Monday, 1 October 2012

The What? The What of the What What?





I was once asked to describe what Quantum of Solace is about in a tweet.  140 characters isn't enough.  140 words wouldn't be enough.  This is the quantum mechanics of the Bond franchise.  Compared to the Bond by numbers of the Brosnan era and the brutality of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is confusing.  But not that confusing.  You won't need Professor Brian Cox to do a DVD commentary.


Quantum of Solace is Daniel Craig's tricky second album. 

OK, it's a film and not an album but you know what I mean.  How to follow Casino Royale?  Well, you don't have to follow it, you can continue from it.

'You shits! I've only had this car five minutes'
Quantum of Solace uniquely sees us picking up from where we left him at the end of Casino Royale.  Although he does seem to have changed suits. Mr White is in the boot as Bond rally drives around a well placed quarry before arriving in Siena.  This is a car chase that Roger Moore could only have dreamed of in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Now I'm not quite sure what we're doing in Siena or even Tuscany but we'll go with it.  In what can only be described as a sewer, MI6 set about interrogating Mr White to find out just who he is and who he works for.  We'll soon find that the organisation he works for is Quantum, a 21st century S.P.E.C.T.R.E. but infinitely more insidious and shadowy.  Quite literally, Quantum has people everywhere as displayed by a good old fashioned double agent.  Our double agent, Mitchell, is pursued by Bond across rooftops and over vehicles before an ingenious sequence where the pair cling to scaffolding reminiscent of a Newton's Cradle.  Bond prevails before we are launched into one of the more bizarre Bond themes.

An unlikely duet of Jack White and Alicia Keys belt out our theme song.  It's clunky and unorthodox, a far cry from Dame Shirley but it kind of works.  Once again we've got to the theme song and we haven't seen Craig do an opening gun barrel.  The gun barrel is incorporated into the film's closing credits when Bond has finally gained closure from Vesper and is 'truly' James Bond.

The investigation into Mitchell's double agent status sees M get the hump over her judge of character and some unwanted Christmas presents.  What's more pertinent are the dodgy banknotes he had floating around.  Some fancy computer work takes Bond to Haiti and Dominic Greene.  Bond bumps into Camille in an improbably shiny Ford Ka before we find out who Greene really is.

Greene is an environmentalist on the surface.  We take a deep breath and hope this doesn't take us towards Die Another Day territory.  It's OK though as we find that Greene is a member of Quantum and has some dodgy dealings with big chinned Bolivian General Medrano.  Greene and Quantum have taken steps to restore the General to despotic power in Bolivia in exchange for a patch of desert.  This is Bolivia so there must be some marching powder about?  No,  Medrano assumes Greene is after oil and laughingly lets him have the plot of land convinced it's worthless.  In an act of revenge Greene gives Camille to the General and diverts his attention elsewhere.  Cue some maritime fun.  The opening car chase and now this boat chase are at breakneck speed, in fact, the whole film is.  Quite a contrast to the slow building tension of Casino Royale.

Medrano isn't the only one that assumes Greene is after Bolivian oil as we see the CIA do a deal with him, much to the annoyance of Felix Leiter.  A CIA director with a 'tache bigger than his brain tries to play hardball (that's what the Americans call it, yeah?) with Greene before striking a deal to turn a blind eye to Greene's plans in exchange for a drop of the black stuff. This all takes place mid air before Greene pops down to Austria to enjoy a spot of culture.

Bond gets his phone mixed up with Snake's Codec
Our night at the opera is a glorious sequence.  Bond actually does a bit of spying before acquiring a goody bag in the gents.  This goody bag means he can listen in on and identify many of Quantum's members as Tosca rages on stage.  He hasn't cracked the scheme yet but he sets about putting some names to faces.  This is quite an achievement as most of the faces look like stills from Metal Gear Solid.  Let's hope Bond doesn't turn out to be a genetic experiment or bump into Revolver Ocelot.  Bond's extraction from the meeting he has gatecrashed is problematic and ends up with the death of a member of Special Branch.  Bond doesn't actually kill him but still ends up having his privileges revoked.  Bond has gone renegade. Again.

Bond needs to get to La Paz but doesn't have a passport or any cash.  He also doesn't have any allies at hand so turns to Rene Mathis.  The last time we saw Mathis he was being tasered and carried away for 'debriefing' having been identified as a crony of Le Chiffre.  It appears he's actually innocent.  Bond appeals to Mathis' warrior instinct and ropes him into a trip to Bolivia via a swanky aeroplane bar and several (6) Vesper martinis.  Mathis is a walking pharmacy but Bond sticks to gin and a twist.

Upon landing in La Paz we encounter Agent Strawberry Fields (groan).  The delicious Gemma Arterton is connecting Craig's Bond to his predecessors, especially Connery.  The chemistry between Craig and Arterton is great.  It's a shame she doesn't last too long.

The reintroduction of Camille comes before a final farewell to Mathis and the uncovering of Greene's real plan.  Bond is identified as a threat to Greene and dear old Dominic uses his General in high places to frame Bond.  This time for the apparent murder of Mathis.  The final scenes with Bond and Mathis are touching as Bond realises that to be a spy he has to be alone and will, ultimately, have to sacrifice himself.  Mathis' unceremonious disposal by Bond sees Bond put his armour back on.  He won't allow others to get too close again.

With Camille in tow we head to the air again to take in a survey of the land Greene has acquired.  Handily, Camille is Bolivian Secret Service and has some orienteering skills.  Our sky bound jaunt is shortlived as Bond is shot down and has an almost Moonraker-esque parachute moment before crashing into a cave.  The true extent of Greene's scheme is revealed as the local water supply has been dammed off.  Greene fooled everyone into thinking he was after oil when, in reality, he plans to hold the country to ransom over utilities.  Eon and nPower better be kept an eye on.

I'm glad I'm not cleaning those sheets
Bond returns to La Paz to find M in his hotel room.  Now we know that whenever M goes into the field something bad happens and true to form we find that Agent Fields has been killed.  Greene has had Agent Fields killed in an oily homage to Goldfinger.  We've shed the 60's sensibility that saw a strategic cushion protect Shirley Eaton's modesty and are shown Arterton's full curvy death.  M orders Bond arrested and is concerned he is fuelled only by revenge.  All too easily Bond escapes but not before adding a touch of class by insisting Agent Fields' is recognised for her bravery.

Quantum of Solace has negotiated itself into a cul de sac before the timely reappearance of Felix Leiter.  It's Leiter's information that leads us to the film's conclusion.  In the middle of nowhere Greene is meeting General Medrano to dot the 'is' and cross the 'ts' on his reclamation of power.  Naturally the meeting takes place in a hotel.  Not an ordinary hotel but a hotel powered by hydrogen.  Yep, liquid hydrogen.  Even Scaramanga would've steered clear of that.  Greene reveals just how screwed Medrano is before our old fashioned Bondian climax.  Plenty of explosions, broken glass and axes don't divert from Camille exacting her revenge whilst Bond extracts the information he needs from Greene.

Greene is abandoned in the desert by Bond.  Both men know he will die in the desert, either by his own hands or by Quantum's as they assume he's told Bond everything.  Bond tosses Greene a can of oil in bitter memory of Agent Fields.  It would appear Greene did spill some of Quantum's beans as Bond travels to Russia and confronts Vesper's 'boyfriend' Yusef.  Yusef is apparently on Quantum's payroll and uses his charms to extract secrets from well placed ladies.  This time she's Canadian.  Bond shows restraint by letting M arrest Yusef.  M softens and officially gives Bond his job back.  We all know that he never left.  By dropping Vesper's necklace in the snow we see Bond gain closure.  This chapter of his life is over.

Overall Quantum of Solace doesn't quite live up to Casino Royale.  That's not to say it's a bad film, it's just it's not very 'Bond'.  The reboot has evolved and it's straying a little far from the apple tree for my liking.  We've had Bond's love story and his tragic revenge but now Bond needs his Aston Martin back and he needs to have a flirt with Moneypenny.  The rumours are that these elements will return and we already know Q gets a new face for Bond 23.  And it's not before time.

James Bond will return in Skyfall.  And I can't bloody wait.  That gun barrel better be at the start as well.