Watching all the Bond films again in a row has been an interesting experience for so many reasons. As I have already mentioned, it is amazing to watch the franchise change with the times; it's adaptability allowing it to remain current and fresh to audiences. While that does mean that many of the films do not age very well, they do still serve as fascinating time capsules to the pop culture of the day.
Unfortunately, another trend that I have noticed is a more negative one - the seeming inability to string together two home runs in a row. With the exception of Sean Connery's triumvirate of awesomeness (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball), the franchise has never been able to follow up an awesome movie with another awesome movie.
On a certain level, you can say it is a problem of expectations. If a film is so completely amazing, people are bound to be disappointed by its sequel. There is some truth to that. But there is also no denying that these sequels are completely inferior to the films that preceded them. So in the Bond series, if we look at my favorites - excluding Connery's trio, of course - this is what we have:
- Thunderball followed by the atrocious You Only Live Twice, which is in my bottom 5
- The Spy Who Loved Me followed by Moonraker, which is also in my bottom 5
- Goldeneye followed by the average Tomorrow Never Dies
- Living Daylights followed by the underrated, but still ultimately unsuccessful License to Kill
- Soon to be reviewed Skyfall followed by the soon to be reviewed and very infuriating Spectre
- And of course this brings us to this review because Casino Royale, the best Bond film ever, was followed by the dashed together, haphazard Quantum of Solace
But things are not going smoothly for MI6. Bond seems to be letting his emotions get the better of him, and his desire to avenge Vesper's death is putting the mission in danger. Matters aren't made any easier by a woman he keeps crossing paths with, Camille (Olga Kurylenko, Centurion), who has a revenge mission of her own.
I have very mixed feelings about Quantum of Solace. It's not as bad as its reputation, but is still a bit of a mess. The whole film has a frenzied, rushed pace to it - I know the producers wanted to get a film in theaters as quickly as possible after Casino Royale, but this flick really needed some more time to germinate.
There are a number of problems with the Quantum of Solace, but I think you have to start at the top of the chain with director Marc Forster. He's not a bad filmmaker, and he has made a lot of truly solid films - Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner, Monster's Ball - you will notice that none of these are action films. He is clearly out of his element here, with no idea how to put together a decent action sequence, instead relying on the jerky camera work and lightning quick over-editing that was all the rage in the late 2000's (thanks to the Bourne films). The earthquake cam and editing are so quick, you really have no idea what is going on - and that's the best possible reaction. The sequences were jumping around so much that a few people I know got headaches! I really feel bad for the stunt team. They really seem to have constructed some amazing stunts, especially during the car chase through the Italian mountains in the film's opening scene. Shame we can't see what is going on; I feel all their hard work really went to waste!
(As a bit of a tangent, I will give Forster some credit where credit is due. He seems to have learned from the experience because the action sequences in World War Z, which he directed more recently, are much more entertaining!)
Back to Quantum of Solace...it might be weird for me to say this, but...there is actually too much action! The film starts with a frenetic car chase, and then there are maybe two or three lines of dialogue before another frenetic fight during Siena's Paleo celebration...then another line or two of dialogue as James Bond goes to Haiti to do awesome spy stuff, but instead gets into another frenetic fight in a hotel room, followed by a short car ride and an introduction to Camille, that is followed by a frenetic boat chase. And then I looked over at my friends and said, you know it's only been 10 minutes, right? A frenetic 10-minutes...
While the film does settle down a bit after that, it still barrels forward at a breakneck pace, wasting the potential of a game supporting cast (which includes Gemma Arterton, David Harbour and the return of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter). The climatic battle at a fancy hotel powered by unstable hydrogen fuel cells in the middle of a Bolivian desert, is just ridiculous. I make a point of mentioning those unstable hydrogen fuel cells because they sure do in the film, in one of the most telegraphed lines in franchise history. Gee, I wonder if someone is going to hit those unstable hydrogen fuel cells?
But at the same time, Quantum of Solace in no way deserves its reputation as a piece of crap. It's not downright awful. And I have to give them a bit of a pass because they never did finish the script thanks to the Writers' Strike. They had a draft, but it was very bare bones, and Daniel Craig and Marc Forster found themselves doing a lot of rewriting on the spot...often making up things as they were going along. If that is not a good way to start, they also had problems on the tail end with almost impossible deadlines loomed. The film was edited in only 5 weeks, when feature films generally can take 12 or 14 weeks to finish. So that explains a lot, and I am willing to give them a bit of a pass for making the best of a bad situation.
And there is actually a lot of really cool stuff in the film. The acting is all quite good. I even liked Amalric as Greene. I know some people complained about him because he wasn't a tough enough villain, but he wasn't supposed to be. He's a businessman, and I am fine with the way his storyline plays out. I also like a lot of individual sequences - the scene at the opera house, for example, is downright brilliant as Bond finds a clever way to spy on a meeting of Quantum's inner circle. It's probably the most "Bond" thing Daniel Craig has done during his entire run with the character!
I even don't mind the story. With SPECTRE still out of reach because of legal reasons, the franchise re-introduced a new super organization for Bond to battle, and I think over the first two films of Daniel Craig's run, they did a excellent job of doing just that. I like the fact that Quantum is not about conquering the world. They just want to control it like any big corporation does. It's just business. And that's a neat idea that plays out well here.
But the film's greatest strength is the dramatic arc of the Bond character. Quantum of Solace continues where the character left off in Casino Royale, still learning to become the James Bond we've known since 1962. By the end of Casino Royale, he has the humor, the fashion, and the skills needs...but he still has this blistering open wound from Vesper's death, and until that is healed (or at least scabs over), he can't become the man and super spy he is destined to be. Quantum of Solace gets him to that point - and hammers it home with a terrific final scene that ties everything back to the previous film.
Anyways, this all means that Quantum of Solace needs to be in the middle of the pack somewhere. A lot of people loathe the film, but I think that is just hangover after the drunken heights of Casino Royale. The expectations were just too high. It's certainly not great, but it never sinks to the level of a Moonraker or Die Another Day. There is a lot of really good stuff in here. I just wish they had been given more time to think it all through and develop it in the way the material deserved.
So, where should I rank this? Well, it definitely should be in the middle somewhere...I feel it probably needs to be in the mid-teens...before the movies become unforgivably bad. In a way, it fits in very nicely with Man with the Golden Gun, another film that had so much wasted potential. I think I will settle it in right after that film. Golden Gun narrowly edges it because at least when it is bad, it's funny, whereas Quantum is a rather joyless affair.
1. Casino Royale
3. From Russia With Love
5. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. The Living Daylights
8. Dr. No
10. For Your Eyes Only
11. Tomorrow Never Dies
12. Live and Let Die
13. License to Kill
14. Man with the Golden Gun
15. Quantum of Solace
16. Diamonds are Forever
17. Die Another Day
18. The World is Not Enough
19. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
21. You Only Live Twice
22. A View to a Kill
This one is easy. Remember when I was talking about Bond's character arc up above? The script does the best it can with this theme, but really the heavy lifting is done by Craig. He takes this under-developed movie and puts it on his back, marching through the beats like a true professional. He's hands down the best thing about the film. This is an easy award to give.
Though I am tempted to give the MVP to the theme song. But not the official title theme written by Jack White and gracing the film's opening credits. Nope, I mean a proposed title song that was released on YouTube shortly after the film's cumbersome title was announced. It's brilliant.
For some reason, YouTube won't let me embed the link in this blogpost, so I am copying and pasting the link here. Enjoy! https://youtu.be/h6CoNUE5Zho
James Bond (interrupting the opera house conversation): Can I offer an opinion? I really think you people should find a better place to meet.
Well, here's a weird one. Can you imagine Al Pacino in a Bond film? He was approached about appearing in Quantum of Solace and the idea was floated that he could serve as Quantum's equivalent to SPECTRE's Blofeld. That would have been odd. Pacino was also interested in taking the role of the Bolivian general in league with Quantum. That would have been even more odd!