I don’t really want to spend much time on “Quantum Of Solace”. After all the producers clearly didn’t. The shortest Bond film in the whole series, it’s still not short enough. Developed from a plot created by Michael G Wilson, the script was drafted by the “Casino Royale” team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis although thanks to the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, the script was also rewritten on the fly by director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig himself. The film’s title was only decided on a couple of hours before it was announced and ever since then the makers have been trying to retroactively twist the meaning of the title to fit the film and vice versa.
Billed as the first ever direct sequel Bond movie, it opens without the traditional gun barrel sequence and plunges us straight into a car chase as Bond races back along the Italian lakeshore with Mr White in his boot. Bond’s Aston Martin takes a hell of a beating (and is distinctly lacking in gadgetry befitting this lowest of low tech incarnations) but he makes it back to M’s temporary base of operations with his cargo in more or less one piece.
The theme tune, by Jack White and Alicia Keys is…it’s just noise. It’s not the grinding, soulless atrocity that makes you long for death’s merciful release of “Die Another Day” but it’s a jumbled, patchwork song of discordant elements that never gets close to a memorable melody or catchy refrain*. Even the title sequence (by MK12, not Daniel Kleinmann) struggles to find any inspiration in the song, delivering a lacklustre title sequence, the worst of Craig’s tenure.
“Quantum Of Solace” quickly picks up the theme, hinted at in “Casino Royale”, of this Bond’s incompetence and unreliability. Unlike his predecessors, he’s apparently incapable of subduing an opponent quickly and certainly isn’t beholden to the concept of ‘bring ‘em back alive’. We’re quickly back in foot chase territory too, although Bond’s parkour skills seem to have deteriorated considerably since Madagascar, but it’s the sequence itself which really grates. Director Marc Forster seems reluctant to embrace the action thriller nature of the Bond films and during Bond’s pursuit of the escaping rogue agent he repeatedly and frequently cuts to a horse race happening at the same time. It’s particularly irksome to interrupt the flow of the action, let alone waste time in an already brief film on heavy handed visual metaphors.
Whether it’s cutting away from the action to the crowd, or lingering on the old lady lamenting her scattered basket of shopping, Marc Forster seems bored by action sequences (he repeats the same constant cuts during the Opera-based fight scenes), preferring instead to fill the screen and running time with endless scenes of M (Judi Dench) and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) playing around with MI6’s appallingly swirly touch screen operating system and suffuse everything with a dreary, washed out palette. When he can bring himself to stick with the action, it’s often incoherent and unsatisfying.
Speaking of incoherent and unsatisfying, the film’s actual plot is possibly the worst in Bond movie history (and I’m including 1967’s “Casino Royale” in that statement). It’s nonsensically globetrotting but in an anticlimactic way so we see very little of the places Bond visits. The crowbarred-in environmental ‘subtext’ is never fully articulated and, in any event, is completely undermined by only ever having the bad guys talk about/ appear to care about the environment. None of the ‘good guys’ give a shit about the water or the future of the planet. The film even makes a convincing argument for traditional energy supplies when it shows a hydrogen cell-fuelled hotel go up in flames with little provocation.
Bond himself complicates the plot by killing virtually every lead he finds, a fact even M comments on in the film, but when he finally doesn’t kill someone who can help his investigation – Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) he simply abandons her. His decision to involve Mathis (who apparently has as many unpredictable changes of heart as Mr Burns) in his schemes seems baffling at first but it’s quickly hand waived away with a line of dialogue that he was innocent all along (um…doesn’t that leave a huge gaping plot hole in “Casino Royale” then?) However, not long after, Bond uses Mathis without hesitation as a human shield then dumps his body in a skip, so…yay? Stay classy, 007.
Throughout all this thankless, turgid nonsense, Daniel Craig still delivers a terrific performance as Bond. He does everything he can with the taciturn script and dutifully follows through with the frenetic action despite his director’s disinterest in actually filming any of it clearly. Olga Kurylenko is a decent leading lady but it’s notable that Bond’s so disengaged in this adventure that he doesn’t even sleep with her. You may protest, saying that it’s meant to show he’s still grieving for Vesper but that didn’t stop him from having his way with Agent (Strawberry) Fields, did it? If Gemma Arterton’s entire subsequent career hasn’t been an attempt to make up for her achingly wooden performance here, it should be.
Villain-wise, “Quantum Of Solace” is ill-defined and unfocussed. Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene is Bond’s most forgettable villain to date, ineffective and anything but intimidating. His henchman, Elvis (Anatole Taubman), is even worse, saddled with a ridiculous bowl haircut that makes him look as threatening and fearsome as Quentin Tarantino cosplaying as a flesh-coloured Herman Munster.
M certainly gets a lot to do this time out, because obviously the secret service always sends their chief out to various dangerous locations to track down rogue agents. She even joins them on covert missions in the middle of Moscow. Of course she does. That awkward coda with Vesper’s ‘boyfriend’ feels tacked on and arbitrary and contributes to the overall sense that “Quantum Of Solace” is less a movie conceived as a story worth telling and more an assembly cut of deleted scenes from “Casino Royale”.
Not even Timothy Dalton was subjected to the ineptitude on his second movie as Daniel Craig was here. The lavish production values are wasted on an underwhelming and incoherent story filmed with lethargic direction by Marc Forster. I thought when I started this whole review that “Diamonds Are Forever” would be my least favourite Bond movie. I was wrong.
* Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish composed their own theme songs for “Quantum Of Solace”. Both are infinitely better than what we actually got.