Welcome back to the lusty and decadent world of James Bond, secret agent 007! Grab yourself a shaken vodka martini, have some delicious caviar, and set yourself down at the baccarat table so you can pretend to know how to play this no skill involved card game for millions of francs. At the end of the night, when you’re the big winner of 19 million francs, which translates to roughly $15.73, you can retire to your opulently appointed presidential suite and dilly dally with some nubile continental lass.
Now onto the business at hand. Sequels are a tricky business, especially direct sequels with a continuing storyline. You could go the easy route like Friday the 13th Parts 2, 3, and 4 did, which was to just have the night of Friday the 13th last over three movies so that by the end of it you’re actually in Thursday the 19th when all is said and done. You could also go the hard route like The Lord Of The Rings did and just film all three 4 hour movies all at once, keeping your cast and crew overseas for so long, most just applied for New Zealand citizenship because it was easier than trying to get back home.
The Bond series has never really worried about direct sequels much. All you really need to know is that Bond is a British agent that goes around the world bedding beautiful women and blowing things up with a sense of panache. The Broccoli family has been producing the series since 1962 so there is a continuous hand at the till. There was a longtime continuity with the actors and characters as well. For instance, Bernard Lee played M from 1962 until 1979, Desmond Llewelyn played Q from 1963 to 1999, Judi Dench played M from 1995 until 2015, and Lois Maxwell played Moneypenny from 1962 to 1985. Many of the same special effects artists, stuntmen, musicians, and crew members were employed for decades over the course of 6 different actors portraying Bond. Oh, and the films all made several quadrillion dollars, which is a nice record to maintain as well.
When it comes to storylines, the only real thread in the prior movies was when Bond’s wife is killed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This backstory point gets brought up in The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, and License To Kill. Beyond that, there was the continuing of SPECTRE as the evil organization that plagued Bond from Dr. No through Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger being the lone exception. But aside from some characters returning from time to time, like Bond’s CIA buddy Felix Leiter, for the most part, the Bonds were all standalone films. Until 2008 that is…
Daniel Craig’s first Bond jaunt, Casino Royale, successfully managed to reboot the series and introduce a brand new 007 to the world. Craig was signed up for 5 Bond movies and with the box office returns from Royale causing the producers to construct new banks to hold all the truckloads of cash, the decision was made to fly right ahead with the next one because after all: James Bond Will Return.
Here is where a sticking point must be brought up. Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale” is one of the shortest books in the series. In the Fleming Bond novel canon, it certainly has the least amount of story. In a nutshell, the nut is: Bond goes to a casino to bankrupt the banker for the Russian secret service by beating him at a high stakes baccarat game, the banker is killed by the Russians, and the woman Bond falls for turns out to be a double agent and she kills herself. That’s it. This is why the 1967 movie version had to pad the story out with David Niven’s lion owning-James Bond running around Scottish castles tossing huge stone balls and getting Woody Allen to hiccup explosives.
The 2006 version did stick close to the book, but even then the producers knew that they had to pad out the runtime, hence having Bond run around airports and construction sites and falling Venetian buildings. (Boy, Craig does a lot of running doesn’t he? I get winded from grabbing my Pepsi in the theater and he runs dodecathlons every 15 minutes because he apparently believes that motorcycles aren’t fast enough to catch his prey.) But they managed to get out of that movie without having to stretch the story too much by the skin of their teeth. Now they could change gears and focus on the next Bond film.
However, this is why Quantum of Solace is so confusing to me. The Bonds have never needed a direct sequel for the sake of storyline before. It also would be a different story entirely if the plot of Casino Royale was so dense, it would require another movie to continue it. Yet this isn’t the case. There’s 3 yards of story designed to cover 13 yards of runtime. It would also be different if the Bond at the end of Casino Royale had a tremendous arc that would make him a different agent at the end of Quantum of Solace. Yet this isn’t the case either.
Fleming’s story for Quantum isn’t any great help either, as it consists of Bond listening to a story at a dinner party. That’s it. Nothing blows up, no silenced gunshots fly, no real sharp dialogue, no league of buxom female pilots gassing Fort Knox. Nothing except for Bond sitting and listening to a story as food is served and brandies are handed out. I’m sure there’s an exciting hors d’oeuvres mix-up behind the scenes, but thankfully that path was not chosen.
Quantum of Solace also seems to be a film that was rushed into production while the iron was hot. I’m sure there was a production meeting that said that since Royale was so loved why not keep dredging that story along if that is what the public wants? But the Bond producers seem to have misread the audience. All the public wants is a good action story with their favorite secret agent running around bedding, shooting, and enjoying martinis. This series already has a huge advantage in that the audience is already built in for these movies. A hit is ensured just by simply releasing a new Bond film. After all, the series was around for 45 years when Quantum went into production. The box office will come to the Bonds. There is no grasping need for storylines across multiple movies.
And this is what is even more infuriating about Spectre and their haphazard knitting of plot threads retroactively over four movies! But as I have already gone into Spectre for an earlier post, I am already seeking counseling for that ordeal. The good news is my twitching is much better now and I’m keeping mostly solid foods down.
But all this is falderal on the outside of the actual movie. So how is it? Put simply: Quantum of Solace is a movie in search of an identity of its own. It will always be the little brother of Casino Royale that just can’t escape the older sibling’s influence. The convoluted story isn’t that great to boot. I guess the bad guy’s plot is to drain Bolivia of water in order to topple the current government. Somehow this makes the bad guy’s super duper secret evil organization money because…South American reasons, I suppose.
Since the legal floundering regarding the use of SPECTRE in the Bond series, the producers decided to finally create their own criminal organization called Quantum. Is this the same Quantum from the title? Does this organization provide solace to people in need of it? Does anyone know what a quantum is? Is it even a noun? I don’t know.
Anywho, a leader in Quantum is called Dominic Greene and if you’re wondering why he doesn’t leap to the forefront of your mind as a premier Bond villain, it is because he isn’t. This guy is at best a middle manager with no incredible backstory of villainy and not even a smidgen of charisma. I’m guessing you can’t even recall his face. Can you? Yeah, me neither. It took my having to rewatch Quantum while writing in order to even remember him myself.
The ladies of the film are not memorable either. I’m sure the lass Bond finishes up the movie with is a fine actor, but I’ll be darned if I can remember her character’s name let alone her motivations in the story. But she’s pretty and kills some people along the way. They also don’t try to make her into a sexy paleontologist with a knack for speaking rare Inuit languages or some other contrivance that would get forced like a square story point in a round plothole. So that’s a bit of a plus.
Jeffrey Wright returns as Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter and is completely wasted in a thankless part. I like Leiter as a character and I like Wright as an actor. He deserves better and definitely shows that he enjoys working with Craig. If they are taking all this trouble to force a congruent storyline across five movies, I certainly am glad they are bringing Wright back for No Time To Die.
David Arnold returns as composer but is given an unrewarding task from the producers: “Over the course of Daniel Craig’s first two Bond movies, try not to use “The James Bond Theme”, will you? Thank you, even though you’ve shown you obviously know how to use the theme effectively in the last three Pierce Brosnan ones.” So while the score is good, the Bond theme is only really reserved for the end titles in both Royale and Quantum, which is baffling to be sure. (By the time we get to a better Craig adventure in Skyfall, they didn’t even bother bringing Arnold back. This is of course a terrific way to say “bite me” for Arnold’s years of service. At least he gave us the great score for Hot Fuzz, starring ex-007 Timothy Dalton.)
Speaking of music, there’s the non-title song called “Another Way To Die”. I believe that the original title song was called “Tomorrow Dies Another Way Forever”, given the vague nature of these recent Bond titles. I’m sure I am not the right audience for Alicia Keys and Jack White, but this song really doesn’t do it for me. Granted it is rather peppy while having a bunch of instruments just shoved together for the sake of making a song. It certainly isn’t an easy song to hum and I think Keys could have been a fine singer of a better tune. But again in the light of more recent fare, it isn’t absolutely horrible and probably could have used a bit more orchestration to fill out the many dead spots.
The action setpieces aren’t truly memorable either. There no real stunt that dazzles despite things blowing up in a big way. Craig is still a Bond that comes after you like T. Rexes that go after Jurassic Park tourists. I guess I should be thankful that there isn’t a real signature stunt because there’s always a temptation for the producers to get that damn slide whistle out to ruin it.
So Casino Royale II isn’t horrible, just once again lackluster. But it must be better than I realize because Premiere magazine is quoted on the DVD box with their review that says, “The perfect Bond film…” I looked up the rest of the review on their official website that I made-up in my mind and it continued to say “…for those that have never watched a Bond film before ever in their lives.”