An outsider’s take on the James Bond saga: ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008) (Movie review)

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ith “No Time to Die” coming out in November, I’m looking back at the eight modern-era James Bond films from the perspective of a newcomer, from July 11-26. Next up is the 22nd Eon-produced film and second starring Daniel Craig, “Quantum of Solace” (2008):

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Having established the more reality-based “Bond” with “Casino Royale,” the same writing trio (Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) lets the secret agent play in this world’s sandbox in “Quantum of Solace.” The action sequences under the lens of Marc Forster could stand to breathe more; in some of them I can’t tell who is who among the participants, so quick are the cuts.

Both of our revenge-seeking heroes are completely scraped and bloodied by the end because they have to do things the old-fashioned way.

But when it catches its breath, this is an amazing-looking film as it globe-trots to the rundown architecture of Haiti, the deserts of Bolivia, and a grand Austrian opera house where the world’s secret rulers (known as Quantum) make deals while the performance goes on.

While the villain’s backdoor deals to secure a water monopoly in a poor country have timeless validity, “Quantum” is about Bond’s internal chafing above all else. This time he deals with his handlers’ lack of trust in him, something that forces him to go rogue and that forces M (Judi Dench) to decide if she will side with bureaucrats or the agent whom she perhaps admires more than she lets on.

TITLE/SONG

Alicia Keys and Jack White perform the forgettable “Another Way to Die,” marking the second straight film where the theme song’s title is different from the film’s. “Another Way to Die” sounds like a Bond title from the old days, but I’m glad they chose “Quantum of Solace” instead. It’s memorable, if weird. I guess it represents the measure of satisfaction gained from revenge, while also referencing the evil organization.

BOND GIRLS

Olga Kurylenko gets a robust arc as Camille, someone who seeks revenge on a Bolivian dictator who killed her family when she was a kid. In fact, her situation – once we learn it – is clearer than that of Bond, who desires revenge on the ex-boyfriend of Vesper (Eva Green in the previous film) because he isn’t who he claimed to be.

Bond and Camille have a nice relationship even though it’s clear that Bond is only thinking of the late Vesper. That’s not to say Bond can’t have some fun. When M assigns MI6 clerk Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) to arrest the rogue Bond and she almost immediately sleeps with him, I thought “M should know better than to send an attractive female agent to grab Bond.” But then I remember that this is early in Bond’s career in this continuity (even though Dench also played M in the Brosnan films). M is learning Bond’s tropes just as a theoretical newcomer to the franchise is.

VILLAIN

It’ll be a while till Bond gets to that last villain though. First he has to work through several others, and the main one here is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, evoking a slimier version of Sam Rockwell), who gets rich off utility monopolies while hiding behind his philanthropic conservation organization. Multiple meetings between ex-lovers Greene and Camille are charged because he wants to kill her and is only stopped because they are in a public place.

The Craig series seems to be about Bond working his way up the ladder of the world’s evil, as Greene is ultimately another rung leading to Quantum. But Greene has flair, especially the way he dispatches Fields, leaving her naked corpse on a hotel bed slathered in black oil, a callback to the golden corpse in “Goldfinger” from the Sean Connery era.

BEST ACTION SCENE

Bond and Camille’s plane is in the process of crashing, and Camille parachutes out while holding Bond’s hand. They nearly lose each other in the sky several times. The chute opens below ground level, but luckily they have fallen into a sinkhole in the Bolivian desert, buying crucial seconds for a survivable landing.

MOST RIDICULOUS MOMENT

When interrogating Mr. White (whom Bond picks up at the end of the last film), an MI6 agent named Mitchell cuts loose with his gun, revealing himself as a double agent working for Quantum. When MI6 looks into Mitchell – a longtime agent with impeccable loyalty — they find no signs that could’ve tipped them off to this duplicity. This evokes a couple of responses: First, what are taxpayers paying MI6 for if it is so easily infiltrated? And second, Quantum is shaping into a worthy adversary.

BEST GADGET

This is a stunningly gadget-free film by this saga’s standards; more than once, Camille picks up Bond in an old beater of a getaway car. Both of our revenge-seeking heroes are completely scraped and bloodied by the end because they have to do things the old-fashioned way.

So for “best gadget,” I’m going with MI6’s search engine and its wall-sized console in the scene where M uses it to quickly look up Greene, call the CIA to ask if they are interested in Greene, and then determine that they are interested in him because the receptionist immediately knows who to transfer the call to. Modern tech is only as good as the people who use it.

SEXUAL/GENDER POLITICS

Bond beds Fields almost at first sight, a decision she admits to being embarrassed by (even amid the act), and something that’s a throwback to the old “Bonds” (and likely a preview of his future behavior on this timeline).

That said, Bond is still torn up over Vesper; he hasn’t moved on in “Quantum.” One could point to this as a failure to advance Bond’s arc, but I like the continuity from “Royale” and how it reinforces that Bond (on this timeline) is a womanizer on the outside but a broken man on the inside because of the loss of perhaps the only woman he loved.

Camille was too young to be raped by the Bolivian general when her family was killed, but she’s offered up to him by Greene here. However, she’s no one’s victim, as she plans to kill him.

BEST ONE-LINER

James Bond (on the phone to MI6, after having killed Slate): “Slate was a dead end.”

Schedule of Bond reviews:

Saturday, July 11: “GoldenEye” (1995)

Sunday, July 12: “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)

Wednesday, July 15: “The World is Not Enough” (1999)

Saturday, July 18: “Die Another Day” (2002)

Sunday, July 19: “Casino Royale” (2006)

Wednesday, July 22: “Quantum of Solace” (2008)

Saturday, July 25: “Skyfall” (2012)

Sunday, July 26: “Spectre” (2015)