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Reappraising the Daniel Craig Bond Films: Quantum of Solace

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With the recent release of The Daniel Craig Collection on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray and the upcoming adventure No Time To Die slated for Spring 2020, this seems like the perfect time to use the brand spanking new box set we’ve been sent to reappraise Craig’s 007 films so far. 

We’ll work our way through them one-by-one, checking out the new discs as well as, you know, if the film is any good, and then finish with what we’ve learned from watching them all back-to-back -as opposed to with years in-between – and see what we can surmise to expect from No Time To Die and beyond.

We’ve already had a look back at Casino Royale, which you can check out here, so now it’s time for…

*Bond theme and gun barrel sequence*

QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

The much-maligned Quantum of Solace picks up immediately — the time it takes to put someone in the boot — after the crazy popular Casino Royale, and at the time it felt like no one but me liked it. So, was I mad or is it good? Let’s see, but first, let’s talk about what the disc is like.

Some sadist has slapped a million auto-play trailers at the start, none of which feel like anything a Bond fan would want. Read the room, trailer-choosing guy! And, unlike Casino Royale, the main menu doesn’t have the cute code names for the options, but it does have a fancy dynamic map that tracks the film’s locations and has some extremely slick transitions when you’re navigating around the disc’s contents.

The AV quality is immediately apparent on hitting play as we are dropped straight into a sick and spectacular car chase that sees the picture stay sharp and pretty even in the face of 007 skidding his Aston through a quarry spraying gravel everywhere.

The audio is just as loud and clear as the visuals are vivid and this is all showcased after Bond’s tires stop spinning and following a great freeze frame we’re into a killer title sequence full of imagination and accompanied by a banger of a theme song from Jack White and Alicia Keys.

The duets vocals, lashings of bass, the beautiful retro-tech font, and the oil and sand thematics combine for an all-timer of a title sequence, and between QoS, Chris Cornell, and Skyfall, Craig’s tenure may just have the best songs. It’s just a shame they went with Sam bland Smith, not Radiohead for Spectre.

Mr White is unloaded, interviewed and escapes in a pre-action sequence that shows three things: how well Craig and Judi Dench play off each other, that Craig’s tenure has a threat, menace and danger that the Bond movies haven’t had since Licence To Kill and that the scripts are gloriously razor sharp. Both these last two are perfectly illustrated with White’s creepy laugh and (very believable) threat that they have people everywhere that has M reply:  “Lots of people say they’ve got people everywhere. Florists use that expression.” Beautiful.

Quantum of Solace is still going strong so far and next up is a scene that shows what director Marc Foster brings to the table: wonderfully technical action set-pieces. A Bourne-y roofs and balconies foot chase ends in a suspended and swinging around on ropes in a near-scientific scaffolding scrap. Bond and the baddie’s battle is an intricate physics demonstration beautifully hinted at minutes earlier by the old lady dropping her winched up shopping basket.

Foster’s eye is undeniably quality and shines through in stylistic flourishes like the place names being mapped, textured and individually tailored to match all the exotic locations, and MI6’s new and swankily impressive Minority Report-style handleable tabletop and wall-based information animations.

He also keeps the fights mean and brutal when they’re more down to earth, like the nasty little nail scissors fistfight that sees Bond kill another potential witness. Bond’s casual killing and its exasperating effect on his superior in so much as she seems to permanently be about to disavow him has now become a running theme. 

Another hallmark of the Craig era that is becoming evident two films in is the occasional awful wardrobe misstep. It was the sunglasses in Casino Royale, and here we get the dad cringe of James Bond, 007, licence to kill, shaken not stirred, Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang himself IN WHITE JEANS.

Mathieu Almaric is our villain this time around and he’s just not chilling or scary. He comes across as a wimp and a weasel and its especially disappointing after Mikkelsen’s previous masterclass. His backstabby attempt to off his lover Camille is cowardly and the pair’s first scene together is lacking in any chemistry or verve.

Olga Kurylenko is OK. She plays Camille as fierce and focussed and not romantically interested in Bond at all which is totally cool — I love it when Bond’s charms bounce off — but she just doesn’t have an awful lot of presence and her character’s actions are always a bit self-defeating. And she’s supposed to be horribly burned, but just has sexy Hollywood “burns”.

BUT, 007 spying on Green and Camille’s unconvincing murderous tiff DOES gift us this absolute legend of a background actor.

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Broom Man, we salute you. Your place in the Bond pantheon is assured forevermore.

Aaaaaanyway, there are a few more elements of Quantum before the wheels start to come off. Like when you get to see Batman being a detective by actually doing some detective work instead of just busting heads, seeing Bond actually be a secret agent is a thrill. Until now Craig’s has either just happily blown his own cover (Casino Royale. Twice.), or — typical Bond — drawn a lot of attention to himself in spectacular chases. 

But in QoS there’s a wonderful bit of spycraft during an OTT performance of Tosca that sees 007 don a disguise, pocket an earpiece and take up a vantage point to spy on and identify members of Quantum.

Of course, it ends in action but it’s the kind of stylistic film-savvy action that this Bond arc is making a brilliant habit of showcasing, cross-cutting the denouement of the opera with fist and gunfights stripped of their sound effects.

There is another bond girl in QoS that I haven’t gotten to yet, and she is one of the film’s better side characters. “Strawberry Fields” *groan from the back* is a low-level field agent sent to get Bond home because M — again, as usual now — has lost faith in 007’s methods and wants him home and debriefed asap. Gemma Arterton is clearly stoked to be in a Bond and imbues Fields with a sass and confidence that’s a joy but also a swinging Bond era sauce that sees her merrily bonk 007, assist him, and then get unceremoniously offed for her efforts by the baddy – that simpering craven Dominic Greene again.

It’s a genuinely sad reveal of her lifeless drowned in oil body, because the rest of the about-to-start-lagging feature might have been a bit gee’d up if she had tagged in for Camille, and because she’s such a cool character played with love by a great British actress that it would have been fun and rewarding to at least keep her around for another instalment. 

Her Goldfinger callback murder does make the film feel historically in-keeping and it gives M the opportunity to take deep and cutting swipes at 007. Another trademark of Craig’s tenure we’re seeing after just two films that’s only going to get nastier and more damaging. It’s rewarding to see these things established and not forgotten about by the next film but gradually developed, but there is A LOT of psychological teasing of Bond in the Craig era. The poor guy will get a complex.

M-wise, Quantum does also continue to grow her and Bond’s relationship, and its a naturally maturing maternal love that will make Skyfall pay off so hard quite shortly and is so much more obvious when viewing the film’s back-to-back as opposed to years apart.

Here comes the bad stuff. Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter is back but whereas he was a useful well-rounded revisionist take on an established character in Casino Royale, here he has almost nothing to do. A lot of what he should be doing is taken on by David Harbour’s snide and sly CIA agent, so ol’ Felix just sits and scowls through a few scenes with only one of dialogue and is also suddenly really cynical.

The third act is also chocka with unsubtle plot points like this thudding exchange “it’s just the fuel cells, the whole place is made of them”, “Sounds highly unstable….” Oh, I wonder where that’s going, exposition guys. The same goes for the out-of-nowhere chat about sinkholes that leads to a minutes-later sequence where Camille and Bond parachute down one in a wretched CGI sequence.

As the Bond’s have a rich history of fantastic skydiving stunts this is particularly egregious, and just when we thought lessons had been learned and overtly CGI stunts were off the table.

The whole last part feels like its cut and pasted from an old Bond script and feels like a laborious and obvious slog. There’s no twists or reveals, and no big dramatic moments, and sorry but post-Casino Royale they quickly came to be expected.

Quantum of Solace is not as gripping as Casino Royale and manages to feel longer even though it’s 45 minutes shorter. The Ford and Virgin product placement that was already bad in Casino is now near obnoxiously super obvious but will take a noticeable turn for the downplayed once Sam Mended picks up the franchise’s reins.

There is a nice postscript callback to Casino Royale’s pre-title sequence though, again in that grainy black and white, and following up on the Vesper thread. It features Castle’s Stana Katic as another agent being honey-trapped by the jerk who got Vesper into deep water and is more thrilling and in-keeping than the whole of the fiery final minutes earlier was. These are clearly new pages added on after the generic desert shenanigans that at least put the franchise back on the Craig eras darker overarching tracks again just in time for the credits.

So, I still don’t agree with the hate — well, that’s strong, the “disregard” — for Quantum of Solace, but watching it again, and especially minutes after Casino Royale ended, I think I understand it. 

Casino felt new and fresh. 007 was back, but he was trashing tropes and off-grid – not adhering to traditional Bond movie structure. Quantum of Solace feels like a very traditional Bond movie. The face is new but the narrative plays out the way Bond movies have since Goldfinger. Where Casino did everything possible to distance itself from the Brosnan era, Quantum leant right back in again with Craig’s confidence tipping into Moore-y smarm and the CGI that while never Die Another Die-level was enough of a reminder of it to turn people off.

What the new and the existing-but-now-happy-again audience was responding to in Casino Royale was the grit and balls (literally, still ouch) and the panache and the prestige and they couldn’t just go back to business as usual after – they needed to make this the philosophy of the franchise, not just the first film.

I just love Bond, so Quantum still hit all my buttons, but everyone who liked Bond again for the first time in ages because of Casino Royale was justifiably a bit put out. But, you know what? I think if that backlash hadn’t happened, we may not have got the actual masterpiece that is Skyfall as a follow-up. More on that next time.

Film 

Disc 

James Bond (and this feature) will return in Skyfall.

The Daniel Craig Collection is available now as a combined 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray box set.

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