A Bond Newbie’s Thoughts on 007: Quantum of Solace

Short Take: It seems strange to call a film with such a complex plot-line, “simple,” but Quantum of Solace felt more like it was running in place than unraveling a deeper purpose.

Casino Royale unleashed everything and the kitchen sink, introducing a gritty Bond that was less the swank charmer and more the enfant terrible of MI6. Quantum of Solace sets out to further the notion of Bond being only one part ladies man and many parts complicated killer with a heart in the right place. Peppered with some interesting concepts, Marc Forster’s Solace ultimately delivers an abundance of splintered ideas with starts and stops that don’t add up to a very satisfying end. Somehow, even with all the stunts and fireworks, this picture felt small. Its not that the action scenes are stilted, just that the film never settles into a driving action or cohesive point.

A secret organization has infiltrated MI6 for the past few decades. After an early shootout, Bond and company discover that these people are plotting with dictators around the globe to control the world’s oil and water. All signs point to Dominic Greene, a tiny man who seems to be masterminding the entire scheme. When Bond stumbles on Greene he is pawning a beautiful woman named Camille on the exiled General of Bolivia. Without knowing the full story, Bond takes it upon himself to save Camille in a high speed boat chase. Bond and MI6 chase Greene to a high class opera where they realize the villain is in bed with high profile leaders, including those from the United States of America. After Bond kills a special agent, he gets put on leave from his organization. Now acting on his own, Bond joins forces with Camille, a woman he discovers has a score of her own to settle. In the grand finale they take down both the general and Dominic Greene. allowing Bond to make amends with his former employers.

In Quantum of Solace’s female lead, fit with a fiery exterior and a fight first, fuck later attitude, Bond meets his unwitting, mutil-dimensional match. This is precisely the Bond girl that Casino Royale lacked. Sure she has moments where she’s a dense pawn saved but Bond’s heroism, but her eye never leaves the prize of offing the general who murdered her family. Bond works with Camille, ultimately needing her as much as she needs him. They never sleep together or really share chemistry outside of their collective save-the-day teamwork. She’s beautiful and Bond clearly wants her, but Camille’s scarred textures keep her at a distance. As I wad through the franchise, I’m curious how many Bond girl’s possess as many layers as Solace’s hints at. In some ways, I have a suspicion that the ways the stories go might be dictated by how respectful the writing remains to their female leads. While Camille’s arc, like the whole of the movie, felt quick and somewhat easy to accomplish, her presense was a pleasant surprise over the usable Vesper from the previous rendition.

Intent on being even more probing than it’s predecessor, Quantum of Solace furthered this generation of Bond’s hope to allude to its spy’s past. Having not seen the early Bond movies, I can’t say for certain, but little that I’ve come across speaks to these films getting at the core of what makes their hero tick. In Solace, M’s motherly discipline for her favorite “son” evolves into genuine concern over his ability to control his emotions. He gets to the moments of impact with the best of them, but his penchant for leave a trail of dead bodies, keeps him on the bad side of his organization. But there’s more to this that never gets fully developed. Is killing an addiction for Bond? If so, where does this burning desire stem from? Something in his past? During a serious exchange with Camille, Bond says he must kill Dominic Greene because “he almost killed someone close to him.” “Your mother?” Camille responds. “No, but sometimes she acts like it,” Bond quips. The past is a mysterious concept in the Bond world, one that is far more interesting if left undiscovered. These new films’ toying with what went on before Bond became Bond makes for some delightful, if potentially frustrating, intrigue.

While Casino Royale was held together by it’s creative action displays, Quantum of Solace strives to be something more but fails to commit, thus also relying on its less spectacular stunts. The first act’s of these films are almost identical, beginning with a somewhat disconnected cold opens followed by equally disjointed, stunt-filled chased sequences. The formula works to get the viewer’s adrenaline pumping, except in Solace, the hyper-kinetic editing, matched by a random crossing-cutting with a horserace might make you feel dizzy with little frame of reference. After the opening, the sequences of action continue to feel like thin fight scenes, exhibiting only marginal stakes for our hero.

In general, Solace failed to engage suspense because it was never clear how dangerous its villain truly was. Intellectually, the audience might piece together how his crazed, money-making scheme to confiscate the world’s water is dangerous, but without seeing much of the outcome, he feels like hardly a threat at all. Making Bond the vicious killer he is, also diminishes a small amount of the threat his adversaries pose. While the visual of Bond’s associate covered in oil resonates, one can’t blame the bad guy for taking out someone clearly armed and dangerous from the other side. Wouldn’t MI6 have done the same? As result, I found myself watching Bond more than actually rooting for him.

The one poor action sequence in Casino that gets one-upped here is the finale. The end sequence of Quantum of Solace piles on three action-packed tricks all in one simultaneous dance of explosions, revenge, and fight scenes. Camille struggles to avenge her past by battling toe to toe with the enormous general. She’s tough as nails and with the walls burning around her she triumphantly, and very viciously, does away with her foe. The visual of watching the building crumble like a stake of dominoes as the two partners battle their enemies in disconnected portions of the edifice had the spectactacle appeal that a climax of this sort should. It’s all fire and brimstone (quite literally), with narrow escapes, and a glorious coming together in the end. While its a mild letdown when Bond leaves the squirrelly villain in the middle of the desert, the moment does work to show Bond’s efforts at getting better at his murder addiction.

Striving for something bigger than a simple action film, Quantum of Solace exists as a smattering of half-ideas, over-worked plot, and tired chases. The whole doesn’t add up to anything very memorable, but the concepts are interesting enough to keep you pondering what intriguing elements could have been born. Whatever lay in Bond’s past has obviously turned him into a quick-tempered murderer with a thirst for vengeance. While he has the charm to stay on our good side, he can’t be forgiven for being so trigger happy, even if these killings always come in the name of justice. While the  franchise may not be ready to become a heady exploration of 007’s psychology, Quantum of Solace should be applauded for pushing Bond futher, even the outcome isn’t overly satisfying. [B-]

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