Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Double Oh...22; Quantum of Solace

2008, d. Mark Forster

Quantum of Solace Preamble:

From my blog, November 24, 2008:

At first I was excited for the new Bond, and then the reviews came in and all but put me off it. Then I started reading reactions and hearing what family and friends had to say and I realized that sometimes critics overthink things and don't know how to have fun. Though an immediate sequel to Casino Royale, the steely Daniel Craig settles comfortably into Bond's globetrotting, ladykiller skin. Craig is a much more rough-and-tumble Bond, but he's resourceful and seems to say more with his expressions (or lack thereof) than proliferation of snappy rejoinders. The direction was arty and playful, but the action was quick-cut shaky-cam making it hard to discern what was going on. Bond is generally a clean fighter, with cleanly structured action sequences, and that wasn't quite apparent here. Still, overall, a satisfying and entertaining Daniel-Craig 007 sequel that sets up more films for the series in the future. (3.5/5)
Yes, the critical reception was (and generally still is) fairly down on this turn at Bond (it commonly ranks in the lower-middle of the films), but I liked it rather well at the time of its first release and, in hindsight, it's even grown more favorable.  When I catch it on cable I regularly get sucked into it.  The episode of James Bonding podcast that covered this film came to the conclusion that as a stand-alone feature it's lacking but as a continuation of Casino Royale, it's aces.  I'm excited by that (watching it the next night after watching Casino Royale).

Villains:

Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) is the first holdover villain since Blofeld in a James Bond picture.  He was a peripheral string-puller in Casino Royale and his part here is only slightly more illuminating.  At the close of Casino, Bond had shot White in the shin and this film picks up minutes later with a high speed chase/shootout on Italian coastal highways.  When Bond arrives successfully at his destination, he opens his trunk to reveal White inside.  Bond, M and her two aides interrogate White, but he reveals they have people everywhere, including MI6.  M's personal guard of 8 years Craig Mitchell turns and shoots the other agent and targets M.  Bond does his thing and they pursue on foot into the streets of Italy during a horse race.  The assailant shoots wildly into the crowd (Forster makes a point of showing collateral damage) and they make to the clay rooftops.  This leads to a bell tower to restoration scaffolding and swinging ropes.  When Bond returns Whyte is missing, having shot him, unsure whether dead or not.  White appears later at the Tosca performance, and once Bond emerges, White disappears (hopefully to appear in the post-Skyfall feature).

Dominic Greene (Matthieu Almaric) a powerful broker/facilitator for a price, though it's not about cash, but rather furthering his own agenda.   His public face is as a utility magnate and philanthropist, and even though he's not an on-the-level guy it is his public face that puts both the CIA and a British adviser to the PM in bed with him.. He's not much of a fighter but when he finally faces down against Bond, he turns into an unhinged wild man with a blunt object or axe in hand.  Bond captures Greene and extracts info about Quantum before leaving him in the middle of the desert with only a can of oil.  "I bet you make it 20 miles before you consider drinking that."  It's a fitting revenge for poor Strawberry Fields.

General Medrano (Joaqui Cosio) is a deposed dictator meeting with Greene in Haiti.  He's looking to destabilize Bolivia so that he can retake control.  Greene is arranging sanctions and international political affiliations in favor of the regime change in exchange for a plot of land in the middle of the desert.  Bond reveals he's creating a drought by damming up the water, and once Medrano is reinstated, he's selling the water back to him at twice the price.

Bond Girls:
Camille (Olga Kurylenko) is Bolivian secret service, but introduced after Bond takes out Mitchell's associate Slate in Haiti.  Slate was hired by Greene to take Camille out (she's been undercover as his girlfriend, but undermining his business) and she mistakes Bond as Slate and she nearly shoots him.  She's playing Dominic to get at the General (who murdered her family), but she's not quite up to his game.  Dominic hands her over to the General but Bond in an apparent rescue actually interferes in her attempt to kill him. She's feisty ("gimme the wheel" she commands Bond as they are chased on the water by the General's men, Bond tells her to navigate).  Bond leaves her unconscious with a doc worker.  She reemerges later at a Greene Planet philanthropic fundraiser and sabotages an informal deal he was brokering.  With nary a hint of romantic tension (just two beautiful people sharing each other's platonic company, discussing matters of murder/revenge/justice), she joins Bond on his investigation into Greene's operation, and as they mount their final assault, Bond coaches her through her first assassination.

Strawberry Fields (or "Fields, just Fields) meets Bond at the airport in Bolivia, sent from the consulate to turn Bond around.  As they approach a conventional hotel, Bond objects.  "We're teachers on sabbatical, this fits our cover."  Bond steers her out of the building and off to a 5 star hotel ("We are teachers on sabbatical, and we have just won the lottery").  Fields is stunned and impressed with Bond's swagger, and can't help but be impressed and overwhelmed with a real agent.  At Greene's party, she does manage to pick up on Bond's need for assistance and trips up Greene's goon, playing secret agent herself, but when Bond leaves the party with Camille, he's left her at Greene's mercy.  She's found at the hotel (now swarming with MI6) covered and drowned in oil, posted atop white bedsheets, a grisly death (but a nice and homage to Goldfinger)

Theme/Credits:

Another Way To Die by Jack White and Alicia Keys.   I like the staccato tempo and,n hfcaZ thumping rhythm of the piece.  I'm not certain White and Keys are complimentary voices, but the song has the hook that Chris Cornell's Casino Royale piece was missing.  The visuals of sand and stars set against a piercing moonlit night sky is actually quite neat, and the scantily clad sand sculptures bring back the titillation of the old Maurice Binder credits.  It's not as classy as Casino Royale but the sharp-edge filter that makes the shadows pop gives it a certain je ne sais quoi.  It's very slick.

Bond:

M - "I need to know if I can trust you."
Bond - "You don't trust me?"
M - "It'd be a pretty cold bastard who didn't want revenge for the death of someone he loved"

This, in a nutshell, is Craig and Dench's relationship.  There's a motherly concern for Bond which gets in the way of her truly getting in his way.  She should have cut him off, sent him on house arrest, just restrained him, but somewhere within her, she wants revenge for his pain too.  Here it's her professional duty to ensure that Bond isn't going to do anything crazy, getting her and MI6 in trouble, but at the same time she's also condoning his pursuit of revenge.  Talking with Camille, she asks why Bond is so keen to go after Greene.  He tells her that "among other things, he tried to kill a friend of mine."
"A woman?"
"Yes.  But it's not what you think."
"Your mother?"
"She likes to think so."
If the Casino Royale was about Bond falling in love, and Skyfall about Bond's makeshift family, Quantum of Solace is about dealing with heartbreak and bridging those two stories.  M is his mother figure increasingly so in these three Craig films, and it's a dynamic between Bond and his handler that he hasn't had before.  It's sweet, but more importantly, intriguing.  Much like Casino Royale, this film more than most Bonds, keeps cutting back to headquarters and M, hinting at how important her role is in Bond's life.

I think my favourite Bond movies all have to do with love and revenge.  Bond is at his best when he's emotional, it gives the character something more than just pithiness and innuendo.

I love that he pulls out a Universal Exports business card.  He also flies a cargo plane outmaneuvering a fighter jet.

Movie:

I'm on the record as liking this outing on its own merits, but as the next chapter of Casino Royale, it's even better.  The film opening with the reveal of Mr. White in the trunk is less poignant unless you remember the immediate close of the preceding film, but with White's interrogation, he expands Casino Royale by detailing the leverage that his organization had on Vesper.

The film moves forward quickly, not mulling over the details too much, making its transition to Haiti.  Overall it's more of action-focused feature due to the writer's strike.  The hotel fight with Slate looks more like a Bourne movie than Bond sequence, with Bond executing a very quiet, patient bleed-out of his assailant.

M calls the CIA to see if they have any interest in Greene.  She's transferred to the South African section chief who tells her they have no interest which tips her off immediately.  Greene boards a plane Off to Brigenz Austria where the SA Section Chief and Felix Leiter are waiting.  They're making a deal with Greene to allow the destabilization of Bolivia in exchange for first rights to any oil found.  Leiter doesn't like what the Section Chief is up to, but is told to get with the program.

Perhaps my favourite Bond sequence ever happens in the theatre in Austria. where an outdoor performance of Tosca  is the covering ground for Quantum's secret and anonymous dealings going on over wireless ear pieces.  Bond ferrets out the brokers, capturing photographs of them exiting the performance, and a platoon of goons are sent after Bond.  Chase through the facility restaurant, and kitchen intercut with the inspiring and ominous (not to mention violent) Tosca performance.

We also get more from Mathis, still a little bitter about Bond having him arrested after Le Chiffre and Vesper's deceit.  I love the interplay with Mathis and his lady.  Bond coaxes Mathis back into operation, (in large to bankroll his flight after M cuts him off).  Mathis respects Bond's apology, but also can't seem to give up the life.  He arranges for help with the police, only to have him beaten, killed and stuffed in his trunk, framed for a false arrest.  Bond has a habit of getting the people around him killed, Greene predicted moments earlier. After embracing him for his dying breath, Bond dumps Mathis' body into a dumpster ("Is that how you treat your friends?" Camille questions.  "He wouldn't care" he says coldly).

The film culminates with Bond and Camille assailing a desert hotel where Greene and General Medrano are meeting to close their deal.  It's a very curious building (one I'm wondering if they built for the film).  It's powered by fuel cells throughout, which we learn very quickly, explode really good.  The place goes boom.

This two film saga closes with an epilogue In Kazan Russia, where Bond has tracked down Vesper's lover who was actually working for Quantum all along.  He's currently working over a Canadian intelligence worker in the very same fashion he did Vesper.  Bond gets his closure, and M is there to greet him, telling him she needs him back (because technically he did tender his resignation in Casino Royale) to which he replies "I never left."

Q-gadgets:

These aren't officially Q-gadgets as there's no actual Q in these first two Craig films, but there's some nifty technology on display:
High tech digital touch interface table table with integrated scanner - Minority Report style, plus a digital glass wall for all kinds of elaborate displays.
Q-pin transmitter and earpiece
Cel phone camera with facial recognition piped right into MI6's databases.

Classification [out of 01.0]: 00.8 - it's not a perfect movie and the complaints that its story and script is slight are right about that, but it's beautifully shot, with some tremendous fights and more than a few of my all time favourite Bond moments.  It's another Purvis, Wade and Haggis script, so there's a consistency with Casino Royale that no Bond before had ventured to attain.