I’m not sure if I’ve ever discussed this on this page, but for the last 15 years, I have been a big fan of the James Bond series. I started watching them as a nine year old and even though some aren’t so great, they are usually at least pretty entertaining. I remember how proud I was of myself when I memorized each of the movies in chronological order… again, I’m a dork. So with the arrival of Bond’s next outing, No Time to Die, finally hitting theatres next month (as a Bond-aholic, November is a more fitting month, but it’s whatever), it seemed like an ample time to stroll down memory lane.
It’s interesting how an opinion can change with time. I’ve always enjoyed Quantum of Solace a bit more than everyone else. Sure, comparing it to Casino Royale, it was clearly a letdown. Yet people think it’s among the worst Bond movies. Personally, I don’t mind it, but after spending the last month or so watching the majority of the series, the flaws in Quantum of Solace feel a bit more plain to see.
The problem with Quantum of Solace (whatever the hell that means) has always been that it lives in the shadow of Casino Royale. That film, as I wrote yesterday, is the greatest James Bond film ever made, so obviously the hopes were high. Yet most people treat this film as if it’s the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, and I’ve always enjoyed it despite the fact that it’s not in the same league as Casino Royale. Revisiting it yesterday though, maybe it’s because I’m older now, or again it’s because all of the best Bond films are pretty fresh in the mind, but the problems with Quantum of Solace are a bit more obvious. That said, what I like in it, I like decently.
The film opens directly after the first film, with Bond (Daniel Craig, still in top form) in a car chase through the streets of Vienna, as henchmen are trying to gun him down. All the while, the mysterious villain Mr. White (Jesper Christiansen), who had some involvement with the death of Bond’s love Vesper (Eva Green), lies in the trunk. I used to love this sequence, because it has such energy and it’s spectacular. That still remains true, but watching it yesterday, something about it hurt my eyes. It all lies in the editing and cinematography, because not only is the camera shaking like it’s having a seizure, but there are so many edits happening, I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my skull.
We then get the opening title sequence, and thankfully they didn’t try to make a song out of the title Quantum of Solace. This time the song is “Another Way to Die,” by the odd pairing of Jack White and Alicia Keys. Some say this is among the worst, and sure the song is an absolute nothing. But honestly, how many of these songs have meaning? I’ve always dug this song, and sure the lyrics sound like nonsense but I’ve thought it sounded pretty good and it sets the tone for the movie well enough.
The plot this time isn’t really about a plot to destroy the world or anything. This time, Bond is basically out to find out just who Vesper was working for. Apparently it’s an agency so secretive, MI6 is oblivious to the fact that one of their agents is working for the enemy. This leads to Mr. White escaping, and Bond in pursuit of the traitor. Again, I like the staging of this sequence, but the editing is so scattershot that it’ll make you dizzy.
Bond follows a trail of breadcrumbs to one Dominic Greene (the effectively slimy Mathieu Almaric), who runs a corporation called Greene Planet and may or may not have been involved in Vesper’s demise. Also thrown into the mix is Camille (the gorgeous Olga Kurylenko), who is also getting close to Greene by means of vengeance. Her vengeance isn’t towards Greene though, but a general who murdered her family.
As entertainment, Quantum of Solace works. Despite some of the jitters that the early action sequences have, eventually they do find their groove. There’s a great sequence in which Bond and Camille are in a cargo plane and they’re being gunned down. I also quite love the final act, set at an eco hotel in the middle of the desert that begins exploding bit by bit. It’s all pretty cool and it looks like a billion dollars. As a Bond film, Quantum of Solace looks the part, from the beautiful locations to the action sequences to the gorgeous women (I forgot to mention Gemma Arterton’s Agent Strawberry Fields). The film gets the performances right too, from the central roles to the secondary, such as Judi Dench as M to Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter. Part of the problem though is that it doesn’t always FEEL the part.
Despite a few touches, Quantum of Solace doesn’t always feel like a Bond movie. There is some wit, and the film has the DNA, but not quite the body or soul. Perhaps it’s a design flaw of the setup. We know how driven for revenge Bond is, but because of that, he just sort of feels like another action movie hero, and the movie around him feels like another action movie. Casino Royale was gritty and violent, to be sure, but it certainly felt like a Bond movie.
The other issue might be that the film doesn’t always give its characters or story time to breathe. Some griped that Casino Royale, at 2 hours and 23 minutes, was too long. At 105 minutes, Quantum of Solace moves at a brisk pace, and the film has the energy to hold our interest, but it’s also probably the shortest Bond film, and with it, it lacks the depth that made the previous film so special. Camille enters the movie and despite maybe a monologue, we don’t get much out of her. We know that Bond is distraught by Vesper’s death, but we could’ve done with a scene showing us his breakdown. Instead he’s just on a vengeance spree. Greene is a slime ball, but we’re not shown all that much as to why. The film ultimately feels more rushed than I remember it, and I don’t know if it’s the fault of director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball) or the screenwriting crew. But I do know that the film was supposedly a victim of the writer’s strike of 2007, so that could have something to do with it.
Even with all of that, I still defend Quantum of Solace to a degree. It’s a movie I once liked more, but now like a tad less, if mostly because of what a missed opportunity it sort of is. It’s a film that gets the job done by means of entertainment, but at the same time, it’s hard to watch it and not picture what a missed opportunity it is. Alas, a return to form is on the horizon, four years later.
James Bond, and I, will return with Skyfall.