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THE RUN UP TO SPECTRE: Quantum Of Solace (2008) – A Retrospective

October 9th, 2015 by Phil Robinson Comments

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I think it’s easy to presume that Quantum Of Solace isn’t anybody’s favourite Bond film. It may be the one in the entire franchise that I’ve seen the least – in fact I’ve watched it more the last few days in preparation for writing this retrospective than I have since its release – but it was seen by many as a side-step, lost between the triumphant return of Casino Royale and the tour de force that would eventually be Skyfall. But is it worthy of the negative remarks, or has time been kind to Quantum?

To give it its credit, the film starts with one of the down-right coolest car chases ever, not just in a Bond film, but in movies in general. Dropping us right in the action, this scene is as gritty and in-your-face as the action and fist fights of Casino Royale were. What a cracking way to start a film. Once the dust settles – and following another disappointing Bond theme, this time the forgettable “Another Way To Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys – we find ourselves in Siena, Italy, where Bond and M are ready to interrogate Mr White from Casino Royale’s closing moments. “You really don’t know anything about us, do you?” he laughs, unafraid of the threat of torture. “The first thing you need to know about us” he smiles, “is that we have people everywhere. Am I right?” unveiling that this nameless organisation has gone as far as infiltrating MI6, and possibly further. To call this group Quantum seems a sleight of hand to hide the story the filmmakers ultimately want to tell; it seems like too much of a throwaway phrase to be the “ultimate threat” that Bond faces, instead give it more of a mystery and a payoff by, down the line, unveiling it as SPECTRE.

Another intense chase and action scene follows, which is an adequate distraction for Mr White to slip away. And it’s from here that the subplots pile up, and leave you scratching your head a little with what’s going on. There’s a wee bit about tracing marked bills that went through Le Chiffre, stuff on Vesper’s boyfriend Yusef being a rogue agent for the organisation, and this brand new angle involving new Bond Girl Camille (Olga Kurylenko) that literally comes out of nowhere. There’s probably a bit too much to keep tabs on to be honest. It does, in fact – and probably more so than most movie goers were expecting – act very much as Part 2 to Casino Royale, where instead of moving forward, says we aren’t done with Bond’s vengeance over Vesper’s death, but also realises it needs to pad it out a little. When the two are watched back-to-back as companion films, they work better and things seem to flow more evenly, but without Casino Royale then Quantum just falls flat. (Continues after pic)

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Mathieu Amalric is introduced as this film’s villain Dominic Greene who is, regrettably, very low on the list of memorable Bond baddies. Basically his plot is to scam the Bolivian government out of some land for oil, wait, diamonds? No, wait, it’s water… as far as bad guy schemes goes, this one is down the list. He’s a rather pitiful villain, who comes across as just another blank-faced puppet of The Organisation (he calls them Quantum, but again, we know it runs way deeper than Greene). A touch I do like is showing off that The Organisation also has ties to the CIA – bringing Jeffrey Wright back as Felix is a nice touch, and would be a welcome return as a Bond ally in subsequent flicks – and beyond really strengthens their intimidation factor; these guys really are everywhere, as they promised.

One thing I don’t like about Daniel Craig’s run of films is the ongoing point that, no matter what cover he is given, or whatever training he may have once had, Bond resorts to openly admitting to being James Bond from MI6 right off the bat, to anyone who will listen. Whether a villain knows to call him on it, or his reckless ego gets the better of him, there isn’t really any undercover elements to these film; you know, spy stuff!

The scene when Bond drops the bombshell that he’s watching the high society power players during their secret meeting at the opera is a tantalising tease indeed; we know that Greene is there, after setting it all up. Mr White is there, unaware to Bond. The real question is, apart from the ones we get pointed out, who else is a part of this meeting? A future development for down the line perhaps.

The return and redemption of Mathis is probably the softest moment this film has, with it not spending too much time establishing new relationships. The perfect example is just as soon as we’re introduced to Gemma Arterton’s Agent Fields, she’s in Bond’s bed and dispersed of. A real shame really. Though the nod to Goldfinger is a nice touch.

Okay, so it’s not like Quantum of Solace is a badly made movie; Marc Forster’s direction is competent enough, it just feels like he was the poor guy who had too many plates to juggle. Telling a new story, while wrapping up its predecessor, but also trying to keep the action pacing as high as it can – it’s okay, Bond, you can afford to have a minute or two to breathe here and there, the fans are more patient than you think. The big shoot out finale is the perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, just give them the same action scene over and over again.” It’s miles apart from the tense torture scene that helped bring Casino Royale to a close (and had us worried for the future of any more James Bond Juniors) and just seems so painfully by the book at this point; 007 is back to his indestructible, bullet-dodging ways, besting the bad guy at every turn – even if he did just seem to stumble across this entire plot by sheer dumb coincidence.

In the closing scene, Bond finally catches up to Yusef in Russia, getting the face-off he was seeking, while leaving the Quantum (or SPECTRE?) agent to M’s people; see! He learned something!

“Bond, I need you back,” M says, “I never left” comes his ultimate cool guy response. With the Vesper storyline finally wrapped up, James seems to have unravelled Quantum, but Greene’s “friends” are still at large, and with Christoph Waltz’s line from the Spectre trailer still ringing in our ears (“You came across me so many times, but you never saw me… What took you so long?”) you can’t help but feel that the curtain is about to be lifted on the bigger picture that was always lurking just under the skin.

When the chips are down, Quantum of Solace feels more like a tag on than a full blown Bond film; if Casino Royale had been the rebooted video game, then this was the DLC afterthought to pull a bit more cash out of it. What we get isn’t awful, not by a long shot, and like I said, as a companion film to its predecessor it’s quite an entertaining conclusion. While it may be the weakest Daniel Craig outing, it was still interesting to attempt to carry on these overarching storylines from one to the next, so let’s just hope that the steps it took to advance the deeper mythology to Bond’s future aren’t ignored in SPECTRE and beyond.

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Hidden deep in the woods, past the abandoned insane asylum and long-forgotten summer camp, off the old dirt road, across the creaky timber bridge, lies a log cabin. Under the full moon some have said they've heard blood-curdling howls from deep in the basement, though none have been brave enough to explore further... If they had, the shocking reveal would be that the screams come from old horror VHS tapes, accompanied by the maniacal laugh of Phil Robinson, brought on by comics and wrestling promos. The self-confessed "horror guy", he has also been known to talk about Spider-Man and heavy metal at great, unnecessary lengths. Yes, he knows he needs a haircut.

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