The Daniel Craig Era – Quantum of Solace, by Michael Stradford – The Tall Guy’s Gear Guide | @MDWorld
Following the smashing success of ‘Casino Royale’, the anticipation for Daniel Craig’s follow up outing as Bond was palpable. Reviving the series following the unfortunate final appearance of Pierce Brosnan as Bond in ‘Die Another Day’ (a debacle that Brosnan didn’t deserve), Daniel Craig turned the majority of naysayers into diehard supporters. Although there are some stragglers out there (yes Mike Horton, I’m talking about you), the worldwide box office and critical acclaim reported that all was well with the world of 007.
‘Quantum of Solace’ (aka ‘QoS’), the follow up to ‘Casino Royale’, was the first official sequel in the Bond series. Directed by Marc Forster (‘Monster’s Ball’), ‘Quantum of Solace’ followed 007′s quest for revenge following the death of his love Vesper Lynd, and his evolving understanding of the sacrifice she made for him.
To be sure, ‘Quantum’ is no classic, but neither is it the nadir of the 23 James Bond films (for me, ‘Moonraker’ holds that distinction). It’s deeply flawed, but I find it enjoyable, especially if one considers it the third act of ‘Casino Royale’ and not a stand alone film. I’ll go in the areas that were satisfying to me, but first, let’s look at some of the problems.
The Story: The idea of Bond tracking down the organization that caused Vesper to betray him and ultimately resulted in her sacrificing herself for him, was an excellent foundation to build on. Unfortunately, the writer’s strike of 2007 that lasted 100 days made its impact felt on ‘QoS’. The film went into production without all of the story beats nailed down and the filmmakers were forced to try to fix the inherent flaws in the screenplay during the shoot, without access to the screenwriters. The end result was a story that was compelling in spurts and starts, confusing and felt patched together on the fly, which it was.
The Villain: In most fiction, not only Bond films, a hero is enhanced by a great villain, and in some cases can be diminished by an uninspired master criminal. Batman has The Joker, Spider-man has The Green Goblin, Sherlock Holmes has Moriarity. Bond has had a share of memorable heavyweight meglomaniacs: Largo, Blofeld, The Man With the Golden Gun and of course, Goldfinger and his mute man servant, Odd Job.
‘Quantum of Solace’ comes up short with Dominic Greene, played by noted French actor Mathieu Almeric. Rodent like and small in stature and temperamental like a spoiled child, Greene was an annoying villain, one who’s convoluted plan to steal water and hold it hostage to the country that needed it was as unexciting a plan as he was a villain. It’s a good thing that he didn’t have many scenes with Daniel Craig, or his already diminished performance would have been rendered nearly invisible.
Editing: This area is one that frustrated legions of Bond fans. Inspired by the quick cutting style of the Jason Bourne movies, the producers hired the second unit photography team and stunt crew from the Bourne movies, to lesser effect.
There is a grace and sense of visual clarity that even the least of the James Bond films possessed. Those qualities went out the window with ‘Quantum of Solace’. The stuntwork itself was highly impressive, whether large (opening car chase) or small (Bond fighting a villain in a cramped hotel room). The problem was the editing was so fast and choppy that it took repeated viewings to see what was really going on. The opening car chase explodes with energy, as does the hi octane boat chase, but the challenge of be able to follow the action proved frustrating.
The Theme Song: By Alicia Keys and Jack White, simply one of the worst ever.
The Director: Marc Forster isn’t the first Bond director who wasn’t well versed in action films. Michael Apted (‘The World is Not Enough’) and Roger Spottiswoode (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’) were able to successfully steer the franchise without getting overwhelmed by the enormity of the expectations and history of the Bond films. Unfortunately, Marc Forster was unable to effectively take ownership and creatively build on the success of ‘Casino Royale’. While Daniel Craig kept his version of Bond on track, the rest of the film got away from the director. The poorly edited action, the poor casting of the villain, the unsatisfying showdown in the desert and a story that clearly needed more work resulted in the least popular Bond film since ‘Die Another Day’ and that’s saying something.
Having listed the larger flaws of the film, it’s my pleasure to point out the elements that makes ‘Quantum of Solace’ a satisfying film for me.
Bond, James Bond: Once again, Daniel Craig shows that he’s at the very least, the best Bond since Connery. While not still fully formed yet as 007, Craig’s Bond shows the physicality, intelligence and steely eyed determination that Ian Fleming first wrote about over fifty years ago. I also like his light touch with dialogue. Following the pre-credits car chase, Bond pops the trunk and we see a bound and gagged Mr. White from ‘Casino Royale’. Bond smiles slightly and says softly, ‘It’s time to get out’. It’s an amusing line, but one that easily could have been overplayed. Craig played it just right.
But what sets Craig’s Bond apart is the way that his wounded heart is on display, whether he wants to show it or not. Nursing a drink late at night with his friend Mathis (Giancarlo Gianni), Bond conveys his hurt and sadness by with very few words. A short time later as he gently cradles a dying friend in the street, Craig’s tenderness is heartbreaking.
But his great work doesn’t stop there. We see the growth of 007 from ‘Casino Royale’ to ‘Quantum of Solace’. Bond isn’t as brash and impulsive as he was in the first film. His arrogance has segued into self confidence, while his broken heart hasn’t kept him from focusing on the job at hand. He also looked more the part than he did in the past.
For ‘QoS’, Craig changed from suits by Brioni, to suits from Tom Ford. Ford, an American designer, crafted smartly cut suits that fit Craig like a glove and gave him a look that Her Majesty’s Secret Service would be proud of. He also rocked a vintage Steve McQueen look: Cardigan, desert boots and khaki jeans.
One area where Craig excels beyond his Bond predecessors is in his ability to use action as an expression of character. When Bond kills Guy Haines in the hotel room, He’s clearly not comfortable about taking a life, but he carries out his job. ‘Quantum of Solace’ is a grim, unrelenting film that’s held together by the powerful presence of Daniel Craig.
The Action: While the editing of the action scenes did ‘QoS’ no favors, the action itself is top notch James Bond. The car chase as the film opens is harrowing with danger coming from all directions and Bond keeps his cool while his Aston Martin is knocked around and nearly decimated.
The rooftop chase, the boat chase, the brief fight in the hotel, the airplane attack, you name it, the action was all vintage James Bond. Of course Craig didn’t do all of his own stunts, but he did enough of them to keep the audience invested in his effort.
The Music: Excluding the title song, David Arnold ably created a contemporary soundtrack that harkened back to the classic John Barry scores of the Golden Age of Bond (even though he still didn’t use the Bond theme at the right time, but that’s more the fault of director Forster).
The Bond Women: Both Gemma Ammerton as Agent Strawberry Fields and Olga Kuryenko as the tortured Camille do a fine job as being more than just eye candy.
Finally, ‘Quantum of Solace’ has most of the classic ingredients of the best Bond films: Exotic locales, beautiful women, A+ action, the Aston Martin, memorable title sequence and an outstanding 007. Unfortunately, it was hampered by an incomplete script and a less than ideal director. Ultimately, the cook in the kitchen (Forster) didn’t make the best meal, but depending on your appetite, ‘QoS’ can fill you up nicely.