History, Legacy & Showmanship

Craig’s Sophomore Slump: Remembering “Quantum of Solace” on its 10th Anniversary

January 28, 2019 - 9:15 am   |   by
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Quantum of Solace demonstrates that the Bond franchise still relays a British imperialist standpoint through its depiction of the global south and continues to rely on problematic politics of representation that draw into question whether the films of the Daniel Craig era can be considered progressive within the Bond film canon.” — Lisa Funnell, co-author of The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 10th anniversary of the release of Quantum of Solace, the 22nd (official) cinematic James Bond adventure and second to feature Daniel Craig as Agent 007.

Our previous celebratory 007 articles include From Russia with Love, Never Say Never Again, Live and Let Die, Octopussy, Casino Royale (1967), Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day, Dr. No, The Living Daylights, The Spy Who Loved Me, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Casino Royale, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, GoldenEye, A View to a Kill, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger, and 007… Fifty Years Strong.

The Bits continues the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of film historians and James Bond authorities who discuss the virtues, shortcomings and legacy of 2008’s Quantum of Solace. [Read on here...]

The participants for this segment are (in alphabetical order)….

Robert A. Caplen is an attorney in Washington, DC, and the author of Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (Xlibris, 2010; revised 2012).

Robert A. Caplan

John Cork is the author (with Collin Stutz) of James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002) and (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman). He contributed new introductions for the original Bond novels Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, and Goldfinger for new editions published in the UK by Vintage Classics in 2017.

John Cork

Lisa Funnell is the author (with Klaus Dodds) of The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and editor of For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond (Wallflower, 2015). She is also the editor (with Klaus Dodds) of the “James Bond in the Daniel Craig Era” special issue in Journal of Popular Film and Television (2018). She is Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies and Co-Director of the Center for Social Justice at the University of Oklahoma. Her other books include Warrior Women: Gender, Race, and the Transnational Chinese Action Star (State University of New York, 2014) which won the Emily Toth Award for Best Single Work in Women’s Studies from the PCA/ACA (2015), (with Man-Fung Yip) American and Chinese-Language Cinemas: Examining Cultural Flows (Routledge, 2015) and (with Philippa Gates) Transnational Asian Identities in Pan-Pacific Cinemas: The Reel Asian Exchange (Routledge, 2012).

Lisa Funnell

The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.

And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to Quantum of Solace, and then enjoy the conversation with this group of James Bond authorities.

Quantum of Solace

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Quantum of Solace worthy of celebration on its 10th anniversary?

Robert Caplen: It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since Quantum was released. Quantum is a high energy, fast-paced, but sometimes confusing film that is, in large part, a continuation of Casino Royale. It firmly establishes Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond while, at the same time, invokes several themes from prior films in order to maintain the franchise’s continuity.

The most overarching theme is revenge. But unlike prior films where either Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence to Kill) or the primary Bond Girl (For Your Eyes Only) is on a personal mission to avenge the murder of a loved/close one, Quantum depicts the intersection of both characters’ quests. The dual quest for revenge adds energy and intrigue to the plot. It also ensures that the relationship between Bond and Camille Montes remains platonic.

Of course, another prevalent theme in the film is Bond as a rogue agent, reminiscent of Licence to Kill. And Bond has to navigate around a certain level of American incompetence (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die) best personified by CIA agent Beam. Control over natural resources looms large, but oil (The World Is Not Enough) is a diversion in Quantum; water is Dominic Greene’s true prize. The irony, of course, is that Greene meets his death in a barren desert.

John Cork: Quantum of Solace is a film that succeeds and fails on such grand scales that it should be seen and examined by any fan of movie franchise filmmaking. It is one of the most beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, infuriatingly edited, under-scripted Bond films ever. It has one of the most haunting set pieces in the series (the opera sequence), and one of the greatest dramatic pauses in films (Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter pausing before answering whether he recognizes a photo of Bond). But the Bond films have always been a testament to the collaborative art of filmmaking. And here, great, talented collaborators seem to be working at cross-purposes. Just like no one could understand the poetry of the title, no one could understand what car they were looking at in the opening chase scene, nor understand which dark-suited man was 007 in the fleeting shots of the foot chase on the Sienna rooftops, nor why Bond wasn’t telling the Bolivian villagers facing a drought that just over yonder there is a secret reservoir.

Yet, I find the film immensely watchable once one stops caring about the stuff that doesn’t work. Even when I don’t understand the dialogue, it is delivered with conviction and emotion. By the way, can anyone explain the following exchange between Bond and Mathis?

BOND: Is Mathis your cover name?

MATHIS: Yes.

BOND: Not a very good one, is it?

What? Okay, so his name isn’t Mathis. What “cover” did he assume? It is this kind of stuff that leaves viewers completely baffled. Why when Bond gets a message that simply says, “RUN” does he decide to stroll up to his hotel room to check on the good news for himself? This is a James Bond movie, not a Curious George storybook.

One should not take the Bond screenplays as testaments to logic, but Quantum’s script shows just how important internal story and character logic can be when asking an audience to follow a plot. Bond is confronted by M in a hotel in Bolivia. She tells him “this is about trust,” as she remands him into custody. Bond proceeds to brutally beat three of his own MI6 allies in an elevator as they are escorting him out, then he runs into M in a hallway. Does he explain what Dominic Green is doing with water? Nope. He puts in a good word for the dead Miss Fields, then trots off. M, who seems just as baffled as the audience by what’s going on, immediately tells Bill Tanner that she has “trust” in Bond. I’m sure those concussed British agents crumpled on the floor of the elevator are comforted by M’s completely unmotivated about-face.

Bond and Felix meet in a bar in Bolivia, but during a well-played terse exchange, Bond never once mentions that Dominic Green is draining reservoirs into cisterns in the desert. Bond has seen the cisterns, he knows their locations. Game over for Green if Bond simply shares this information with…anyone: M, Leiter, a reporter, the hapless agents in the elevator.

Despite the frustrations, it is a beautiful film to watch. It is like the old YouTube video of the Russian singer known as the Trololo Guy. It doesn’t make sense, but you can’t look away.

Lisa Funnell: Quantum of Solace is frequently overlooked due to the writers’ strike and its impact on the story line. However, the film occupies an important position in the Bond film canon. While previous Bond films are episodic in nature and contain limited references to prior films and events (with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969] being a notable exception), Quantum of Solace is the first proper sequel in the franchise as the film picks up where Casino Royale (2006) ends with viewers being thrust into a dynamic car chase sequence without any exposition. It is the second film in the orphan origin trilogy (ending with Skyfall [2012]) which tells the story of how James Bond evolves into an iconic super spy. Like Casino Royale, it is a revisionist film as it reworks and reintroduces many key components of the Bond film. It suggests the rise of a new villainous organization, Quantum, with a global network comparable to SPECTRE, and highlights the global conflict over a new resource, water, rather than gold, diamonds, or oil which were featured in previous eras. Moreover, it explores how the violence experienced by Bond specifically through the death of his lover impacts him emotionally thus providing a justification for why Bond (or any secret agent) should not develop deep romantic attachments.

Coate: What do you remember about the first time you saw Quantum of Solace?

Caplen: I saw Quantum in theaters as soon as it opened and remember thinking Quantum didn’t feel like a typical James Bond film. And yet, it has many thematic elements that it shares with prior films. The film’s action sequences are exciting — and the audience is gripped by the fast-paced car chase that opens the film. Nevertheless, Quantum seems unnecessarily violent and meandering. I remember enjoying Quantum but constantly measuring it against Casino Royale, which seemed like a stronger installment.

Cork: I had been invited to the World Premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square. It was one of the strangest evenings of my life. My seats were in the front row, and the visual energy of the often-confounding editing was exhilarating but exhausting. I was exceptionally busy with work, so the trip was brutally short, and I couldn’t tell if it was my jet lag or the editing or the illogical script that was keeping me from getting a good handle on what was unfolding. So much was so good, but so much of the dialogue seemed to be as if it were random lines from other movies, and so much of the action was cut so fast I had no clue what was going on. Did M just get shot? Where did Camille get that gun? Who is shooting at whom in this garage in the desert? But it was all very stylish.

After the premiere, we collected our cell phones (we had to check them in the lobby) and boarded busses to the premiere party event. On the bus, I turned my phone back on, and I had urgent messages from my mother. While I had been watching the film, my step-father had died of a massive heart attack. I couldn’t return to the States until the next day, and I knew it would be good to be surrounded by people at that time. Needless to say, the party was a massive mix of emotions. There were so many friends and acquaintances at the event. I loved seeing them, but I could not spoil their evening by sharing my loss. So I just tried to keep up a brave face, try to act happy, and stumble through it.

Funnell: I actually got sick watching Quantum of Solace in the theater due to the rapid editing in a few action sequences. This can be attributed to the popularity of the Jason Bourne series and its influence on the stylization of the early Daniel Craig era films. Even today, I have to fast forward a few scenes because they make me queasy.

Quantum of Solace

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Quantum of Solace

Coate: In what way was Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene a memorable villain?

Caplen: Dominic Greene is, in my view, not very memorable. He is played wonderfully by Mathieu Amalric, who imbues the character with a pathetic aura that is accompanied by an almost reptilian-like sliminess. These traits, to me, make Greene seem uncomfortable in nearly every scene. Indeed, Greene boasts that the thought of people talking behind his back makes him feel like ants are under his skin. (The idea of a person feeling uncomfortable in his own skin evokes the memory of Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves in Die Another Day.) This type of inherent creepiness cannot be masked with black tie attire, advanced technological gadgetry, or cultural immersion (i.e., attending a Tosca opera as cover for Quantum operations). In some respects, Greene is reminiscent of Moonraker’s Hugo Drax but without polish, finesse, or creativity.

Greene’s maniacal quest for Bolivia’s water source is a bit farcical, but so, too, is his near refusal to do anything for himself. His associates seem to perform all the work while Greene reacts to situations with surprise and anger in his eyes. The scene when Greene discovers Bond at the opera is a prime example.

Greene is the central villain in the film and purported head of a Quantum subsidiary, but the audience gets the impression that he is merely an underling within a far larger organization, especially when M reveals that Greene was found dead in the desert with two bullet wounds to the head (and motor oil found in his stomach). Something much more nefarious is afoot, and Greene is merely one small, forgettable element of it.

Cork: Amalric is a fantastic actor, and he exudes evil in the role, channeling a bit of Peter Lorre. But he’s not given much with which to work. What is he doing when we meet him? He’s obsessively stamping a series of numbers on a long piece of paper from a cash register roll. Why? I certainly don’t know. What is this supposed to tell us about him? Beats me. All I know is that whatever dockside warehouse where we are introduced to him remains a far cry from Goldfinger’s introduction poolside at the Fontainebleau or even Largo’s elegant arrogance when he parks his car in Paris.

Green explains his ability to destabilize Bolivia in exchange for mineral and water rights, which is a wonderful device, but the scene somehow lacks the scale and scope of, say, General Orlov pitching his somewhat similar plan. At every turn, Amalric is undercut by the choices of others. In the middle of his brilliantly brutal attack on Bond with a fire ax while the desert facility blows up around them, we cut away to an emotionally intense scene between Camille and General Medrano, losing all focus on Bond and Green’s battle. When we come back, viewers have to reorient their brains to what is going on. The cutting is so fast that it’s often hard to know where anyone is, who just fell off the collapsing walkway, and as a result, what should have been a fight every bit as engaging as Bond versus Grant in From Russia with Love is barely remembered by fans.

In the end, we are even robbed of a great death scene. Bond apparently decided to save Green before dashing off to rescue Camille. When Bond catches up to him in the desert, he gives Green motor oil and toodles off. Apparently, Green, with his foot split open, carried the motor oil until he got thirsty. This just seems downright silly, but it’s played as though this is some bit of brilliant Bondian irony. As a result, Green is simply not very memorable.

Funnell: Dominic Greene is an interesting villain who uses environmental sustainability as a front for his villainous organization. He is so cunning that he convinces major world powers that he has discovered a new oil deposit while he is secretly claiming water rights. This is suggested through the use of oil to murder Strawberry Fields, an homage (albeit deceitful) to the skin suffocation of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger via the element being coveted. Greene is so convincing that he positions Bond as a threat to the oil security of the UK and USA who must therefore be eliminated. This is where the friendship between Bond with Felix Leiter (or at least the start of it) is first tested as the latter chooses to side with Bond and is promoted by the CIA for making the right call. Moreover, the death of Greene is ironic as Bond sends him out into the desert with an oil canister rather than a water jug.

Quantum newspaper adCoate: In what way was Olga Kurylenko’s Camille Montes (or Gemma Arterton’s Strawberry Fields) a memorable Bond Girl?

Caplen: I’m not convinced that either Camille or Fields is particularly memorable. The focal point of the film, of course, is Vesper Lynd and Bond’s quest to learn the truth about her death. Camille is a member of Bolivian intelligence who is intent on killing General Medrano to avenge her family’s murder. She is willing to use her sexuality as a weapon (and shares a light-hearted moment with Bond when she reveals she slept with Greene to get closer to General Medrano). Although she ultimately kills General Medrano after he brutally attacks and tries to sexually assault her, she cannot make the kill without Bond’s assistance. And, Bond seems to be constantly rescuing her from compromising or dangerous situations. Camille seems resourceful and is, in many respects, reminiscent of Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies. But she must be repeatedly extricated from compromising (or dangerous) situations. Aside from repelling General Medrano’s assault, Camille’s strongest moment, perhaps, is disparaging and compromising Greene in front of his donors.

But Camille is not Bond’s love interest, and it is understandable why. Bond is still struggling with Vesper’s death, so his relationship with Camille must remain strictly professional. Her kill is not his mission, so there is no reason why their alliance should lead to anything sexual.

By contrast, Fields (whose first name is never mentioned) is the prototypical, expendable conquest for Bond. She is not a particularly resourceful agent. Her instructions are to stop Bond and return him to London, but Bond quickly asserts authority over her. She succumbs to Bond in their hotel room, regrets the decision, but quickly dismisses her doubts when Bond persuades her otherwise. Although she provides some assistance to Bond, she pays the ultimate price at the hands of Greene’s henchmen, though, perhaps, her demise was predestined when she failed to fulfill MI6 orders to return Bond to England. Her death is cruel and striking — she is covered in oil much like Jill Masterson succumbed to gold paint in Goldfinger. But to his credit, Bond does not merely dismiss Fields as he has done with so many women in past missions. Instead, Bond specifically informs M that Fields showed true bravery and tells M she should include that information in her case report. In that regard, Fields’ legacy will survive, albeit in an office file.

Cork: Camille follows Tilly Masterson, Domino, Anya, Melina Havelock, Octopussy, and Lupe in seeking some sense of resolution for dead parents, siblings or loved ones (Honey in Dr. No doesn’t seem to be seeking much besides shells and Bond, so she doesn’t quite make the list). I really like Olga Kurylenko. Great actress. Camille, scared of dying in a fire like the one that consumed the bodies of her family, has a powerful emotional arc. But the script doesn’t quite allow her story and Bond’s journey to mesh together despite a brilliantly played scene in a cavern in the middle of the film. Fun trivia: Camille bears a lot of similarities to Jinx from the abandoned Die Another Day spin-off. The brief introduction of Agent Fields that bookends Camille and Bond’s moment in the cavern further undercuts her importance to Bond’s story. Near the end of the film is a scene that seems inspired by end of the novel Moonraker, where Bond and Camille are trapped as fire nears. It is clear that she wants Bond to shoot her before the flames can take her life. It’s a great moment, but I don’t think it emotionally connects with viewers, and it’s just not Kurylenko’s fault. She plays that moment so right, but the film had not given the story enough breathing room for us to feel the emotions that she wonderfully communicates with just the look in her eyes.

Funnell: Quantum of Solace does not have a Bond Girl proper. Much like Casino Royale, the qualities of the archetype are split between two characters: Vesper Lynd and Camille Montes. On the one hand, Bond is still in love with the late Vesper Lynd. Although she doesn’t appear on screen, her memory looms large in the film through the repeating of the Vesper musical theme, her Algerian knot necklace that Bond secretly carries with him, and the Vesper martinis he consumes to the point of being drunk. On the other hand, Bond does not engage in a sexual/romantic relationship with Montes and each of them are on their own respective quests for revenge. For her part, Montes is determined to kill General Medrano who murdered her family and she aligns with Bond who is working to take down Medrano’s partner, Dominic Greene. Her character is reminiscent of Gala Brand from the novel Moonraker (Fleming 1955) who rejects Bonds advances once their mission is complete, as she is engaged to another man, and the novel ends on a bitter note. However, in Quantum of Solace, it is Bond who is emotionally unavailable due to his love for Lynd and the pair part ways without a sexual or romantic scenario developing between them. As a result, Quantum of Solace ends on an empowering and even feminist note with Montes walking away from a man who cannot love her.

Coate: Where do you think Quantum of Solace ranks among the James Bond movie series?

Caplen: Quantum is an entertaining James Bond film, but I think it cannot compare to Casino Royale, Skyfall, or Spectre. It may also fall short of Pierce Brosnan’s best performance, which I have always thought was Goldeneye.

Cork: When I ranked the films in 2012, it landed at unlucky number 13. After so many complaints, why so high? I love the score. I’m in the minority, but I love Another Way to Die, which I think is a kick-ass song. It is brilliantly shot. The performances are great. Daniel Craig owns ever frame he’s in. Although it takes itself very seriously, it is a good casual watch in a strange way.

Funnell: It is not in my top or bottom three.

Coate: What is the legacy of Quantum of Solace?

Caplen: Casino Royale introduced Daniel Craig as James Bond, but Quantum solidified Craig in the role and added the next installment of a broader story arc that would become Skyfall and Spectre. While Quantum was not as well-received as Casino Royale, history may be kinder to the film when it is considered in a broader context. Quantum does more than close the Vesper Lynd chapter; it adds more color to a complex relationship between Bond and Dame Judy Dench’s M. Quantum allows producers to close the M story line, too, transitioning Dench’s M — a character that joined Pierce Brosnan when he assumed the Bond role in 1995 — to a new M who can develop a completely new dynamic with Craig’s Bond.

Cork: The first legacy is understanding the importance of getting the screenplay right for a Bond film. When you make a film like Diamonds Are Forever, the tone embraces absurdism. Audiences are not emotionally attaching to the characters or placing a lot of importance on story logic. When you make a film that has maybe two laughs and lots of looks of grim determination, the audience wants to emotionally connect. Quantum doesn’t make that connection easy for the audience. Much of this can be blamed on the Writers Guild Strike of 2007-2008, just as the film was getting started in production. The script was never really finished, revised and polished.

The next legacy of Quantum of Solace is that Bond is very different from Bourne. When The Bourne Identity opened in the summer of 2002, a lot of folks were blown away by it. The second Bourne film, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) out-grossed Casino Royale in the US. The third Bourne, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) broke $200 million at the box office, something no Bond film had done at that point. There was a lot of noise that Bond needed a lot more Bourne in his blood. For whatever reasons internally, that meant trying to get folks involved in Quantum that had experience with Bourne, including Bourne Supremacy editor Richard Pearson, who shared his duties with Matt Chesse. It also included Dan Bradley, 2nd unit director on The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. All of these are very talented individuals, but something didn’t click. Bond doesn’t mesh with the kind of long-lens, tight-shot, shaky-cam, quick cut action that works in Jason Bourne’s world.

The final legacy is Daniel Craig’s. It was in the aftermath of Quantum that he set up Sam Mendes to direct Skyfall, a move that secured more creative input into the films than any actor who had played 007 in the Eon series before.

Funnell: The legacy of the film lies in its depiction of the global south and (unintentional) emphasis on white/British/Western colonialism. Visually, the global south is depicted differently through the use of filters that emphasize the colors brown and yellow to highlight the arid nature of the climate as well as the lack of economic development. These conventions are carried forward into Skyfall and Spectre (2015), and appear in other non-Bond films of the time. Producers cast Olga Kurylenko, a Ukrainian-born French actor, to play Bolivian agent Camille Montes rather than someone of/from Bolivian or South American origin. She appears with tanned skin (via the problematic convention of brownface) and she speaks with a European (and, in this case, an arbitrary/non-British and non-American) accent. This recalls the casting of white actors in lead Asian roles and the use of the racist convention of yellowface in Dr. No (1962). Finally, when locals in Bolivia meet to discuss the resource shortage by the water tower, subtitles are not provided and audiences unfamiliar with the language cannot understand what is being said. This was a choice made by producers (much like in the 2017 film Logan) and presents the impression that the voices and concerns of locals (in their native language) do not matter unless they are conveyed (in English) via white actors in the film. Moreover, it presents the global conflict over water and other natural resources as the prerogative of developed Western/Northern nations who occupy and plunder the global south without any consultation from the locals. As such, Quantum of Solace demonstrates that the Bond franchise still relays a British imperialist standpoint through its depiction of the global south and continues to rely on problematic politics of representation that draw into question whether the films of the Daniel Craig era can be considered progressive within the Bond film canon.

Coate: Thank you — Robert, John, and Lisa — for participating and sharing your thoughts about Quantum of Solace on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Moonraker” on its 40th Anniversary.

Quantum of Solace

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Danjaq LLC, Eon Productions Limited, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.

 

- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

Quantum of Solace (Blu-ray Disc)

 

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