AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 106 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
James Bond delivers the villainous Mr. White to M, but M’s bodyguard, Craig Mitchell, is a double agent and enables White to escape. Bond kills Mitchell and discovers he had a contact in Haiti, Edmund Slate, a hitman sent to kill Camille Montes at the behest of her boyfriend, environmentalist entrepreneur Dominic Greene. Greene, who’s high up in the evil Quantum organisation, is helping exiled Bolivian General Medrano, who murdered Camille’s family, to overthrow his government and become the new president, in exchange for a seemingly barren piece of desert….
Yes, I know it’s been a while since my last James Bond review, quite shameful really as this will probably be my last one [though I may watch Skyfall and Spectre again and if I feel differently about them may amend and re-post my reviews of those two]. Some of this lateness is down to me being caught up with other projects. The other reason is that I kept on putting off watching the thing again and again. Why? Because it was a film that I disliked so much when watching it at the cinema that for a while I refused to even consider it part of the 007 series. After all, it didn’t seem to be trying to be a Bond film at all except for a few more nudge-nudge wink-wink references to remind us of past glories, just a generic modern style action movie with horrendous fast cutting and ‘shakycam’ that made the Bourne movies look like they’d been directed by David Lean, with a hero who had none of Bond’s personality and panache whatsoever and who could have been played by almost anyone who looked good in a scrape. In fact it seemed to remove virtually everything we like about Bond films and piss on what was left. A few years later I watched it on TV but I was nearly drunk at the time. Seeing as booze makes nearly every film seem better [even Battlefield Earth, try it], the fact that Quantum Of Solace improved a bit to me on that second viewing should be largely ignored. So I finally sat down to watch it again with a critical but hopefully balanced and certainly sober eye, and promised myself that I wouldn’t hit the vino until it had finished.
It was decided even before Casino Royale had been released that this would be a direct sequel. Co-producer Michael G. Wilson thought up the basic idea, inspired by the “water wars” in Bolivia in 2000, when water rights were sold to a corporation, this raising the price beyond the ability of many to pay for it, and inciting demonstrations that forced the government to reverse the decision. The title was chosen from a Fleming short story. Roger Michell, who’d directed Daniel Craig before, was interested, but opted out as there was no script. Veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade wrote one with polishing by Paul Haggis, but when Marc Forster came on board to direct and wanted certain things such as an extra female character [Camille], he began to rewrite it with Haggis and Wilson. Then a writers’s strike took place so the release date was put off for five months and Forster and Craig had to write some sections themselves until it ended, whereupon Forster then hired Joshua Zetumer to write scenes that were often handed to the cast daily during shooting. Filming took place at Pinewood, Baja California, Panama Mexico, Sierra Gorda Chile, Bregenz Austria, Madrid Spain, and several towns in Southern Italy. In Sierra Gorda, the mayor staged a protest because he was angry at the filmmakers’ portrayal of the Antofagasta Region as part of Bolivia, was arrested and put on trial, while in Italy’s Carrara, an Aston Martin employee driving a DB5 to the set crashed into a lake and two stuntmen were seriously injured filming the opening chase. Critics were very divided on this one though it was still a major hit.
So as with Casino Royale the gun barrel doesn’t open the film, but at least that movie still had it before the main credits. Here, in the first of an endless list of stupid, aggravating decisions, it’s placed at the end of the film. Right, okay then. We are thrown into a car chase in Siena made virtually incomprehensible by all the flash cuts. If you look closely, you can just about make out some cool bits like a villain’s car rolling down a hill and narrowly missing Bond’s car. Then we get the cruddy duet song ‘Another Way To Die’ from Jack White and Alicia Keys, with no real melody, White sounding out of tune and Keys sounding like a cat being strangled. Instead of Daniel Kleinman, Forster hired a company called MK12 to do the titles, but they look astoundingly primitive. Bond fires a bullet in a desert, women are formed from sand, dome outlines appear, all looking really poor. So we already have an awful pre-credits scene, a crappy song and shitty graphics. O joy, I’m really enjoying this. Things then don’t get much better for some time. The first third almost entirely consists of horribly shot action scenes, so much so that there’s little action in the rest of the film, meaning that the overall pacing of the film is just terrible. We get often shaky flashes of a rooftop chase [inter-cut with horse racing, which was initially annoying though I then started to enjoy the horse racing shots more], leading to a fight while hanging from the inside of a clock tower, plus a brawl in a room and a boat chase in Haiti. There’s some great stunt work, like Bond driving a motorbike over some boats which Forster actually allows us to see properly [thanks mate]. But what little storytelling there is, is very rushed and at one point almost incoherent. We are introduced to the villainous Greene and his girlfriend Camille who’s using him to get to someone else, but one can be forgiven for not getting an understanding of what’s going on with the two of them. Many scenes in this film look like they’ve been cut short, or maybe they just didn’t finish them.
So Bond, still out for revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd, goes all over the place killing people, much to the annoyance of M who pops up all over the place in this film and makes little attempt to be secretive. He rescues the equally vengeful Camille from Medrano, who killed her parents. Meanwhile, the head of the CIA’s South American section, Gregg Beam, strikes a noninterference deal with Greene for access to stocks of Bolivian oil – though is it really oil? Bond gets his old ally René Mathis to accompany him to Bolivia, though Mathis is soon killed. His death scene with 007 is quite touching – until Bond callously dumps his body in a skip with the excuse “he wouldn’t have cared”. What an odd and unlikable scene. He gets to bed Strawberry Fields, a consular employee who demands that Bond return to the UK immediately, though we don’t see the actual seduction – but then quite a few scenes appear to be missing. She’s found drowned in oil in a similar moment to the gold painted Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger, but then again there’s lots of other echoes of previous films that just make me wish I was watching them again, like Bond and Camille wandering through the desert a la The Spy Who Loved Me. I guess the intention with this was to remind the viewer that he or she was watching a James Bond movie. We do eventually get a pretty good plane chase which is shot fairly well followed by some sky diving, but when things move to the Atacama Desert and a hotel consisting of a huge circle, instead of making the most out of the most interesting locale for some time with set designer Dennis Grassman showing a Ken Adam influence with the interiors, everything’s wrapped up really quickly in as underwhelming a fashion as you can think of, just a bit of fighting, shooting and running with some atrocious digital explosions. Surely we could have at least seen the destruction of those underground dams?
It’s possible to blame Dan Bradley for the horrendous action direction seeing as he worked on the Bournes, though he also worked on Casino Royale so I personally blame Forster, who handled World War Z in the same dreadful fashion. And then there’s that weird set piece that takes place at a performance of ‘Tosca’ in Bregenz, Austria, where the sound suddenly disappears a couple of times. Why? It’s just irritating. The most potentially interesting aspects of the story are Bond’s quest for vengeance and his relationship with Camille, a relationship that for once isn’t consummated like the one in the Moonraker novel, though this character is closer to For Your Eyes Only’s Melina Havelock. The revenge aspect does give us a few good moments when Bond’s internal agony is shown and is concluded in a strange and unsatisfying [how much do we want him to kill Yusef Kabira, Vesper’s boyfriend who was indirectly responsible for her death?] but brave way that shows us that Bond has at last found some measure of peace. As for Bond and Camille, there’s so little chemistry between Craig and Olga Kurylenko that Camille may as well have been a man, while it doesn’t help that the Russian Kurylenko’s Spanish accent is so think that you can’t understand what the hell she’s saying at times. This may not entirely be her fault, and she’s a real beauty, but it shows that once again Quantum Of Solace was largely fueled by poor decision making and a distinct lack of care.
Craig gets the odd nice Bondian moment such as a Thunderball-like bit when he passes the passed-out Camille to a bystander with the words “excuse me, thank you, she’s sea sick”, and does them well. Elsewhere he’s not required to be much like the 007 we know and love at all, but he still puts his all into the role even whilst surrounded by so much crap. On the other hand Greene is the dullest villain ever, Mathieu Almaric refusing to give him any personality and often reduced to just standing around looking bored. Joaquin Cosio is at least intimidating as Medrano, but his role seems shoehorned in. Jeffrey Wright returns as Felix Leiter but is completely wasted – all he does is drink and look indifferent. David Arnold’s score is considerably inferior to his Casino Royale effort. As often before, he relies too much on the Bond theme bass line, though there’s strong chase material often played over it, and the theme gets some interesting versions like one which it’s almost drowned out by Caribbean percussion. The other most-used motif is a six note motif for Quantum, heard at its best during the ‘Tosc’a sequence. Arnold was able to give us an actual theme with a melody in Casino Royale, but doesn’t bother here. O how I miss John Barry. In the end though I have to say that I didn’t find Quantum Of Solace quite that much of an ordeal this time. It contains good work from some including Craig and the stunt team, while there’s even the odd well written exchange amidst all the dross like Bond and Leiter conversing and saying in a weary, resigned manner how the US and UK interference in foreign places is never a good thing. But the good stuff is mostly drowned out by poor film making, lousy ideas and a lack of respect for the franchise to which it belongs, therefore meaning that, even if it’s not that bad if taken on its own, Quantum Of Solace remains for me easily its low point.