Following the events of Casino Royale almost immediately, Quantum of Solace takes a strong first step towards being a worthy follow-up film in Daniel Craig’s second outing as the famed British spy James Bond.
But midway through, it feels as if director Marc Forster forgets about the globally intricate network of villains established in the first three hours of Craig’s career as 007 and shoves off on a side quest to thwart an ecologically driven heist in the vast empty wastelands of Bolivia.
Throughout Quantum of Solace, Bond pursues lead after lead on the trail of Mr. White, one of the final contacts Vesper Lynd made before her death and a key player in a shadowy organization that MI-6 and the CIA know almost nothing about. Along the way, 007 links up with a former Bolivian intelligence operative on the trail of a non-profit CEO with a questionable history in South America.
Craig is best when he’s exuding a callousness that some define as coming from a quest of vengeance over the death of his love Vesper at the end of Casino Royale, but that feels just as much coming from a near-robotic dedication to finishing the job at whatever cost, no matter how reckless.
Still coming into his own as the character, it’s as if Craig and Bond are both finding themselves by digging deeper into the work with a relentless brutality and cold, unnerving steel blue eyes. Without question there’s an anger to his performance that constantly bubbles under the surface and it’s to Craig’s great credit that his true motivations are never fully realized.
Olga Kurylenko’s Camille is far from a normal Bond girl as she has little to no interest in sleeping with the spy, uses the men around her in order to get closer to her target and is on a simple quest for revenge.
On the whole, Kurylenko lacks the personality required to make Camille a memorable character, which could also be said of the film’s primary villain, Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene. Aside from the rapist general that Camille wants to kill, Greene is the only other new villain of note in Quantum and for the most part, his character comes across rather intentionally as a smarmy little worm that folds under pressure.
Whether that comes from direction by Forster, the screenplay itself or from Amalric’s performance, having a villain so weak undoes a lot of the great work Casino Royale does in establishing Bond’s bonafides as a hero. Because Greene feels like a minor speedbump in Bond’s way to something bigger, so too goes the film as a whole.
Quantum of Solace ramps up the dynamic between Bond and his handler, M, putting long-time series veteran Judi Dench in a well-deserved, more prominent role. It’s clear in Dench’s performance that M has a unique soft spot for Bond, serving as his protector while giving Craig the business verbally with disappointment that jut borders the line of derision. It’s clear in the few moments on screen together that there’s a great affection between the actors as well as the characters, which helped to create the atmosphere that will come to fruition in Skyfall.
The direction has its moments, especially early, but Forster can’t stick the landing.
He opens with traditional Bond: a car chase through a hilly Italian countryside, quick cross-cutting to ramp up the intensity as 007 pursues a double-agent through the street of Siena, luxurious espionage at an Austrian opera house.
Forster’s truly going for it in the latter scene, muting the volume at one point to let the sullen score from the opera Tosca provide the anthem for a chaotic chase sequence that marks the end of high-octane Bond cinema.
But the final hour pushes Bond to the outer edges of society, a vast barren wasteland that often renders a largely grandiose franchise muted and neuters the film overall, especially deflating audiences’ expectations that had been built up to that point.
Early action scenes have a lot of pizzazz with the high-stakes car chase through narrow tunnels and across a gravel yard maintaining the same dynamic energy Martin Campbell did with Casino Royale. There’s also a heightened sense of brutality in fight sequences where audiences can literally feel Bond going for the jugular at every turn, not caring about the body count that he racks up.
As the film progresses, however, the quality of the action dilutes quite considerably and by the time of the final showdown in the desert, a brief five minute sequence that doesn’t stay with Bond the whole way and is largely hidden by fire feels more rushed than it should.
Jack White and Alicia Keys’ theme song “Another Way To Die” pushes the film’s secondary narrative that for a spy, there’s no one you can really ever trust but it doesn’t really match what Forster is doing on screen. The title credit sequence foreshadows Bond’s journey to the sandy dunes of Bolivia and the culmination of Quantum’s ecological/economic warfare and yet the stilted way in which Forster transitions into animated title cards and then plunges audiences back into a world of relative opulence feels disjointed.
Quantum of Solace will ultimately be regarded as a lesser Bond film for its lackluster back half and how boring the villain and his ecologically driven scheme are in the grand scale. It does feature another strong, committed turn from Craig as 007 and one that helps make the films around it (Casino Royale before and Skyfall after) seem even better by comparison.
This is the second in a series of retrospective reviews of the James Bond film franchise as made by EON Productions in anticipation of the release of the 25th entry in the series, “No Time To Die,” which arrives in American theaters on October 8th.