Once upon a time, James Bond movies used to come around every couple of years. Fans tended to think of the years between Licence To Kill in 1989 and Goldeneye in 2005 as the ‘wilderness years’ for Bond. The reality is, we had a six-year gap. These days, four or even five years isn’t impossible; hence the fact that we’ve only had four films with Daniel Craig as 007.
There’s certainly a strong argument for taking the time to get the movie right. Casino Royale – the Bond ‘reboot’ with Craig – came four years after the dire Die Another Day and there was another four years between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the latter proving to be one of the most successful Bond films ever (though, personal opinion, I like Casino Royale a little bit more). It’s going to be five years between Spectre and Craig’s last outing in the untitled Bond 25 in 2020. Tradition goes that the next one could be another classic.
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The one Bond film with Craig that certainly doesn’t feel ‘classic’ is the direct sequel to Casino Royale. Directed by Marc Forster, Quantum of Solace is a somewhat soulless affair, lacking the passion and heart of its predecessor. The tone of the movie feels very much an attempt to cash in on the success of the Bourne movies, with fast-paced dizzying action sequences (and truth be told, there are some amazing visuals in this film amid the blurred planning shots), but that’s not just what a good Bond movie is about.
There are certainly issues with the film. The villains lack real presence, and the attempt to create a new criminal organisation ‘Quantum’ (because the rights to SPECTRE were unavailable) feels totally wasted in retrospect; Skyfall ignored it and Spectre retroactively made it an offshoot of SPECTRE. And the grit and darkness of the story loses the charm and beauty that the rest of Craig’s Bond films had. Haiti and Bolivia might provide dangerous settings but they don’t have the beauty of the Bahamas, Venice, Macau or Mexico City. Oh and the Bond song by Jack White and Alicia Keyes is a mess; their two styles do not mesh well and it feels more jarring than enjoyable. The title sequence is still a classic though.
But for all the negatives, there are still plenty of positives in this uneven film. The idea to directly follow-up is an inspired choice and attempts something fresh with the franchise. It’s where much of Quantum of Solace‘s strengths lie. Bond is broken in this film, the spectre of Vesper Lynd’s betrayal and death hanging heavy on him and his motivations. While it takes out some of the charm from the story, Craig does a wonderful job of conveying that cold, ruthless side to a man who has lost the love of his life and is literally throwing himself into his job. As a secret agent and cold-blooded killer, that surpressed rage and grief is channelled into finding the people that caused Vesper’s betrayal.
Judi Dench is also a force of nature as M, trying to manage her superiors and Bond, as his revenge-fuelled missions take him from one dangerous hot spot to another. There’s a wonderful, grudging respect between them that will develop further in Skyfall. Gemma Anderton’s Bond Girl Strawberry Fields is a bit of a non-entity with a naff name as the British Intelligence officer seduced by Bond, though there’s some great banter between them (“we’re teachers on sabbatical…that have won the lottery”). Her death, covered in oil and laid naked on the bed is a great call-back to Sean Connery’s Goldfinger.
However, the second Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko’s Bolivian intelligence officer Camille, is a much stronger character. She’s no Vesper, but she’s probably the second best Bond girl of the Craig era. Like Bond, she’s fuelled by revenge against the murderous General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) who killed her parents and is now in league with Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene and the Quantum organisation. She more than holds her own against Bond, but has enough vulnerability in her not to come across as unlikeable. There’s real chemistry between her and Bond too; ironic considering the only physical contact they have is a kiss at the end of the film.
Amalric’s Greene is a slimy creature but doesn’t have much energy to him to make him an imposing villain. Like Quantum, he’s forgettable the moment he’s off screen; it’s almost a moment of “oh I vaguely remember him” when his face pops up in the ‘it’s a connected’ scene in Spectre. Cosio’s Medrano is very much a stock villain; he has more presence but veers on moustache-twirling at times.
The highlight of the movie is the opera scene in Germany as Bond tracks the members of the Quantum organisation as they gather for the performance of Tosca. It’s a gorgeous scene full of tension and passion; there are no moments of dizzying action as Forster slows the pace to deal some real drama as Bond feeds images to his MI6 colleagues and the enemy attempts to evade him. The gothic grandeur of Tosca only heightens the tension.
There are plenty of other big set pieces: the race through Seville to find the traitor that almost kills M, and the airplane attack over the Bolivian desert, but there’s very little passion to them. Even the climax in the hotel is a little flat; it’s frantic – explosions tearing through the building as Bond fights Greene and rushes to save Camille – but it doesn’t have the grandeur or tension of a proper Bond finale and feels all too brief.
Quantum of Solace may not be highly regarded in the pantheon of Bond films but let’s make it clear – this is no Diamonds Are Forever or Die Another Day either. As a coda to Casino Royale it feels fresh, and even if it lacks the emotional heft of its predecessor, there are moments of magic like the Tosca sequence, and Craig, Dench and Kurylenko all do stellar work in their roles. It’s sadly a film that feels less essential with the subsequent releases of Skyfall and Spectre too, offering little to the overall story of Craig’s Bond other than to show how messed up he is after Vesper. But if this is what a ‘bad’ Bond film looks like in the modern era, we could do far worse.