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Quantum of Solace

November 4, 2008

Settling down to watch Quantum of Solace I was prepared to be baffled. The plot, we’ve been told, is at best…elusive, and the movie is essentially a series of vaguely linked set pieces which could be derived from any action hero mega-flick. The spy aspect’s gone; there’s no espionage. It’s only Bond because it says so.

What rot. The story for Quantum is actually pretty good, and eminently followable.

We start where Casino Royale left off; Bond, you may recall at the end of that film, had tracked down the man who ordered Vesper Lynd’s and Le Chiffre’s deaths, and who is presumably a big noise in the shadowy terrorist-funding organisation that Royale’s money-oriented plot was concerned with. At a safe house in Siena, Bond, M and another agent interrogate the prisoner, who boasts that his organisation has agents everywhere. This is proved by the agent turning on M and Bond and allowing the prisoner to escape. MI5 turn over the double-agent’s flat and via a forensic tracking of banknotes discover a lead in Haiti by the name of Slate.

Bond kills Slate, and then finds that he was supposed to meet Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a girl we later discover is a Bolivian agent approaching the same shadowy organisation from a different angle, who shows him the main villain of the movie, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Greene fronts an eco-aware political organisation, which is a cover for legitimate access to Third World governments. In a chat with the deposed head of state for Bolivia, General Medrano, Greene explains how Quantum (the organisation) helps to undermine governments via economic means so that more amenable regimes can be groomed to take over. The nations beholden to Quantum then express their support for the new regimes so that they can gain credibility on the world stage. In exchange, Quantum take control of large swathes of land so that they can tie up water supplies and make a killing on the selling of utilities within that country.

Bond follows Greene to Austria where he witnesses a meeting of Quantum. He then heads to La Paz to uncover the whereabouts of Greene’s land acquisition and confronts the main players in the conspiracy.

At the end, Bond travels to Russia, where he confronts Vesper Lynd’s former boyfriend, Yusef, whom Vesper had mistakenly followed (all the while breaking Bond’s heart) through to her final betrayal. Yusef is a Quantum henchman who specialises in seducing high-ranking women to get them to give up government assets. It is at this point that Bond achieves the resolution he has sought, hence the title.

I’ve wasted a lot of time writing that down, but really, is it so hard? A spy story and splodge of character development…surely this is a good thing?

Quantum starts with a very short pre-credit sequence, which is pretty much a car chase, intense and death-defying, and then, once we get through the song (of which, more later) we hit the first in a series of stylistic touches that all previous 21 movies would never have dared attempt. Each location (to begin with, Siena) is announced with a fitting visual epigram. Siena in flowing italianate script, London painted onto rain-sodden tarmac, Kazan in Russia appearing in cleared snowy path. It’s a little bit showy, very smart, but not at all intrusive, and it indicates that there’s a brain ticking along beside the rollercoaster storyline. Throughout, further brief challenges, some visual, some via the dialogue are thrown up. There’s a very grand one right at the centre, which deserves special mention in a moment, but at almost every turn there’s a sly dig at the Bond mythology. It’s great, for instance, to hear M state, “I don’t give a shit about the CIA!”; equally, in an exchange between Bond and his US counterpart Felix Leiter, they cynically banter about the motives and legacies of their respective paymasters. The finest of the cameo moments, though, shows the film’s hand most explicitly. Shirley Eaton’s iconic death in Goldfinger, where she is glaringly painted in gold paint so that she dies of ‘skin suffocation’ is directly referenced here, but not with gold paint, with thick, gloopy, crude oil, and we’re not spared the careful platitudes of the 1964 version (“it’s been known to happen to cabaret dancers,” said Connery dismissively), this time we’re told the girl’s lungs are filled with the stuff. As a darker version of what the new Bond is all about, you couldn’t get a more obvious comparison.

But the finest moment is also as much a departure as all these minor moments, only this time it’s done on the grandest of scales. Following Greene to Austria, Bond witnesses a meeting of Quantum at the world famous Bregenzer opera festival. The majestic Seebühne floating stage on the shores of Lake Constance is all set out for a stirring rendition of Tosca. It’s a striking and epic setting, and within the audience are dotted the various members of the organisation. They can talk to each other via tiny in-ear wireless transmitters, losing themselves in the crowd so that they can’t be seen together. It’s such a clever conceit, which steps into the almost poetic when Bond gatecrashes the party. Suddenly, the music comes fully to the front and every other sound vanishes. The resulting mayhem set to Puccini’s on-stage dramatics is simply terrific, and eclipses in a few short moments, pretty much any previous Bond sequence I’ve seen. This isn’t chipping away at previous Bondisms, this is creating something all its own.

The film isn’t perfect, it’s not high art, and inevitably there are problems. First up, the much-touted Gemma Arterton (she of the Beeb’s recent drippy Tess adaptation) is terrible; only 50 Cent’s turn in Righteous Kill will top that this year, I reckon. Second, the dull title sequence combined with the atrocious Jack White/Alicia Keys song, are bad enough in and of themselves, but they’re indicative of a greater malaise, namely that the franchise hasn’t got away from all of the formulaic stuff just yet. Lastly, the finalé will prove a little too bombastic for some, and stuff blows up, essentially, for no reason.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, though, and if you’re going to re-invent Bond (and all power to Craig on that score because he’s a million miles away from the camp frippery of the worst excesses of the series) then these last two movies have shown the way forward with great gusto. Let’s not forget that at its worst (Octopussy, Die Another Day) this was a cinematic dinosaur that had easily outlived its welcome. Now, amazingly, thanks to a bit of thought, a willingness to throw old ideas away, and a surly and almost unlovable central performance from Daniel Craig, we have a living, breathing, credible and newly invigorated action series to be thankful for.

And not a white cat or underground lair in sight.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana permalink
    November 4, 2008 2:47 pm

    i can’t wait to sea if casino whas lamer then this film i will def going to watch quantum of solace .

  2. Rosie permalink
    November 12, 2008 7:44 pm

    You thought “Die Another Day” and “Octopussy” was the Bond franchise at its worse?

    For me, “Goldfinger” and “Tomorrow Never Dies” hold that honor.

  3. November 13, 2008 9:38 am

    hi Rosie, and thanks for stopping by. “Tomorrow Never Dies” is pretty woeful, I’ll give you that, but “Goldfinger” is one of the iconic entries, surely? Oddjob, the Aston Martin, Shirley Eaton, Gert Frobe’s classic line…?

  4. November 17, 2008 8:02 am

    Perhaps Rosie meant Goldeneye?

  5. December 21, 2008 2:25 pm

    Just change his name to Jason Bourne allready. To much action not enough everything else.

    Olga is the hot girl of the moment right now with roles in all kind of movies. She is headlining the action movie Kirot.

    In the movie she plays a woman that is coerced into becoming a hit woman for a shadowy organization after being imprisoned for working as a prostitute.

    She escapes from her new employees and joins forces with an abused woman she encounters on the run. Together they embark on a campaign of revenge.

    Sound like the movie NIKITA to me but with olga and that makes it 100% better 🙂 and the original NIKITA movie is great!

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