There was a lot of anticipation around Quantum of Solace, as there is with every James Bond film. This one in particular, though, as the anticipation of seeing the follow up to Casino Royale – the film that brilliantly redefined the series – and was also met with hesitation as to whether this new film could live up to it.
When it was finally released reaction was lukewarm at best, and venomous at worst. In the time since, it has become something of a pariah, the ignored entry in the Daniel Craig era – but is it deserving of its reputation of being inferior?
The studio wanted to deliver another James Bond film hot off the heels of Casino Royale‘s success, but that hastiness did not make for an easy birth. Director Marc Foster admitted to production being hampered by a tight schedule and a writer’s guild strike, the latter resulting in the shoot beginning without a finished script. Foster responded by turning the film into “sort of like a 70s revenge movie; very action driven, lots of cuts to hide that there’s a lot of action and a little less story.”
On that front, Foster is right – Quantum of Solace doesn’t have a story with the same depth as its predecessor, and when a film opens with two chase scenes, it can be easy to start making assumptions about what kind of film it’s going to be. Casino Royale, though, was a hard act to follow, and just because a story is thin doesn’t mean there’s nothing of value in it.
For example, while the plot is essentially Bond on the trail of a high-value member of an international crime syndicate, it’s what’s going on between the lines that’s interesting. All the while, Bond is feeling conflicted about prior events: part of his drive to see this mission out is to avenge Vesper Lynd, his love interest from Casino Royale. He loved her, but she betrayed him. Is this revenge for her, or for him?
That’s another thing about Quantum of Solace: it breaks with decades of tradition, where instead of being a standalone story, it picks up exactly where the last film left off. It’s a bold move to break with a long tried-and-tested formula, but by focusing on expanding on the elements and rules of engagement set in the previous film, Quantum of Solace manages, for the most part, to pull it off.
It also does the same with all the traditional Bond tropes – there is a megalomanical villain, but his plot is realistic. There is a girl at his side, but she has her own character arc. Again, Quantum of Solace picks up where Casino Royale left off in subverting the series’ elements, and paving the way for it to be carried on in the films that follow.
In terms of story, probably the biggest mis-step here is Gemma Arterton’s Agent Fields. She appears midway through the film as a conquest for Bond before exiting summarily and swiftly. This feels somewhat like an excuse to give a part to Arterton, who was hot property at the time, but more importantly this sub-plot heavily detracts from Bond’s quest to avenge his lost love – if he finds the time to have sex, how much did Vesper really mean to him?
A more interesting aspect is the film’s villain, Dominic Greene, played by Mathieu Almaric. He shares traits with past Bond villains, in particular Elliot Carver of Tomorrow Never Dies, as well as Goldfinger and Emilio Largo. He is, however, not the cartoony villain of Bond films past.
His plan is not like that of others, to conquer the world using deadly technology and an army of minions, but instead gain political influence in Bolivia by starting a water conflict. It might not seem like much of a plot, but today water is becoming more of a precious resource and wars for it are more prevalent. Greene is possibly the most down-to-earth Bond villain of them all, and on that level, could be argued to be the most believable.
Easily the best thing about Quantum of Solace, though, is Olga Kurylenko as Camille. She is in the place of the traditional Bond girl, but again she is a far cry from those who have come before her. For a start, there is no seemingly no attraction between her and Bond, but there is chemistry – they are both orphaned and are both seeking revenge. In Camille’s case, she wants revenge on Greene’s associate, General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), who murdered her family.
She doesn’t want Bond to kill for her, though, she’s more than capable of doing that herself, being former Bolivian secret service. She’s only tagging alongside Bond because he can get her to Medrano. Her time with Bond, though, sees her start to question taking revenge, whether she will be able to go through with it, and if she does, will it bring her peace?
Both Camille and Bond are on similar paths, and the connection between them that develops is deeper than that of other female Bond companions, maybe even more so than his relationship with Vesper, and their final exchange is one of the most effecting moments of character in a Bond film, as well as being heartbreaking.
We’ve since had two more Daniel Craig-fronted Bond films since Quantum of Solace, and while this film can not match Skyfall for all-around excitement, tension and drama, it’s a more efficient, well-rounded and consistent film than Spectre, which was overlong and fell back on tradition rather than doing anything particularly new or interesting (and also had the worst torture scene in the history of cinema).
Quantum of Solace is still not without its problems, but some of those are more the fault of its off-screen hindrances. It can be sad when infighting stops a film reaching its full potential, but when it does happen, it’s admirable to see filmmakers who are able to work around the behind-the-scenes turmoil and deliver a warts-and-all final product that is still comprehensible, entertaining and well made – and it’s there that Marc Foster succeeded.
It’s not his only success, either, he also delivers some impressive and interesting set pieces, most notably of all the one that takes place during a performance of Tosca. For someone known for more sedate drama films like Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland, Foster keeps up the pace and builds the tension with skill and ease.
Perhaps we all spent too much time holding it up to Casino Royale, and later Skyfall, perhaps it was easy to lose track of the story in amongst all the noise. Whatever the reason, Quantum of Solace, while not the greatest Bond film, is a worthy entry of the series.