A Quantum Leap: Bond’s First Sequel

“There’s something horribly efficient about you.” Camille’s words to James Bond could apply equally to the film Quantum Of Solace, a quantum leap of sorts for the Bond series – the first direct sequel, and a film some say suffered from hyper-kinetic editing and the bad timing of the writer’s strike. Praise was muted, but I feel it is one of the best Bond adventures for some time. It is a perfect foil for the character build up of Casino Royale, its predecessor and companion piece.

If Casino Royale dealt with Bond earning his double-O status, and having his heart ripped out by a compromised Vesper, Quantum Of Solace is both his desire to exact vengeance, and find some answers, or solace, along the way. The pace rarely flags from the off. Director Marc Forster, hand picked by Daniel Craig, crafted a slick, bared to the bone, juggernaut of a film, the shortest and leanest Bond film to date. There is no time for flirting with Moneypenny or taking the piss out of Q’s gadgets, both still to appear on Craig’s watch.

It hits the ground running, with Bond in a race to get the captured Mr White  to interrogation, while pursued by QUANTUM goons along the Lake Garda shoreline. Forster said “I wanted to create that opening to be very disorientating (for Bond)”. Bond must have been distracted – he forgot to put on his waistcoat from the end of Casino Royale! This opening chase is probably the main action scene that most people complain is cut confusingly quickly, I love it though. The way the thumps of the Caribinieri jeep tumbling down the quarry slope exactly match the beats of the music, and the sudden end of any extraneous music and sound effects when Bond guns the villains car off the edge into silence are great.

The look of QOS was described by Marc Forster as “a little retro, but post-modern in structure”. For instance, Bond reverts to his traditional Walther PPK. Another cool touch is the graphic user interface in M’s new high tech office. As she talks to Bond on his mobile, his tracing action of villain Dominic Greene (Mattieu Amalric) to an airfield and subsequent flight plan pop up on her screen, and also superimpose over Bond travelling.

There is a callback to Goldfinger when Bond comes across his local contact Fields (and sexual relief from all that angst over Vesper!) dead in his hotel room, covered with and drowned by viscid black oil, a case of misdirection by QUANTUM. (UPDATE: In a film full of very subtle passing nods to the style of Bond films of the past, this is the only “on the nose” reference – a fault the recently polarising SPECTRE succumbs to throughout its runtime.)

Forster saw thrillers like The Parallax View as inspiration. He went in thinking, “Okay worst case scenario the strike goes on, I’ll just make it sort of like a 70s revenge movie; very action driven, lots of cuts to hide that there’s a lot of action and a little less story. To disguise it.” He was under a crazy schedule on top of the script worries: “At the same time, we only had five or six weeks to cut the movie once we finished principal photography. You have six weeks to edit before the movie actually then goes into sound and comes out.” (As told to Collider‘s Steve Weintraub.) Certainly the new SPECTRE type organisation, QUANTUM, evokes the paranoia of the cold war era in a realistic, neo-con way. No hidden bases in hollowed out Volcanoes (or meteor craters!) here. Instead  a shadowy organisation that works behind the scenes with all kinds of morally questionable interested parties, to facilitate change or destabilise governments – “left or right”, as Dominic Greene softly warns stooge General Medrano. At the same time, the CIA is willing to work with Greene to get exclusive hold of (non-existent ) oil rights in return for turning a blind eye to his plans in Bolivia, much to Bond’s CIA friend Leiter’s disgust. Bond going off-book to oppose the neocolonialist attitudes of British and American interests at least gives a quantum of moral purpose to his actions, as opposed to every other occasion whereby he just happens to do his own thing, orders be damned. As AltimiraBlog states in his ongoing examination of the film, “Throughout the film, Forster takes a break from story-driven sequences to simply showcase the victims of these sinister machinations; one of these stretches occurs immediately after the boat chase, as Bond drives to the airport. These people are anonymous, part of the background, but simply showing the squalor of their lives is something of a radical moment for a Bond picture.”

Greene isn’t even a major player, he’s a smarmy and creepy evil middle manager, posing as a fake environmentalist entrepreneur, whilst plotting to sew up the monopoly on water supply in Bolivia (start small, eh?). Water is now considered to be a growing global hot zone dispute. Amalric says he based his portrayal on Nicolas Sarkozy and Tony Blair. I particularly like when Bond ( in a reference to The Spy Who Loved Me) flips a goons hand from his lapel, sending him off a roof edge to the bonnet of Greene’s car. Greene insists, if the guy isn’t one of his men, “He shouldn’t be looking at me”, covering his face, and his bodyguard shoots the fallen man. I bet politicians wish they could just do the same with bothersome types.

In a scene with the now cleared Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) in his lakeside home, QOS recycles some grown up dialogue between he and Bond from the Casino Royale novel. “I guess when one is young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong. But as one gets older, it becomes more difficult. The villains and the heroes get all mixed up.”

Olga Kurylenko is Camille, less Bond girl, more rogue agent who has wandered in from her own revenge plot. At one point, like with Halle Berry’s Jinx, there was talk of a spin-off movie for her. She uses Greene to get at General Medrano, the man responsible for killing her family and leaving her to burn. Kurylenko and Amalric invented a twisted sexual history between their characters. It’s only hinted at, but it gives a weird vibe to their scenes together. “Sexual frustration, that can make you crazy. A man is not very complicated,” said Amalric.

QOS has more location filming than any previous outing, although some complained it isn’t glossy enough. It’s a revenge film, the gritty vibe suits the material! Actually, there is plenty of gloss and gorgeous art direction (see also a conversation with the DoP Roberto Schaefer here). To balance scenes in fly-specked backwaters, we have a virtuoso unveiling by Bond of a clandestine QUANTUM board meeting amidst the audience at a performance of Tosca. This is followed by Bond’s escape, brilliantly intercut with the murderous action on stage. Anne Midgette of The Washington Post has some nice insights to the scene:

“The watching eye is a fine metaphor for the police-state atmosphere of “Tosca” as well as for the ubiquitous, ill-defined enemy in “Quantum of Solace.” But the use of music also shows the sophistication of this new Craig-era incarnation of the Bond franchise; it effectively supports the drama, albeit in ways that only an opera lover will pick up. It is not giving much away to say that in the film, the scene in the opera house centers on a bad-guy plot. The background music to this is the most evil moment in the opera: Baron Scarpia, one of the baddest bad guys in the repertory, sings — during a church service, no less — that his physical desire for Tosca has made him forget even God. To underline the sinister overtones, this production (originally the work of the German stage director Philipp Himmelmann) has the pupil of the eye open at this point, and also shows Cavaradossi, Tosca’s lover, being led away in chains, a political prisoner.

In short, we get a mini-allegory of the heyday and fall of a tyrant, in the best tradition of a play-within-a-play, while the music furthers what is going on in the film’s action. Pretty impressive — and for this opera lover, the best scene in the movie.”

After tailing Greene from Haiti, Bond amazingly managed to snaffle a tuxedo backstage, that fits like Tom Ford had him measured for it (he did, of course – Ford supplies all Craig’s super slick suits).  Bond also has some time for playful wit as he upgrades his Bolivian hotel accomodation. He elaborates on Fields’ (Gemma Arterton) cover story – now they are teachers on sabbatical who have “just won the lottery.” Bond also gets lucky with the strangest chat up line I’ve heard for some time. In his room, he says to Fields, “I can’t find the, um, stationery. Can you help me look for it?” I wonder was it Basildon Bond?!

The action in QOS is superb, with so many highlights. There is the thrilling post credits chase through the sewers , across rooftops and amidst scaffolding, in the beautiful medieval town of Sienna. Catching Bullets author Mark O’Connell suggests that with “007’s continued battles within (production designer) (Dennis) Gassner’s unfinished and renovated houses, quarries, art galleries and scaffolding…Repair and renovation are key themes in Royale and Solace.” The desert hotel used by Greene and Medrano to close their deal during the explosive climax is also a striking setting, which, along with M’s new office, evokes the classic futurist art design of Bond veteran Ken Adam (note the hotel atrium roof, a direct nod to Dr No).

QOS also cleverly mirrors Casino Royale several ways: first with Bond cradling Camille amidst a deadly conflagration, reflecting back in opposite form the comforting of a shaken Vesper in the shower by Bond. At the clinic while Bond recovers from his torture ordeal, Vesper tells him he won’t let her in – “You’ve got your armour back on.” When he does, he’s betrayed. At the end of QOS, Camille has achieved some sort of closure, though it fails to satisfy. She knows Bond has found some answers, but they’ve only hardened his heart: “I wish I could release you, but your prison (she strokes his temple, as Vesper did during their exchange) is in here.” Also rather neatly in Casino Royale’s opening with the closing scene in QOS, when Bond waits in darkness for Vesper’s boyfriend, the man who led her to believe he was in danger and caused her to betray Bond.  This time, Bond turns the traitor in.

I haven’t even mentioned the cool location text in different typeface to illustrate the variety of locations, or the brilliant opening titles, some of the best in the series. Heck, even the theme song grew on me, although it sounds like Jack White kicking a drum kit down the stairs. A rejected track by Eva Almer and Christian Wolf would have been even better – it cleverly references Bond’s dialogue towards Vesper in Casino Royale, making sense of the betrayal and revenge angle. Like The Dude’s rug in The Big Lebowski, it “really ties the room together.” Here it is playing over the opening credits. The David Arnold /Shirley Bassey collaboration, No Good About Goodbye, whose hook threads throughout the film, would also have been a classy choice.

David Arnold does some of his best Bond scoring here, after becoming in danger of repeating himself. Crawl, End Crawl at the very end (after the gun barrel, controversially not the opening to the film) is sublime. I take a measure of comfort that with Daniel Craig and imaginative directors like Martin Campbell, Marc Forster and next, Sam Mendes on Skyfall, James Bond is in very rude health, in this, his 50th on screen anniversary year. For more Bond fun, follow Blogalongabond here and here.



Originally posted 2012-02-22 14:37:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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