Does It Look Like It’s Our First Time? QUANTUM OF SOLACE

It's better than you remember (unless you liked it)

Sorry for the delay on this one, a series of unforeseen problems delayed this piece but we’re back on track and ready to sprint to the finish on this series!

Well folks, we’ve now reached one of, if not the most divisive film in the James Bond canon, Quantum of Solace, the film that in many ways is going to be the Rosetta Stone for understanding how a person views the Daniel Craig era of the franchise. I have alternately heard this film described as one of the worst and (less commonly) one of the best entries in the canon, and it’s often exciting to see where people stand on it. Me personally? I don’t think it is near as bad as its detractors claim, especially when you consider the events surrounding its production.

The key to enjoying Quantum is to understand exactly what it is — unlike basically every other film in the series, Quantum of Solace is, on a story level, a direct sequel to the film that proceeded it, in this case Casino Royale. Some have, quite convincingly argued that the film in fact functions best when viewed as an epilogue to the prior film, as it picks up almost immediately after the film ends and reaches its narrative conclusion no more than a week or two later. It features a Bond for whom the loss of Vesper is painfully fresh, leaving him raw and seeking to fill the hole with vengeance. It’s a bold narrative decision for a Bond film, and considering that almost the entire script was written by Daniel Craig and director Marc Foster on set in between takes due to the writer’s strike, it’s surprisingly well executed.

The film begins mere minutes after Bond’s capture of Vesper’s handler, Mr. White at the end of Casino Royale. Bond has thrown Mr. White in the trunk of his car and is attempting to escape to an MI6 safe-house with his prisoner in tow. This kicks off one of the most exciting vehicle sequences in franchise history as Bond and several agents of Quantum engage in a high speed chase and shoot out through the across Italian highways until Bond finally wipes out his pursuers and makes it to the safe-house. From there the interrogation doesn’t last long as Bond and M quickly discover that Mr. White’s organization has a man planted in MI6. This launches the story at large which involves Bond learning the Quantum’s secrets and clashing with yet another of their members, the sleazy Dominic Greene (portrayed by Mathieu Almaric), as he seeks out his revenge.

Greene is… ok as a Bond villain. One of the defining traits of the Craig era (minus SPECTRE) is a desire to focus in on more traditional and real world villain archetypes. The foes that Craig’s Bond faces rarely want to conquer the world, they are seeking money or power. His foes are hackers, money men, and corrupt CEOs who use illegal methods to line their pockets. Greene falls into the last category. A successful businessman in his own right, he seems to have only joined Quantum in hopes of further enriching himself. He uses their resources to make deals with third world regimes in exchange for access to and in some instances ownership of their natural resources. In this instance he has struck a deal with an exiled former Bolivian dictator to overthrow the democratically elected government and reinstall said dictator in exchange for a patch of desert. Unbeknownst to said dictator, the patch of desert in question rests on top of the underground springs that are the source of much of the country’s water supply. Greene is slimy and disgusting in all of his interactions and might have actually turned into a decent enough villain had the writer’s strike not happened and a real professional been in charge of writing his part. Also of note on the villain front is the previously mentioned dictator, General Medrano. While he doesn’t really do much, Joaquin Cosio does a great job bringing the two bit strong man to life, even if said character only really exists in order to give the Bond Girl something to do.

While there are a surprisingly high number of female parts in this film, the only part truly worth discussing is Olga Kurylenko’s Camille Montes, a former member of Bolivian Intelligence. First and foremost it is important to discuss the rather unfortunate decision that was made during the casting process. While Kurylenko is more than serviceable in the role of Camille, a former member of Bolivian Intelligence and Bond’s partner in this film, it is important to discuss the rather unfortunate casting decision that was made here. While Kurylenko is more than serviceable in the role, bringing life to the character and elevating a written part that is admittedly quite thin, she is not Latin American. The decision to cast a French-Ukranian actress and give her a really dark spray tan was, at best, a poor one. It brings to mind some of the quite unsettling racism that lurks in the past of this series and is the kind of casting decision that leads to things like #OscarsSoWhite. Despite the admittedly frustrating optics of her casting, Kurylenko does a great job with the character. Camille’s arc in this story is not that different from Bond’s: She wants revenge on General Medrano for killing her parents and will stop at nothing to get it, including embedding herself in Quantum and with Greene in order to get close to him. As her journey mirrors Bond’s, it allows the story and the character to comment on his arc from a place of understanding, with her warning him of the consequences of allowing his rage and pain to consume him.

Craig is honestly fantastic in his second outing as Bond.  I personally am of the opinion that Craig might be the best all-around performer to ever put on the dinner jacket and this film is one of the better arguments for that. By limiting his interactions with polite society and allowing him to go on more of a straight forward action adventure story with the added thematic heft of the aftermath of Casino Royale, Quantum allows Craig to make full use of his abilities. By far the most physical actor to portray the character, the film affords him plenty of opportunities to get his hands dirty, with countless action scenes. It’s also worth noting that the film continues to further Bond’s sadistic streak, as time after time we see just how cruel he can be. Craig is also a fantastic internal actor and the film allows him to portray Bond as a man still raw from an earth shattering tragedy. All of the pain and anger is there, simmering and churning just below the surface as Bond attempts to convince the world and himself that he is not hurting. He risks everything, his job, his life, and the safety of others, in pursuit of this goal all the while existing in a constant state of denial. It’s only when he finally gets his revenge and allows himself to truly admit what he has been through that Bond is able to heal and move on with his life and in the job.

As for the music of Quantum of Solace… well the less said about that the better. The main theme, “Another Way to Die” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, is one of the worst Bond themes of all time, and when that theme is the foundation upon which the majority of the film’s music is built… well it’s a lot like building a house on top of quicksand.

The action in this particular film is admittedly spotty at times. Foster is no Martin Campbell, but he clearly wishes he was Paul Greengrass, as the shaky cam shows up in spades. This is unfortunate as the film comes up with several particular inventive fight sequences and locations. Of particular note is Bond’s chase of Mitchell, Quantum’s mole in MI6, through the streets and over the rooftops of Italy. The fight culminates in an extended sequence atop some particularly rickety scaffolding that would be an all timer if it was just a little bit easier to see what is going on in any given moment. This doesn’t necessarily hurt the film, but it does prevent it from rising to the heights of its most immediate predecessor, as the action just isn’t quite there.

All in all Quantum of Solace is a more than acceptable entry into the Bond canon, and definitely makes an appearance in my personal top ten. It’s by no means perfect, with an unfortunately unavoidably rough script, and action that is less clear than would be ideal, but it makes several interesting thematic decisions, and is mostly successful on following through on them. If you’ve written this one off in the past, give it another shot. I guarantee it’s not as bad as you remember.