Welcome to Sundays with Bond … James Bond! Over the next five weeks, as we ramp up to the (hopeful) premiere of the 25th James Bond Movie, No Time to Die, I’ll be looking back at Daniel Craig’s illustrious career as British Secret Service agent 007. I’m rewatching all four of his previous films and writing about them here. Please follow along for my stirred (but never shaken) look back at Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and—in early October—No Time to Die.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum of Solace is definitely the worst Daniel Craig outing, with horribly miscast female and villain leads and a story that goes nowhere. It has its moments, as each James Bond film—even the bad ones—do, but they are few and far between.
QoS suffered from a writers’ strike and the possibility of a looming actors’ strike, and it shows. Filming started without a finished script and there just seems to be a lot of missed opportunities in the film. While the director, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) went on to make the action flick World War Z, he seems ill-suited to a Bond film, at least in my opinion. The story, by the usual Bond film writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Paul Haggis), has a messy subplot that involves rape and revenge regarding the Olga Kurylenko character, Camille. (As an aside: How do you keep these writers after the absolutely horrible The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day? The Bond producers are strange when it comes to casting and writing.)
Quantum is the only Bond film that begins right after the previous film (Casino Royale) ends. It starts with a great car chase through an incredibly scenic part of Italy. After that it jumps right into a chase with Bond and an assassin through a crowded city during some kind of horse race. But from there it goes downhill quickly, and once the big bad is introduced, it becomes pretty much a mess. And that’s the main problem with the film: Mathieu Almaric as global eco-savior Dominic Greene. He is without doubt the wimpiest Bond villain ever, and that says a lot, because you can also lump The World Is Not Enough’s Robert Carlyle as Renaud and Christoph Waltz as Blofeld in Spectre into that category. Why the Bond producers—who have shown wonky casting taste over all almost all 60 years of the 007 franchise—continually pick slight, wimpy men who don’t even remotely suggest the kind of megalomaniacal world domination type that is needed for a Bond villain, is beyond me. Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love is more macho than Mathieu Almaric. To be honest, Jesper Christensen’s Mr. White, a carryover from Casino Royale, would have made a better villain. His interrogation scene in the beginning of the movie is probably the best part of the entire film, and when he says “we have people everywhere, don’t we?” and one of the agents in the room pulls out a gun and kills another agent, then goes for Bond and M, it’s a truly chilling moment.
Another casting problem is the sullen and dark Olga Kurylenko as Camille, a Bolivian secret service agent on a mission of vengeance to kill the army general who murdered her family and left her with burn scars. This plot point would never fly today, since the general like to rape women. Camille is kind of an anti-Bond girl, and for once, 007 doesn’t sleep with the main female character. He has no qualms, however, in having his way with poor Strawberry Fields, played by Gemma Arterton, a fellow British agent, who was sent to make Bond return home. Arterton has recently come forward to speak about her regret in this role, saying there was “so much wrong”with her character’s portrayal. The real wrong part is killing her by covering her with oil, something the Bond producers evidently thought was “an homage” to Jill Masterson’s death by gold paint in Goldfinger. It was a sick homage, if such a thing is possible.
Giancarlo Giannini also reappears as Mathis, whom Bond turns to when MI6 cuts off his credit cards and tries to restrict his travel. He’s marginally better in this film than Casino Royale, but when he’s killed off (entirely Bond’s fault), 007 dumps his friend into a dumpster and steals the cash out of his wallet. I’m not sure if this is to underline how ruthless and uncaring Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond is, or just to make it look like Mathis was killed in a mugging. Either way, it’s distasteful.
The biggest missed opportunity in QoS to me is the scenes that take place in an open-air opera house in Bregenz, Austria. In a hackneyed move to somehow justify the awkward title of this film (named after an Ian Fleming short story); the organization behind Mr. White and Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale is revealed to be called “Quantum,” and they hold a meeting during an opera at the theater. This, of course, will all go out the window in Spectre when it’s revealed that the titular organization of that film has been behind all of Bond’s troubles for the past three films in a shoe-horned-in plot device that tries to bring some kind of through-line into all four films (this supposedly continues into No Time to Die, making all five Daniel Craig films some kind of related single story arc).
The opera house scenes seem to have little thought behind them as to how best showcase this incredible piece of architecture. There are some truncated action scenes as Bond makes his presence known, almost like they were cut for a trailer. (For a really great action scene in an opera house, see Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the fifth film in that series and one of the best, even though it also has a very slight actor as its main bad guy … but Sean Harris is truly menacing). I don’t know if this abbreviated action sequence is due to the writers’ strike or filming restrictions put on the filmmakers by the opera house itself, but either way it seems like a hugely missed opportunity.
Bond eventually faces off with Dominic Greene and Camille with her nemesis, the general, in a hotel built in the middle of a desert, one which is powered by some kind of hydrogen-based fuel cells, which we just know are going to blow up at some point (since the general brings up how unstable that seems in a clumsy bit of foreshadowing). Bond and Greene fight in what can only be called a sissy-boy slap fight, although the pyrotechnics involved are truly impressive. Almaric is such a slight villain and Quantum doesn’t even have a well-defined lackey with any measure of menace, like Oodjob or Red Grant … the scariest part of Greene’s second-in-command is his haircut. Bond keeps his promise to M not to shoot and kill anyone else and instead lets Greene roam off into the desert with only a can of oil for sustenance, where he’s found shot in the head and killed by someone else (the Quantum crew, no doubt).
There is an interesting coda where Bond and M track down the person who seduced Vesper Lynd unseen in Casino Royale and caused her to betray England and Bond. He’s in Russia with a Canadian consulate worker, who Bond “saves” by letting her leave, first telling her what her lover is really up to. Much to M’s surprise, Bond doesn’t kill the man, opting to leave him to MI6 and justice. Bond walks off into the snowy night assuring M he never left and all I could think is the scene was tacked on to make the film a bit longer (at 1 hour and 46 minutes, it’s the shortest 007 film ever; by comparison, No Time to Die is 2 hours and 43 minutes long) and to give Bond a little bit of closure for the whole Vesper affair.
Quantum is interesting only if you watch it directly after Casino Royale, but even then it’s such a letdown from that first Daniel Craig film that it pales in comparison. The fact that it starts literally minutes after the previous film is a curiosity in and of itself, but it doesn’t save it.
Next week: Skyfall (2012) is the 50th anniversary Bond film, and quite possibly the best 007 movie ever.
As part of my work for the Comic-Con Museum, I hosted a Zoom discussion with Mark A. Altman and Ed Gross about their Bond book, Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized History of James Bond. If for some reason the linked video below disappears, go to YouTube.com and search Comic-Con Museum James Bond.