It’s the longest running movie franchise in the history of the world. In total, it has grossed billions worldwide, surpassing perhaps the gross domestic product of many small nations. In 1964, James Bond skulked from the hard-boiled cynicism of Ian Fleming’s novels onto the Silver Screen, introducing the world to their Favorite Super Spy. Yet time was unkind to the Bond franchise, and the films descended into stale parodies of themselves, straying further from not only Sean Connery’s iconic debut but also the fascinating, amoral spy of Fleming’s novels. Then came “Casino Royale” and Daniel Craig. With Daniel Craig, Bond found his relevance again, and his heart. Today, facing high expectations in the wake of “Casino Royale”, “Quantum of Solace” has stirred up violent controversy as to its quality against “Casino Royale.” Today, we let the newest Bond go up against the last Bond, trying to put what has become something of a media field day to rest.
“Quantum of Solace” arrives under the direction of Mark Forster, scripted by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The movie is a somber epilogue to “Casino Royale”, with a betrayed and bitter Bond viciously hunting the mysterious organization behind his former lover’s demise. Bond is largely unforgiving, a force that is at times both brutal and surgical. As he nears the organization (named Quantum), Bond finds himself in the middle of a South American coup de tat, underscored by an oddly realistic attempt to horde the world’s water supply. Incorporating elegance and taste with the typical tropes of Bond, “Quantum of Solace” is a lean–if somewhat too short–depiction of a Bond that finds a cold place for Double-O Seven in the modern world.
The Defending Champion
“Casino Royale” burst onto the cinematic stage, stunning Bond historians with its gritty, relentless take on Bond. Daniel Craig assumes the role of James Bond, an arrogant spy whose cockiness and naivete earns him his downfall. Michael Campbell (Goldeneye) returns to direct a script by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. This is a thinking man’s Bond, large on both action and exposition. Eva Green plays the delightful Vesper, the only woman to have ever broken Double-O Seven’s heart. Here, Campbell explores the beginnings of Bond and how he came to be that suave, cruel spy Sean Connery first portrayed in “Dr. No.” Slightly top-heavy with action, “Casino Royale” has been hailed as the best Bond in decades.
Whenever I read an enormous amount of reviews that discredit a movie’s quality based on its predecessors’, my alarm instantly goes off. Such has been the case with “Quantum of Solace”, where many reviewers have used more mentions of “Casino Royale” than bad filmmaking to criticize the film.
However, this misses a fundamental point: “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” are largely companion films, in the vein of the Bourne movies or the :Lord of the Ring” trilogy. They both stand and do not stand on their own. Just as “The Bourne Supremecy” functioned as more of a tonal, so does “Quantum of Solace.”
“Casino Royale” is an ambitious film. It contains some of the most thrilling action sequences in recent years, introducing the leap-frogging parkor to American audiences. Bond grows and transforms as a character, pushed by his love for Vesper and his professional arrogance to new depths. It is this professional arrogance that makes him blind to Vesper’s treachery and results in his shattered heart at film’s end. Craig is a spectacular Bond and is obviously working with some great material in the form of the script, which is both solid and fun.
However, Casino Royale is also a tad chunky. For a film so remembered for its love story, it’s surprising that many do not notice that the second act of the film is rather skimpy on the love. Instead, it focuses on a tense poker match between Bond and the villain, Le Chiffre–with Vesper providing occasional contempt or disgust toward Bond’s aggressive behavior. Then the love story between Vesper and Bond is crammed into a twenty-minute montage before the film’s climax. The dialogue here is hammy and forced, and even overacted. How many times can we see lovers in Venice or lovers on a beach? And then suddenly, and without a good amount of prompting other than him saying so, Bond is willing to give up his newly-acquired Double-O status and sail the world with Vesper. This is in part to the directing and editing, which constructs time poorly. One can’t tell if the events in “Casino Royale” take place over one month, one week, or one year. In either case, it would be hard to believe the cold-killing Bond falling in love in a mere matter of days. It seems that the film purposefully obscures this data for that mere purpose.
Also, despite many fan praises, this is not the first film to showcase Bond falling in love and tragedy, or even exhibiting character growth. That title goes to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a rarely-watched Bond film that has never received its due. Here, much the same thing happens as in Casino Royale and is executed in much the same way. Bond falls in love with a woman. Suddenly, the woman becomes background noise as the villain’s plot takes centerstage. In the end, the romance plot returns in full force and Bond’s gushing over the woman just in time to get married and see her shot dead. It’s also worth noting that both these films embrace Ian Fleming’s novelizations more than most. Add to this “The World is Not Enough”, which also depicts a Bond falling in love and later betrayed by this women. I would argue that the love story in “The World is Not Enough” should have functioned as a model for Bond and Vesper, being that it is much more entwined with the overall film.
What is new is what we see in “Quantum of Solace.” This movie takes the opportunity that OHMMSS’ sequel, “Diamonds are Forever”, blew with its hokey Las Vegas camp. “Quantum of Solace” shows a Bond devastated by personal loss, wrapped in a prison of rage and bitterness. But it also showcases a subtly growing Bond, one that must be paid attention to in order to understand his journey. Bond is attempting to settle his past and put his heart. Should he remember Vesper as lover or bitch? This is an inherently personal question, and one that is hugely relatable. This despair and tornment fuels Bond, his resentment at even being in this situation aptly acted by Craig, whose glaring Bond rushes through the film taking out anyone who stands in his way. This is a Bond who is not only accomplishing a mission, but also sending a message. Beneath all his brutality is the skilled and precise thinking of a Ian Fleming’s strategic spy. Now, granted, Craig is given less to work with in terms of character growth, but more to work with in terms of acting. Craig sells with nuance and taste the inner turmoil of Bond which is the film’s propane. Yet, Craig is also able to reconcile this rage with Bond’s charm as he fights in tuxedos and demands the finest hotels in Bolivia. Add to this a new sense of humor for Bond; it is a cruel, personal sense of humor that is totally specific to Bond and his mood. Also of note is Craig’s ability to showcase Bond against Rene Mathis, their scenes excellent fodder for the ominous fate in store for Bond in this world of espionage.
The Bond girls in this film have a tough act to follow, both in terms of the movie and the plot. Bond is reeling from his tragedy with Vesper. He is too absorbed to notice most of these women and in fact abstains from sleeping with the primary Bond girl! To have Bond falling in love or even lust with any of these women would’ve betrayed the emotional turmoil over Vesper’s death, which is the main thrust of this movie. Instead, Forster and Craig make a point of Bond’s cruel indifference to many of the women in the film, as it is developing from him not simply being a mysoginst but not trusting women.
What is perhaps the weakest aspect of the film is its villain. Dominic Greene is a rather ordinary businessman who is using his power to manipulate world politics and the water supply. At first, this troubled me and then as I watched the movie I realized the film is not about the villain–it’s about Bond. It’s not “will Bond save the day?” It’s “to what lengths will Bond go to g
et revenge?” What is actually motivating Bond here? Revenge or duty? And this is good because we all know in the end of the day Bond will always save the day. Instead, Forster has us thinking at what cost (or gain) does he save the day, and for what reasons.
Helping this is that Bond is literally running against the entire intelligence community. Both Britain and The United States are in bed with Dominic Greene (which probably accounts for his toned-down villany), and view Bond’s determination to destroy Greene and Quantum as a security risk. This forces Bond into a harrowing position, where his revenge transforms into a noble sense of duty heretofore unseen in Bond films. He must do what no one else has the moral fiber to do. Complicating and enhancing this is Judi Dench’s M, who is easily becoming one of the best aspects of the entire Bond franchise. Bond and M’s relationship continues to develop. Bond is fiercely protective of and loyal to M. One can tell that for Bond, M is the one woman he could not stand to lose. For M, she finally begins to see who Bond is and what he’s good for–and more importantly, the noble sense of right and wrong that fuels him and remains untouched by his personal rage. He’s her best agent, not just in terms of skill but also in terms of this newly-explored integrity. And in a world like that of “Quantum of Solace”, where the good guys are in bed with the bad guys, M having such an agent on her side is essential.
Action in “Quantum of Solace” does not compete with “Casino Royale”. Despite having more of it, “Quantum of Solace’s” action is thrilling but not on par with the uniqueness of “Casino Royale’s”. Also, it simply continues the trend of action that Campbell established in Casino Royale, which is the smartest and most obvious choice to have made. Granted, “Quantum of Solace’s” opera house sequence is a deftly crafted action sequence that contrasts brutality with elegance. Craig, like no other Bond, pulls off fighting in a tuxedo with so much confidence and grace that it’s more of a pleasure, than a thrill, to watch.
This was a hard one and the winner wins by only an inch. “Casino Royale” rode to greatness on the basis of a great script that had a large latitude to reconstruct Bond. However, it eventually descended into very familiar territory. It did leave us with an interesting and new Bond, one that we were eager to see further develop. Forster has been loyal to that character and to “Casino Royale” by further pushing him in “Quantum of Solace.” While the physical stakes may not be higher (or even more compelling), the emotional momentum of Bond’s personal loss is quite severe. In fact, it’s overwhelming. It permeates every action scene in Bond’s cruelty and ruthlessness. “Quantum of Solace” can rest easy knowing that it barely beats “Casino Royale,” continuing this new direction of showing a harder Bond that really is the best yet.