Quantum Of Solace Review
It is not long after the events of Casino Royale. On the motorway approaching Siena, Bond (Daniel Craig) is involved in a car chase with two other vehicles. The reason for this chase rests in the boot of Bond's Aston Martin. Shot in the leg and snatched from the street by Bond, Mr White (Jesper Christensen), will, it is hoped, lead to the organisation responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd. Bond escapes those chasing him and, amidst the bustle of the horse-racing, takes White to an MI6 safe house. Bleeding from the gunshot wound to his leg, Bond asks that White try not to bleed to death. But White simply laughs at the efforts made by Bond and by M (Judi Dench) to interrogate him. He hints at the power behind his throne and of having friends everywhere. His organisation, Quantum, knows exactly where he is and will soon be coming for him. Later, M will scoff at this but White is, for now, telling the truth. Nodding to M's most trusted bodyguard, draws his weapons and aids White's escape. Bond goes in pursuit of this agent but White has disappeared. Both M and Bond know how lucky they are to still be alive.
The investigation into this double-agent leads nowhere, at least at first. Bank accounts are clean. There is no cash in the house. Nothing, even, to link him to Quantum. But what concerns M more is that Quantum is an unknown. Neither MI6 nor the CIA have so much as heard of this organisation and yet White spoke of government ministers being amongst their number. But one doctored bank note, found in the double-agent's flat, leads Bond to Haiti. He murders his contact, finds himself being shot at by another and watches a third from outside a warehouse on the quayside. If Quantum is is no closer to being identified, some of its surrounding pieces fall into place. Bond meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who leads him to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), environmentalist and CEO of Greene Planet. Greene, in turn, leads to an exiled Bolivian, General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), then attempting to lead a bloodless coup in his home country, and to the CIA, who are turning a blind eye to events in Bolivia in exchange for oil. As if events were not already so murky, Bond follows Greene to the shores of Lake Constance in Austria and to a performance of Tosca. Over the sound of the opera, Bond snatches an earpiece of a VIP and hears the members of Quantum discussing Greene's business in Bolivia. From his position high above the stage, he photographs those involved in the conversation and with MI6 identifying those present, Bond learns just how far into government the corruption goes. But power is no obstacle for revenge and Bond still has the memory of the death of Vesper Lynd to contend with.
"The days of hollowed-out volcanoes are long gone!" So said my wife on hearing my complaint that at least you knew where you were with secret and enormously powerful organisations based in oil-rigs, mountaintop ski resorts, outer space and, yes, even hollowed-out volcanoes. Particularly so if their plans involved the stealing of nuclear rockets, the dream of a master race and of world domination. They are the kind of things that were worth taking a risk on. But in the continuing Craig-ening of Bond, such silliness seems long gone indeed. There is no room for grotesque villains, moon buggies and ejector seats in Quantum Of Solace and there's certainly no room for jokes. There are in-jokes, mind you, but they'll only ever make an audience smile in satisfaction, never to laugh. And when the film does finally introduce a young lady flimsy enough to be a Bond girl of yesteryear, who is to be found wearing only a raincoat and a pair of boots, Quantum Of Solace can't quite contain itself in finding a means to rid itself of her. Meanwhile, the Quantum of the title are a powerful organisation so secret that not even MI6 knew of their existence. By the film's end, we're not even sure if Bond has dealt them a fatal blow or not, leaving them open to becoming the SMERSH or the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of the Daniel Craig era. Only that doesn't seem like quite the thing Craig (and his producers) wants his Bond to be remembered for. No Rosa Klebb here, more villains that satirise headlines while still making a point.
The problem with this placing of Bond in the politics of the real world is that there will be those who would disagree with his meddling. Not unlike Kananga's supply of cheap heroin in Live And Let Die, which would have made many a cash-strapped junkie very happy were it not for Bond's quashing of the supply chain, Quantum Of Solace may look even more archaic than the laser satellites and theft of gold bullion when, some years from now, the British government cut deals similar to those of Quantum to secure a supply of clean water. In this, it's less like a Bond film and closer to The Constant Gardener, albeit that Quantum Of Solace doesn't have that film's heartfelt anger at lives ruined by the expansion of western business. And nor does it have that film's sense of loss.
Comparing Quantum Of Solace to The Constant Gardener reveals one of the greatest weaknesses of this film. In the le Carré adaptation, an entire story was presented, not only of the love affair and marriage of Justin and Tessa Quayle but of the corruption endemic in pharmaceutical companies. le Carré recognised that the spies of the Cold War would simply find employment elsewhere in the world, somewhere their particular set of skills would be most welcome. Quantum Of Solace doesn't make this latter point half as well as The Constant Gardener. Bond may begin this seeking revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd but his involvement with Quantum finds him looking at matters in the black-and-white of the Cold War. There is some talk of matters of national security and of Britain's interest but director Marc Forster uses cheap shots of thirsty Bolivians and of wells having run dry to stress that Quantum are bad. Perhaps knowing that the megalomania of his villain is not quite enough to sustain a Bond movie, Forster has his Quantum resort to cheap gags to illustrate their wickedness, reprise a method of murder from an earlier Bond adventure and turning them into snickering killers or rapists by the film's end. To an audience grown up with Goldfinger, Blofeld and Dr No, these are villains no better than those of Sun Hill, not those who are deserving of Bond's time and effort.
The bigger fault that this viewer had with Quantum Of Solace is how much it referenced Casino Royale and how ill-prepared I was for that. It goes without saying that this may have been my fault. Had I known that this film was going to break with Bond tradition and be a direct sequel to what has gone before, even to its opening immediately after the shooting of Mr White at the end of Casino Royale, I may have done my homework. However, Quantum Of Solace would have done much better had it either refreshed its audience with a quick recap of the events of late-2006 or built the drama anew. In some ways, Quantum Of Solace is not unlike Licence To Kill but Dalton's team had the sense to build their story from scratch. Such is the knowledge that Bond has of several of the villains and to their involvement with Le Chiffre and Vesper Lynd, that I was forced to ask myself, "Am I supposed to know him?" Indeed, my one piece of advice as regards Quantum Of Solace is to be sure to watch Casino Royale beforehand.
It's not all bad, of course. There is still much to enjoy in Quantum Of Solace. The opening car chase is a joy to watch, particularly so given the Bond team's willingness to move away from the comic book action of earlier films to crashes that will having its audience wincing at the suddenness of them. Craig certainly looks the part as Bond, particularly so when he escapes from MI6 in a hotel and, later, from the CIA. He also shows off some of the cold-bloodedness of the character that made Dalton's time in the part so memorable. The pity is that he's been ill-served by a story that's not deserving of Bond. The villain is weak, the British Bond girl is no better and the story of a coup, of Quantum and of natural resources is rather dull. Indeed, for a film that is amongst the shortest of the Bond movies, its languor makes one very nostalgic for the Bond of old. Though never mind volcanoes, the Daniel Craig of Casino Royale would have done.