James Bond 007: Quantum of Solace (2008)

After successfully rebooting the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale the series quickly returned to action two years later with Quantum of Solace, anxious to capitalize on the new life that Daniel Craig’s debut injected into the series.Unfortunately, following so directly on the heels of Casino Royale, both in the story world and in production history, Quantum of Solace suffers from the comparison. While certainly not a bad Bond film, Quantum of Solace never makes good on its promise to deliver a satisfying follow up to the events of the previous entry. Additionally, the action-heavy film never achieves the elegance of Casino Royale, instead exchanging that film’s masterful action filmmaking for a combination of shaky-cam and an editing pace so accelerated that it abandons continuity-editing for confusion.

Quantum of Solace, for the first time in the series, is a direct sequel to the preceding film. Not merely following in-series continuity or building off the plot of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace begins moments after the previous film ends, with James Bond racing an Aston Martin along the cliffs of the Italian alps with his prisoner, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), stowed away. The opening sequence is an adrenaline pumping, thrilling car chase, full of impressive stunts; it’s a shame that it’s edited so quickly that it is at times difficult to take it in and appreciate. This pre-credits scene ends with Bond opening the trunk of his car to reveal the bound Mr. White. There is hardly any dialogue, no plot points are developed; all that is clarified is that the sequence follows immediately upon the end of the last entry in the series. Unlike previous Bond films, a viewer who hasn’t seen Casino Royale would be entirely lost, and still might be even if they had. It’s not clear who Bond’s assailants are or where they come from.

Some have commented on what they see as continuity errors in this sequence, a consequence of the desire to begin this film a few minutes after the previous one. For instance, how does the rest of MI6 get into position while Bond captures Mr. White? How does Bond have a new car, et cetera? Rather than continuity errors, what the opening clarifies is that the final scene of Casino Royale, in which Bond confronts Mr. White at his Italian villa, must take place a significant amount of time after Vesper’s death in Venice. This explains how M (Judi Dench) and MI6 have been able to set up a rendition centre in Italy and outfitted Bond with a new car. The gimmick of the two films being so close in film chronology is justified in that Quantum of Solace is ostensibly about Bond seeking revenge for Vesper and coming to grips with her betrayal. The film’s title, taken from one of Fleming’s short stories, could be rephrased as “a measure of peace.” Will Bond find any kind of closure? Or is the armour he quickly re-donned at the end of Casino Royale enough to help him weather the very personal betrayal and loss he experienced in that film?

It’s a shame then that the film doesn’t really explore Bond’s quest for personal satisfaction or solace, though Bond’s personal quest does ostensibly motivate the single-mindedness with which he pursues the film’s plot. Quantum of Solace is one of the most action-heavy Bond films; scenes of exposition move Bond from one action sequence to another, with hardly any down time. From scene to scene, James Bond races, fights, shoots, and flies his way around the world in pursuit of the Mr. White and his mysterious backers who coerced Vesper’s betrayal. Along the way, he uncovers a plot by an environmentalist businessman, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who is in league with Mr. White’s mysterious organization. Greene plans to stage a coup in Bolivia—with America and Britain complicit in the move in exchange for oil. Little do they realize that Greene’s plan is to secure the country’s water supply instead, something he has no obligation to share.

Bond uncovers Greene’s plot while investigating the shadowy “Quantum,” Mr. White’s aforementioned organization, in effect a secret society, at a performance of Puccini’s Tosca in Austria. It’s one of the films stand-out sequences—even this past summer’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’s opera sequence recalls it. Forster is best in directing these kinds of conceptual sequences, rather than the straight fight scenes in the film.

Along the way Bond is joined in his quest for revenge by the mysterious Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a Bolivian national who is also on a personal vendetta, hers against a corrupt general in league with Greene to seize control of the country. Camille is portrayed as a fellow wounded soul, whose quest mirrors Bond’s. Her damaged past is treated with remarkable tact; it’s telling that she’s one of the only Bond girls, perhaps the only primary one, who Bond doesn’t sleep with in the course of the film. However, Camille has an ambiguous on and off relationship with Greene. In one scene he tries to have her killed and she escapes. In the next they are back together. It’s clear that she’s trying to use Greene to get to the general, but her motivations for how she goes about it remain unclear. It’s a shame, because apart from her poorly developed relationship to Greene, she is a compelling character.

Bond also re-teams with some of his Casino Royale compatriots, including René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Felix Leiter—Jeffrey Wright reprises the role, being only the second to repeat in the role (David Hedison being the first in Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill), and the first actor to play Leiter in back-to-back films.

These various side characters in Quantum of Solace function mostly to either offer a parallel to Bond—in the case of Camille—or to spur him on by reminding him of the events of Casino Royale—Mathis and Leiter. Each element of the film functions to push Bond further and further in pursuit of his goal and provide him with information. The supporting cast of Quantum of Solace all serve specific functions to help Bond along the way; this includes the lovely but doomed Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton), whose death suffocated in oil at the hands of Greene’s men mirrors Jill Masterton’s gold-dipped death in Goldfinger. The exchange of literal gold for “black gold” is a clever homage, but poor “Strawberry” Fields (as her name is revealed in the credits) is never developed enough for her death to be much more than homage. Ostensibly her death serves as an example of how Vesper’s betrayal has made Bond more callous in his reactions to death, but the film rushes past it and it doesn’t really register. The death of Solange Dimitrios in Casino Royale registers as more tragic and disturbing when her body is fished out of the water.

Quantum of Solace is actually the shortest Bond film at 106 minutes, coming immediately after the longest—Casino Royale at 144 minutes. This is reflected in the way Quantum of Solace races along with breakneck speed. Its fast cutting and shaky-cam aesthetics serve as a direct reflection on the part of the Bond series to the other spy with the initials “J. B.” who rose to prominence in the new millennium. It’s almost impossible to watch the film and it’s rapidly-edited fight scenes and story of a semi-rogue spy pursued by both friend and foe and not think of the Bourne series. One particular fight between Bond a Quantum associate in Haiti recalls an apartment fight between Jason Bourne and one of his assailants in those films, in both its brutality and staging.

Similar to the Bourne films, Quantum of Solace is thematically interested in the ways that operatives are used by various governments and agencies, who may or may not have people’s best interests in mind. Felix Leiter’s CIA section chief, Beam (David Harbour), shows a callous indifference to working with a shady figure like Greene as long as it benefits US interests, even going so far as to hide Greene from MI6. Even the British Foreign Secretary dismisses M’s concerns and sympathies with Bond’s mission, noting that they have to do business with someone and that it matters little to him whether it’s Greene and his associates or another government. In the world of Quantum of Solace, corruption is everywhere. In this sense, Bond’s decisions to disobey direct orders oppose the neocolonialist attitudes of his and the American government; this Bond has a moral compass that goes beyond “Queen and Country,” and this directs his course of action. Skyfall would address the notion of sins of the past coming back to haunt MI6, but provides a closure that Quantum of Solace lacks.

The existence of a secret organization in Quantum recalls S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in the older films, though by aligning Greene and his associates more directly with the interests of the American and British governments suggests that they act as a kind of shadow government. Quantum has to be seen as both a mysterious threat and also explain Vesper’s betrayal, and in the end the latter takes priority over fully establishing what and who Quantum is. In fact, the entire existence of Quantum is never mentioned in Skyfall, and Spectre seems set to resurrect the original evil organization from the older films. How will Quantum be explained away, as merely another front for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or just ignored? To some extent the ultimate fate of the idea of Quantum, to be revealed soon in Spectre, will determine Quantum of Solace’s ultimate essential nature in the Bond series.

Quantum of Solace contemporizes the Bond series, drawing on the influence of the Bourne films in terms of editing style and thematic direction. But it’s too bad that it does so poorly. The effort to make the film more dynamic actually robs the film of one of the series best aspects: it’s classicism and elegance. Casino Royale better combines brutality with glamour. It’s also sad that the Bond producers and director felt they needed to copy Bourne so obviously. The James Bond series has often pushed action filmmaking forward, but here (though not for the first time) it feels like a reactionary move to latch on to the newest flash in the pan. Perhaps they would have been better served by distinguishing this Bond more from it’s spy thriller companions. Yet, some of the film’s ideas, such as setting up Quantum as a dark mirror to existing authorities is another idea, in addition to the opera scene, taken up in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, suggesting that Quantum of Solace is perhaps one of that film’s major points of inspiration.The film would have benefitted from more moments of reflection and the expensive stunts, and action sequences would have benefitted from a less choppy editing style.

Quantum of Solace’s rushed nature is, however, befitting of its production history. As the film was being developed the Writer’s Guild went on strike. Many Hollywood productions today begin filming without a finalized third act to the script and Quantum of Solace was one of them. The film was left unfinished even as shooting began and so Daniel Craig himself and director Marc Forster stepped in and ended up rewriting the film. Their efforts are admirable, trying to salvage a messy situation, but it explains the film’s focus on action and lack of polish at times. Still further, it makes Craig into one of the film’s central creative forces in a way previous Bond actors have not been. He has continued to have more input into the role since.

And it shows. On the bright side, the one thing that redeems Quantum of Solace is Daniel Craig’s performance. He continues to develop his Bond character as a man of action driven by deep hurt. Craig’s Bond is a pleasure to watch, not only for how he is so effortlessly cool in his (often bloodstained) suits, but also for the way he communicates so much through the smallest of motions. While I question the need to provide an immediate resolution to the hurt he was dealt at the hand of Vesper, the film has a nice ending in which he confronts Vesper’s boyfriend, a Quantum agent. His final line to M after she expresses thanks for having him back—“I never left,” —is also a nice meta-commentary on the existence of James Bond, though the end of Casino Royale, when he delivers the famous “Bond. James Bond” to Mr. White communicated the same thing. It only serves to highlight how successful the previous film was in an elegant way.

While Quantum of Solace isn’t as bad as some have said (it's not the worst Bond film by a long shot), it certainly suffers from being bookended by two of the better films in the series. Instead of feeling fresh and essential, it buries some of its most interesting bits by trying to crib from too many contemporary action films in terms of both film style and theme. The fact that the film never fully explores the existence of Quantum and that its revenge subplot relies entirely on Casino Royale means that Quantum of Solace feels somewhat incomplete. It’s either a kind of epilogue to the early film, or a set-up for an idea that has yet to be, or never will be, brought to fruition. Despite many decent elements and handsome production values, Quantum of Solace has to be currently seen as the least essential of Daniel Craig’s Bond entries.

Quantum of Solace (UK, 2008)

6 out of 10

Directed by Marc Forster; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, & Paul Haggis based on the character created by Ian Fleming; starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen.