Bond Reloaded – A look back at Quantum of Solace (2008)

Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this month, the Bond Reloaded series takes a look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. This time, Daniel Craig’s 007 tries to avenge the death of Vesper Lynd in Quantum of Solace.

Daniel Craig returned as James Bond for Quantum of Solace

It’s always difficult to follow a major success. Thus, after Casino Royale delighted fans and critics with its gritty feel and harsher tone, the Bond franchise found itself with a tough mountain to climb. The fan appetite was high for another home run and all criticisms of Daniel Craig in the lead role had been pretty much banished.

Producer Michael G Wilson came up with a basic idea for the next Bond film, which would later become Quantum of Solace, during the shooting of Casino Royale. However, in 2007, the Writers’ Guild of America announced strike action, which caused star Daniel Craig and incoming director Marc Forster to be shunted into the role of rewriters for many key sequences. The result is something of an ugly, under-written mess of a movie.

Looking back, Quantum of Solace perhaps didn’t deserve the savaging it got on first release. There’s no doubt, though, that this wasn’t what everyone involved signed up for after the successes of Craig’s debut turn. Somewhere, Quantum of Solace went off the rails and never managed to find its way again.

 

Wild goose chase

Much was made in the run-up to Quantum of Solace of the fact that it was set to be the first Bond film that was a direct sequel to its predecessor. The film does at least follow through on that, opening as Bond delivers Mr White (Jesper Christensen) to M (Judi Dench), having apprehended him in the final moments of Casino Royale. However, the thread of Bond avenging the death of Vesper Lynd and exploring the organisation for whom she worked is largely tossed to one side by the inconsistent script, which instead focuses on Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and his bland criminal plot.

Greene’s plot is an unclear one,  involving the facilitation of a Bolivian coup and securing the country’s water supply in order to control the political landscape in the region… or something. It’s a bland scheme and one that pretty much reflects Amalric’s performance – confused, not particularly sinister and almost entirely unmemorable. He doesn’t have a single defining moment and barely even gets to meet with Bond, sharing only one fight sequence – in the midst of some unconvincingly glossy flames, before shuffling off into the desert to die off screen – the ultimate disrespect to a villain.

 

Olga Kurylenko starred alongside Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

"There is something horribly efficient about you."

 

Many of the problems with Quantum of Solace can be traced back to its script, with its various authors. Too often, the film resorts to cliché rather than invention in order to get the job done. The dialogue between Bond and Bolivian agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko) never feels natural and boils down the complex revenge narrative set up by the climax of Casino Royale to a scene in which the two agents fire insincere platitudes at each other. Given the level of intrigue built around the concept of exploring Bond and Vesper a little more, it’s a shame to see that given such short shrift.

There’s something about Quantum of Solace that just feels as if everyone is firing on about 50%. Daniel Craig, although still impressive as 007, has nothing to get his teeth into and seems to be cruising his way through the film on auto-pilot. It doesn’t help that the action sequences have a glossy feel to them that wasn’t present in the grittier, darker environs of Casino Royale. Although a lot of the action was done for real, in-camera, there’s a post-production sheen to it all that creates an oddly clinical visual style, free of suspense.

 

Not quite black gold

There are flashes of brilliance in Quantum of Solace that suggest there was once something worth seeing in its story. The use of a crowded opera house as the venue for a secret criminal meeting is a compelling touch and the notion of environmentalism versus commerce was a timely conflict that didn’t get nearly enough screen time. There’s also the looming dilemma in this film of the Americans actually siding with the movie’s villain, but that is resolved far too neatly and never comes to fruition.

Similarly, the character of Fields, played by then unknown Gemma Arterton is one that never reaches its potential. Fields is initially a compelling intellectual match for Bond, but she is immediately catapulted into bed with him and soon appears covered in oil. This is a lazy homage to Goldfinger and one that feels like fan service – given how little of a role oil actually plays in the film outside of that moment – rather than an organic part of the story.

Olga Kurylenko, too, is dramatically underused by the filmmakers. Despite an intriguing back story that has her on a revenge mission parallel to Bond’s, it never feels like we get under the surface of her character. It’s gratifying that the final third has her fighting her own battles rather than relying on Bond to save her, but there’s never any dramatic weight to this conflict – just an unpleasant whiff of lurking sexual violence that is really out of place.

 

Mathieu Amalric starred as villainous environmentalist Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace

"They say you’re judged by the strength of your enemies."

 

The film is also keen to make use of the horrendously over-played narrative of Bond going rogue against MI6 and the government. There are minor hints of a story that would explore Bond’s over-active trigger finger and its consequences, but this is something the film never bothers to discuss in much detail.

In the face of the alarmingly mediocre performances and the poor writing, Quantum of Solace never really stood a chance. Director Marc Forster, who would later go on to make impressive zombie yarn World War Z, is never given the chance to spread his directorial wings and is largely lumbered with action set pieces that the film moves between with the slightest thread of inert plot possible. This was a rush job and one that probably should never have made it to cinema screens.

 

On top of the world?

Royalty once again attended a Bond premiere for Quantum of Solace with Prince William and his brother Prince Harry both in attendance at the Leicester Square event, which raised money for British armed forces charities. The film broke the record for a UK opening weekend at the box office on its release, but ultimately grossed slightly less than its predecessor, with $586m worldwide.

Reviewers were decidedly mixed in their assessment of the film. The Sunday Times savaged the film, calling the story “incomprehensible” and the casting a “mess”. Roger Ebert, meanwhile, criticised the decision to morph Bond from a spy into something of an action hero, running around in hails of machine gun fire. Ebert wrote that violence was a mere “annoyance” for Bond – something that was a necessary evil of his lifestyle.

Some critics, however, were considerably more positive. Empire Magazine’s Kim Newman wrote a four-star review in which he called the film “pacy and visually imaginative” whilst also praising the shorter runtime than previous Bond adventures. Tim Robey, writing for the Telegraph in 2013, added that the film was intelligent in its treatment of the Vesper subplot.

 

Gemma Arterton joined Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

"It’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved."

 

Looking back on Quantum of Solace, it’s perhaps not as bad as it seemed on initial release and certainly doesn’t pile up sins in the same way as previous disasters like Die Another Day and Octopussy. It was a victim of its circumstances rather than a total creative misfire and does pack in some ideas that a more opportune release window might have allowed to fly. Thankfully, Daniel Craig’s Bond would soon find his masterpiece…

Next time, Daniel Craig battles with a face from M’s past in Skyfall.

 

What do you think of Quantum of Solace? Did Daniel Craig banish the memories of Brosnan’s later films? Let me know in the comments section.

You can read my look back at Casino Royale here and find other Bond Reloaded articles here.

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