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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