Promising in concept but ultimately inessential in almost every way, Quantum of Solace, first and foremost, fails as a James Bond film. In production during a writer’s strike, lead actor Daniel Craig took up a pen and helped write the script – it shows. Not even the numerous viewings I’ve afforded Quantum have cleared everything up (although it vaguely revolves around a plot to control Bolivia’s water supply, which is about as un-Bond, and un-glamourous as it gets). Regardless, director Marc Forster’s main concern here is clearly character based, and yet unfortunately here is where the picture becomes truly inessential. 2006’s Casino Royale took James Bond and stripped away 40+ years of cinematic trappings and presented us with a man still in the making (“this Bond bleeds,” all the reviews said).
Satisfying as a piece of character development, as an action film, and with a strong emotional arc, Casino Royale ended with Bond “becoming Bond” (after the death of his love Vesper he learns his lesson, and becomes the cold-hearted, suave, winking agent we all know and love). Even the end of the film suggests this – 007 shoots a baddie in the leg and saunters up the steps of a glorious estate, the Bond theme creeping in for the first time in the film, and utters that immortal line, “the name’s Bond… James Bond.” The credits roll. Two years later Quantum of Solace seems to state that, “no, wait, Bond hasn’t become Bond just yet,” and then offers up absolutely nothing new or insightful about the character. Craig’s performance is one of constant rage and anguish boiling just below the surface, and is by all means the highlight of the film, even if it is rather one note. If Casino Royale stripped away many tropes and trappings to get to character and story, Quantum‘s biggest flaw is that it strips everything back even more, and still somehow manages to forget the two components that made Royale work so well.
Indeed, the film fails both as a further examination into Bond’s character, a few painfully laid-out lines of dialogue notwithstanding, as well as a Bond film. This is a humorless and dour affair. If the film moved the character forward as it intended I’d accept Quantum‘s tone as representative of Bond’s state of mind, but it doesn’t. Instead we get a bleak, one-note, dirty incarnation of Bond, stripped away of the escapist glitz and glamour and wit that elevate other less ambitious installments. This is not only a rehash of the themes Casino Royale firmly resolved, but a far less nuanced and reductive rehash as well.
For an incarnation of Bond touted as being “taken right from the pages of Ian Fleming” there is little in Quantum of Solace to support that, as it features a 40-year old insubordinate with no self-control or respect for hierarchy, something Fleming’s Bond would scoff at. He spends the majority of the picture covered in dirt and sulking around in the desert – not exactly the blissful, intrigue-laden escapism we’re accustomed to, which would be fine if it didn’t cut Royale’s nuances and character developments in half. Thankfully Daniel Craig brings more to the screen than there is on the page.
Despite not functioning as a proper 007 installment, Quantum of Solace has much to admire, not least of which is its pace – like a bullet fired from a gun, Quantum is the shortest Bond film, and feels it. Edited meanly and sharply and quickly, with action scenes that range from visceral (the pre-titles car chase) to nearly incomprehensible (parts of the foot chase through Siena, as well as a boat chase). It is shaky, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Forster also conjures up some striking images that certainly say a bit more about Bond’s state of mind than anything in the script, despite not building him past Royale‘s denouement (the explosive desert finale occasionally feels like we may be in Bond’s mind somewhere).
Quantum doesn’t slow down for character, and Forster isn’t talented enough to briefly build character the way prior films did. It does slow down, briefly, for a brilliantly conceived opera set piece that stands as the highlight of the film in which Bond infiltrates a secret meeting, inter-cut by impressionistic images of the opera being performed. It screams Fleming, I just wish the rest of the film did as well. Ultimately, though,
Quantum of Solace is a lean, mean actioner – short on character (the villain ranks among the series’ worst), short on Bond spectacle and intrigue, but often beautiful in its imagery as well as David Arnold’s music. A poor Bond film, to be sure, but still more admirable than many of the decade’s action films.