the series ended. I’m super glad MGM got their finances straightened out so we get to see Skyfall. Early prediction: Javier Bardem will be awesome.

- Thanks for reading.

tags: james bond, marc foster, quantum of solace, super serial

  • Anonymous

    I hope you will review Skyfall.

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