Palette Cleanser: Quantum Of Solace (2008) – BlogalongaBond 22
007’s unhappy, the fanbase disapproves – suddenly that silly title makes sense. This is a ‘take no prisoners’ Bond movie, and all the better for it.
Quantum Of Solace
(Marc Forster, 2008)
Four years on, the reputation of Quantum Of Solace has, if anything, got worse, with everybody from Daniel Craig to the first reviews of Skyfall all quick to publically denounce the film and promise that, next time, we’re getting back to Bondage. Which makes me treasure Quantum Of Solace all the more as one of the most experimental Bond movies of the lot. Call it 007 in a minor key, the B-side to Casino Royale, the chaser to 40-odd years of vodka martinis – whichever you choose, it’s a real palette cleanser.
Arguably, Casino Royale was such a success because – in spite of its conspicuous franchise-reboot of a non-nonsense leading man, CGI-free action beats and a story vaguely in touch with plausibility – it was still a comfortingly traditional Bond movie, rooted as it was in both Ian Fleming’s original grit and the films’ hyperreal urgency. Quantum of Solace disappoints the naysayers because, apparently, it’s dispensed with the touchstones of the past to become just another dour post-Bourne stunts-first extravaganza without the wit or fizzle of classic Bond. The blame has been laid – most recently, by the founder of BlogalongaBond himself – at the Hollywood Writer’s Strike and the hiring of Bourne stunt supremo Dan Bradley. From the point of view of the 007 faithful, these are valid criticisms, but on screen they drive Quantum Of Solace’s uniqueness.
The absence of story keeps things pared down to a kind of Bond purity. It’s the shortest Bond film by far and it feels it, ping-ponging between locations and set-pieces without bothering with the repartee. [I like to think the producers sat around with the budget, thinking “Great, we don’t have to pay for any more rewrites! Let’s send Bond to Austria, even though he’s already in Haiti and only has to catch a short flight to Bolivia!”]. The missing half hour consists entirely of exposition and bad jokes, leaving a Bond movie with the fat trimmed and the baggage cast off. True, some familiarity is sacrificed, but it’s replaced with new angles. Case in point: Bond’s reputation as a pussyhound is destroyed because he shows little interest in Olga Kurylenko, but that’s a deliberate point of character, not an oversight. Bond is too emotionally wounded to have time for bedroom frolics and, in a smart move, so is she.
Put simply, if Casino Royale was Dr No v2.0, then that makes this the new regime’s From Russia With Love – which, as anybody who’s seen it knows, is probably Bond’s tersest outing, low on gadgets and whimsy, high on brutal efficiency. Guess what? That’s exactly what Quantum of Solace is, a near-abstract study of what Bond films have always done: clue-fight-chase, clue-fight-chase. Essentially, it’s the Bond experience as Bond remembers it.
The plot has a pleasing simplicity to it, too. Given Casino Royale’s remit was to ground the franchise, why complain that the stakes are so low? Let the flamboyance come later. The film is already complicated enough by framing itself as a direct sequel, complete with return appearances by every major surviving character from its predecessor. Besides, while all that stuff about Bolivian water supplies might be small fry for Bond, don’t forget that a) this just happens to be something he’s stumbled upon while his mind is fogged by thoughts of vengeance and b) it sets up Quantum as a far more credible and shadowy force than the Cold War warriors of yore – a corporate evil buying up the planet one deal at a time. This is a smart approach, reminiscent of the early Connery films’ gradual introduction of SPECTRE, and it suddenly occurs that the film that ruined the franchise was You Only Live Twice. Once we’d seen Blofeld’s volcano base, there was nowhere to go but camp.
Quantum Of Solace is a long way from that; aside from one movie-stoopid sequence involving a parachute, it maintains a fierce integrity to its rough-and-ready aesthetic throughout. Those complaints about Bradley? Justified on one level, since the stunts are second-hand Bourne – but insane accusations in the light of how bravura the action is compared to so much of 20th Century Bond. Can’t tell what’s going on? You’re not supposed to. The double-opening salvo of steel-smashing car chase and scaffold-swinging fight sequence define Quantum’s mechanics as fractured and restless, much like the hero.
Does this make the film a mere Bourne-clone? Not really, although the downbeat final scene in snowy Russia is rather too close to the ending of The Bourne Supremacy for anybody’s liking. But nobody could mistake Bond’s infiltration of a villainous rendez-vous at a Tosca opera, or the eye-catching conflagration of a desert hotel’s angular architecture, as belonging to any other action hero… and yet the handling is decidedly highbrow. The difference is that Marc Forster, a filmmaker with art-house leanings that the traditional pragmatic Bond director never possessed, is busy breaking the familiar iconography into shards for future films to rebuild. It’s like Jack White’s theme tune: all the elements of a classic Bond song are there, but not necessarily in the order we’re used to. That’s not much comfort to the die-hard BlogalongaBonders, but check the title. This film isn’t in the comfort business.
The other difference from Bourne is that, where Jason Bourne was an accidental killer, here there’s no doubting 007’s credentials as a cold-blooded bastard….which leads nicely to the film’s other auteur: Daniel Craig. There’s some smart casting – Roman Polanski lookalike Mathieu Amalric makes a marvellously lizardly villain who suits the film’s low-key tone perfectly – but this is Craig’s show. This is a portrait of a man in motion, who stops only to size up his next opponent with those frighteningly icy eyes. Critics might say there’s no humour there – as they did the last time Bond went rogue, in Licence to Kill – but Craig delivers something better: charisma.