RECAP: Quantum of Solace
Quantum of Solace (2008): Marc Forster
Picking up moments after the end of Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s James Bond follow-up is the first true sequel in the Bond canon. That fact alone makes this movie stand out.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: James Bond, fresh off the death of a lovely lady he fancied, tracks the organization responsible for her death.
James Bond (Daniel Craig) has rarely been in love. Not since the 1960s, to be precise. And like George Lazenby’s lone turn as 007, Craig’s Bond watches his beloved die.
Unlike the first time, we see the aftermath, in Quantum of Solace. Bond begins the movie in a chase, at the end of which we learn that he is transporting the nefarious Mr. White in his trunk, having kidnapped him at the end of Casino Royale. Bond sets him up for torture and interrogation, but all he learns is that the organization that turned Vesper Lynd has people everywhere.
Bond treks across the world to discover and dismember an organization known as Quantum. He’ll travel through Italy, Haiti, and Bolivia to find enemies in unusual locations and finding unusual people.
First, Bond must convince his own government that he’s not on a course of unstoppable vengeance. Actually, first he must convince himself. Bond tries desperately to not refer to the dead Vesper as anything but “a friend.” She meant nothing to him, he tells himself, but we never believe it. Vesper got as close as anyone could to Bond, and that probably scares him more than any character in this movie.
Is it a problem that Bond is chasing ghosts, avenging characters from another movie? A little. At least it’s a change from all the other Bond flicks. In making the first true sequel, producers act like they don’t know how. Mr. White escapes interrogation in an early scene, only to show up again to make a joke. He’s not seen after that. Is he the baddest bad guy, or not? Bond loses interest as well.
Bond kills contacts and leads as if they were fat mosquitoes. M (Judi Dench) can’t decide if she trusts Bond or not. Soon the body count is too high. She revokes his passport and credit cards. And the body count isn’t only bad guys. A nice, innocent employee of Britain’s Bolivian consulate dies after contacting Bond. Another of Bond’s friends dies as well.
Craig is his stonewall self in Quantum, offering little insight to his emotional state. That’s what’s made Bond such a lasting character–people can project whatever they want onto him.
We never get an answer about Bond’s tour of vengeance. He ends up killing Vesper’s “boyfriend,” but he still pretends that Vesper meant nothing much to him.
Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) fronts a eco-charity called the Greene Project. His company is buying up large tracts of land in South America, ostensibly to create green space, but really for much more nefarious reasons. What are they? You’ll have to read furt–water. It’s about water.
Greene, and the mysterious organization he represents, is buying and hoarding water throughout the continent. Soaking up what he calls “the world’s most precious resource,” Greene hopes to undermine regimes throughout the region, specifically the Bolivian, restoring the old dictator by overthrowing the current government.
One senses that perhaps filmmakers felt they did not have a strong villain in Greene, because he doesn’t appear onscreen until several minutes in, but that might also be a function of tidying up Mr. White in the opening minutes or the crippling writers strike that hampered the entire industry for several months.
Greene is a short, unblinking man who has others do his dirty work. He thinks highly of his position. After the debacle at a performance of Tosca, when Bond throws a guy off a roof, that guy lands atop Greene’s car. Greene asks if the man is “one of ours,” and, upon learning that he is not, says “then he shouldn’t be looking at me.” As if he’s so important. The driver steps out and twice plugs the goon.
Greene is a nasty man who might set back the environmental movement if his crimes are leaked. He had sex with Bolivian ex-secret agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko), then tried to have her killed, and when that failed he denigrated her personally, calling her “damaged goods.” If she slept with you, Dom, did you make her damaged goods? What a jerk.
The two best scenes in Quantum of Solace are its silent ones. That tells you all you need to know about the script’s quality.
First, the opening. The camera glides above blue water toward a stony tunnel snaking around a stubby Italian mountain. The sound is muted, save for the score’s soft strings. This creeping image is cut with shadowy closeups of a speeding car. Light flickers over a wheel here, a pedal there, the eyes of its driver.
The music and sound kick in when the first camera reaches the causeway, and it’s Bond, of course, driving the car, fleeing gunmen in hot pursuit. And they are pursuing the hell out of Bond, with fast cars and huge guns. Bond has only his driving skills.
Bond and his chasers weave through the road’s heavy traffic. Bond rams into the side of a lorry, and a huge shard of metal juts into the driver’s door. Bond whips the car sideways to wrench the door off. It’s like Frogger out there, and some bad guys’ cars are crashing into trucks.
The cars exit the tunnel and speed toward a marble quarry. How more Italian can this sequence get? Carabinieri spot the chase, and are so Italian that they can identify the cars as an Aston Martin and a Alfa Romeo. That much more Italian.
The police pursue Bond’s pursuers, but are quickly killed, outgunned and out-engined. One bad guy shoots a police jeep into a building and over the edge of a pit. There’s tremendous grimacing from Bond and glass shattering from the Aston Martin (the stunt crew did a great job capturing these moments).
The two cars lock together, Bond still dodging fire. Ahead they approach a bulldozer lumbering toward them. The cars disengage to swerve away on either side. Bond takes the time to remove his automatic rifle and kills the driver when the coast is clear, sending the Alfa Romeo into a ravine. Just like that it’s over.
The other scene is a terrific chase to see who can leave Tosca the fastest. Bond has blown up a Quantum meeting taking place during the landmark Puccini opera. The members sit apart but communicate with short wave radio or whatever and a listening device embedded in their ears. Bond, who has stolen one of these comm devices, spooks them by suggesting they find a better place to meet. That quip scares several to leave the show, and Bond takes a picture of them all, as he wanted.
But there’s a guy coming to get Bond, and he’s not too quiet about it. Bond has staked a spot above the stage, looking into audience, and the only way to reach him is up several loud flights of stairs. After Bond takes his photos, the chase is on.
Bond easily beats back the guy coming for him and reaches the floor level. In the show, some bad guys are herding prisoners into a prison in the stage floor. Brass instruments bellow. Bond and Greene reach the lobby at the same moment, and some genius in the editing room dropped out the movie sound, leaving Puccini’s score of crashing cymbals and horns to adorn the chase.
Bond and a wide-eyed Greene spot each other, the latter with backup. Bond breaks for the dining room, Greene’s goons chasing. The players in Tosca draw their guns to execute the prisoners, and the goons do as well. Bond kills a guy chasing him. In the opera, Tosca is murdering Scarpia. The music is only low strings.
Bond rolls into the kitchen, dodges gunfire, and body checks a goon into a rolling cart. He slaps a bowl at another goon, and the oil in that bowl catches fire. Bond exits the building and takes a goon hostage, throwing him off a roof.
Quantum of Solace is dripping with action scenes, likely to cover its dearth of dialogue. Clocking in at about 110 minutes, Quantum has the two scenes described above, a foot chase, a boat chase, and a plane chase, and all of these before the climax. It’s too much. The camera work in many of these scenes, unfortunately, is poor and shaky.
Bond is on a personal vengeance mission (though he won’t admit it, even to himself), so he’s given a partner also out for revenge. Camille (no last name) is a former Bolivian secret service agent infiltrating Greene’s inner circle, not for Greene, but for his client, General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), deposed and soon-to-be-reposed dictator of Bolivia.
When Camille was a child, the general killed her family while she watched, then set fire to her house. Camille carries a burn on her back that she’s not shy about. We meet Camille in Haiti, where she is moments away from meeting the general, who is meeting Greene to discuss his return to the throne, so to speak.
Camille boards Medrano’s speedboat and is seconds away from killing her enemy, until Bond leaps into her and ruins the plot, thinking he’s saved her life. She’s justifiably pissed about it, and to Bond’s credit he apologizes later.
Later, Bond advises Camille as she prepares to raid the desert hotel where the general will be. “This kill is personal,” he says. He tells her that her body will want to override her training, because it’s personal. She only needs one shot. “Make it count,” he says.
And she will. Camille storms the hotel without fear, and without Bond’s help. She lets him tag along. Twice in the movie Camille arrives in a car to save his life, although the first time she thought Bond was sent to kill her, and she fearlessly points a gun at Bond’s head and pulls the trigger, though Bond’s a touch faster.
She’s got some fight skills, but we only see them against the enormous Medrano, who’s likely fought lots of folks, and doesn’t worry about a woman half his size coming at him. He easily knocks her down. His overconfidence destroys him.
Greene’s chief assistant is an unbelievably cheeky weirdo named Elvis, who is definitely, DEFINITELY, from Belgium. That hairdo went out with the Renaissance, but this guy’s bringing it back. I love it for how bad it is. Also, he’s a big Tosca fan, given the excited look he gives his colleague during a dramatic scene in the opera.
LOOK AT THIS GUY. Is he for real?
How about a nice boat chase? Don’t get many of those.
Bond spends a lot of time sitting on a bike watching Camille introduce us to Dominic Greene. Camille, it seems, has a motive for meeting a deposed dictator of Bolivia, General Medrano–she wants to kill him. But first she must join him on his yacht.
Camille boards the general’s boat to take them to his yacht. Bond recognizes the danger, and he decides to act. First, he drives his bike onto and through two docked boats, landing on a third and running over some others, all the while watching the general’s boat. Bond finally finds a small unmanned craft and pilots it right into the side of the boat, throwing everyone to the deck and causing chaos.
Camille is first to act, drawing a pistol and pointing it at the general, but Bond is faster to act, spear tackling her into another boat and driving it away. Now, the general’s speedboats are into the act.
Camille is justifiably mad, of course, fighting off Bond, but they must first dodge bullets before they settle their beef. Henchmen are peppering their wood boat with machine gun fire. Another boat smacks the side of Bond’s craft. Camille stumbles around the deck as a boat rubs past on the starboard, but she’s quick enough to smack a gunman in the face with a harpoon.
Bond orders Camille to navigate, and soon he’s spraying water everywhere, including into the camera. Bond drives into one speedboat and then another, exploding an engine. The final speedboat is on them, forcing both to hit the deck. Bond and the other guy drive their boats to scrape the side of a large ship. Bond has an idea.
Bond kills the engine, forcing the trailing speedboat onto the boat’s aft, knocking out Camille in the process. Bond drops an anchor into the enemy boat, and the craft snaps backward at tremendous speed, the rubber craft crashing into the water with a thud. Bond drives away safely.
Let’s temper that water scene with one in the air. Fast forward to Bolivia, where Bond and Camille fly a large cargo plane across the Bolivian desert. They exchange pleasantries, until a fighter plane strafes the roof with bullets.
Bond does some nifty work with levers, lowering the landing gear as the plane nearly hits the dust. The Bolivian air force–who else could it be–has a spotter chopper trying to find the wreckage amongst the rocky mountains. Instead it finds the plane still airborne.
The fighter comes behind Bond and strafes the plane twice more, taking out the port engine. The fighter is too fast for the plane, and it’s each time forced to circle round after shooting. Bond can use that. As the fighter comes behind again, Bond smokes him away.
Bond uses the slow speed and size to fly atop the fighter, and with nifty turns the fighter is forced into a tight space its pilot cannot escape from. Kaboom.
A lot of warnings start beeping, and Bond throws a parachute at Camille. She gets the idea. Bond steers the plane from a hilltop, right into the line of fire from the helicopter. The plane absorbs more shots but stays airborne, very airborne, turning upward perpendicular to the ground. The shot engine finally gives out.
Bond leaves the pilot’s seat and slides down the cargo bay, smashing into a crate and leaping out with Camille. They struggle to reach each other as the plane explodes above them. After a struggle with the chute, they are on the ground and alive.
The stunts are the only part of Quantum not lacking in quality. The crew stages a tremendous fire sequence in the finale, in which walls and ceilings are exploding and burning. The high number and types of chases raise the difficulty as high as it can go.
All the concerned parties regarding Bolivia’s future leadership agree to meet at a postmodern hotel in the middle of the desert. A silly sentence and premise. Greene and his ridiculous cronies arrive after the Bolivians, Greene munching an apple. They have the cash, and with a few signatures, Quantum controls 60% of Bolivia’s water supply.
The general is displeased with kowtowing to Greene, and he retreats to his room to try to rape a hotel employee. He’s going to be interrupted.
Camille enters the hotel and stalks the general as Bond gets the violence started. He lands on the hood of the chief of police’s truck and says, “You and I had a mutual friend,” and he delivers lead justice. Bond kills the driver, and the jeep reverses into a wall and explodes a fuel cell. Of course it does. The hotel runs on fuel cells, and they are about to go Hindenburg on the place.
Bond is unfazed by a bunch of thundering explosions happening around him. He has the presence of mind to shoot some guys in their toes as they hide behind other cars. He runs up some stairs chasing Greene.
Camille, meanwhile, waits for a distraction and attacks. She ices a bodyguard and pistol whips another to enter the general’s room. But the general is there and easily disarms her.
Greene, meanwhile, is escaping. He props his Belgian freak in a strong defensive position, but too bad for him, because the entire end of the hotel is exploding, and the weird relapsed monk is incinerated. Greene flees in slow motion as glass explodes around him.
Bond chases Greene by somehow achieving the roof, and he shoots the glass roof and slams through it ahead of Greene. They stumble into a vicious fight. Greene attacks Bond with a metal pole. He strikes Bond in the the back, but the British agent recovers easily. Greene has much work to do to win this fight, and he knows it. That’s why he’s screaming so much, with each swipe.
Camille, meanwhile, is having problems of her own. She’s lost the element of surprise, and the general is a huge man of gross ideals, so throwing this tiny woman around is a piece of cake for him. Camille is no match, physically, for him. So he taunts her, telling her he sees the same look of fear in her that her mother had before he killed her. He also licks Camille’s face. Camille, enraged, bites his face and slashes it with her nails.
Back in the hallway, Greene has found and ax and is swinging that at Bond, who dodges the blows. Enormous fireballs are blooming everywhere, tearing apart the facility. Bond, standing on a walkway, finds that it collapses. A terrific shot has the camera attached to the falling end of the walkway, looking up at Bond as he hangs on. He climbs onto the as-yet-unbroken platform, but another tremendous explosion knocks both combatants into a wall.
Camille is on the ground, having been thrown through a glass table. She plays possum to draw the general closer, and she slashes and stabs him with a glass shard. El General stumbles around like a gorilla. Camille leaps toward her gun on the floor, takes it, aims…
Bond recovers in time to smash a fire hose door into Greene’s face. Greene, still screaming, swings the ax into his own foot. He falls over the ledge, but Bond catches him and holds him by the scalp…
Camille makes her one shot count. The general, man who haunted her dreams for decades, drops dead.
Greene, hearing the shot, jokes, “Sounds like you just lost another one.” Bond, not knowing what to think, grimaces, but actually saves Greene, pulling him up. The villain escapes the inferno.
Bond finds Camille in the fetal position, reliving the night she watched her parents burn to death. “Make it count,” she says, and she did. Bond shoots some kind of canister that explodes a hole in the wall to the outside.
The spies are safe. They stumble upon Greene, who is running through the desert to…what, exactly? Bond picks him up, interrogates him offscreen, and drops him in the middle of the middle of the desert, gives him a can of motor oil, and bets him he’ll make it 20 miles before he considers drinking it. Being a polite Brit, Bond says, “Goodbye, Mr. Greene,” before driving away.
For the second straight movie M is the funniest character. She laments that when someone says “We have people everywhere,” they don’t mean it literally. “Florists use that expression,” she says. This after being mad that Bond killed the guy who was her personal bodyguard for five years. She’s tough, that M, but you can’t Judi Dench being the comedic relief.
Haiti, Bolivia, Austria: The Bond crew sought unusual locations for Quantum of Solace, and it helps set the movie apart, especially from its predecessor and its Monte Carlo-like casino and Venice climax.
Haiti and Bolivia are not the most sought-after, spectacular destinations, but the camera finds ways to make them shine. Port-au-Prince is sunny, and Bond mostly stays by or on its shimmering waters. Bolivia is a stark, Venus-like desert of rocky mountains and crevices. In either location Bond finds the finest hotels for his paramours to die in.
Some group wants to control the world’s water supply? I dig it. This idea needed expansion that it never got in further movies.
It’s lame that Gemma Arterton shows up for Bond to sleep with her and then get covered in oil in an homage to Goldfinger.
Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is treated as a sympathetic figure that deserves a sad sendoff. Nah. That dude was a full-fledged creep. I can’t spot ’em all, but I can spot him.
- It’s hard to fear a guy eating an apple.
Summary (22/68): 32%
Hampered by the 2007-8 Writers Guild of America strike, Quantum of Solace bounced around several screenwriters’ rooms, resulting in an action-packed extravaganza that hurt its length, quality, and box office. I’m sure Eon Productions (the Bond company) longed for a quantum of solace during production.
The characters are negligible, but Bond’s on a vengeance mission, so everyone else is collateral damage. The stunts are as terrific as ever; you don’t need writers for stunts.
Craig’s Quantum follow-ups Skyfall and Spectre ignored the organization called Quantum, enveloping it into Spectre, Bond’s longtime nemesis organization.