That difficult second album. The Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique. The Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope. The Stone Roses, The Second Coming. When your debut is such an unbelievable smash, a breath of fresh air that sets the bar so high and really shakes things up, then where are you left go to? Just down. This is what apparently happened to James Bond. After Casino Royale blew a spectacular hole in the franchise it left fans, both 007 fanatics and casual moviegoers, waiting for the second instalment with baited breath. When Quantum Of Solace landed, people were quick to pour scorn.
They said it was too short, it was too complicated and they didn’t get the plot, it was too frenetic and the shaky-cam editing and fast cut style didn’t help.
It’s usually good practice to accept that all opinions are valid and everyone is entitled to them. If you can’t do that while writing for a movie website then where do you end up? An embittered failure, surrounded by the wreckage of a failing website, lashing out at talkbackers who disagree with you, waving a ban-hammer around and telling them they should “…write for Leno!” That’s where.
While we would never say any of our Outposters are just plain wrong, I am going to stick my neck out here and at least say this. Quantum Of Solace is well worth a revisit with your eyes wide open. Do that and I believe you will find a rewarding experience and a damn good Bond movie.
Heck, I am so exposed here that I might as well go for broke and make the big, bold claim. I truly believe that Quantum Of Solace will go through the same re-evaluation that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service went through over time. An initial weak reaction, and time and hindsight being very kind to the movie as it grows in its standing with Fandom.
Now before we get into the detail of why I think this movie should be rated much more highly in the franchise, some details.
A Degree Of Comfort
Released in 2008, it was the 22nd movie in the 007 franchise. Maintaining the focus more on the character of James Bond and the more gritty, realistic tone than previous Bond’s Marc Forster was chosen as the director. The German-Swiss filmmaker was best known for serious and dramatic fare. Character driven movies such as Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction and Kite Runner were his specialty. This matched with the newfound seriousness with which people were now treating Bond.
No double-taking pigeons, jet-packs and hollowed out volcanoes anymore. It was back to Fleming. Casino Royale was built around Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond as a human being and this was to be continued here.
The movie was developed as a central idea while Casino Royale was being shot, responding to how Bond in Casino Royale was evolving. Producer Michael G. Wilson then handed his plot outline over to long-time Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, assisted by Casino Royale script polisher Paul Haggis. The title, Quantum Of Solace, was taken from an Ian Fleming short story in his For Your Eyes Only collection.
When the Hollywood writers strike hit, the official writers had to down tools. Marc Foster and Daniel Craig themselves wrote some additional scenes but were unable to score a writing credit due to union rules and the strike.
At one hour and forty-six minutes long, it is the shortest movie in the whole franchise, immediately following Casino Royale which was the longest until the running time of No Time To Die was announced. It was the 4th highest grossing movie in the franchise. Most importantly this is the first ever 007 movie that is a direct sequel to the preceding movie. Previous entries were self-contained adventures with a very loose, and sometimes nonsensical continuity. This time we pick up exactly where we left off in the last movie. Which brings us to one of the first complaints many have put forward about this movie.
Well, yes. Of course it is! After invisible cars and ice-surfing away from a tsunami caused by a space-based laser in Die Another Day they were always going to return to Fleming. Craig’s condition on taking the role was that he was allowed to explore Bond’s humanity and closely follow the character in the books. This was such a success in Casino Royale that it was always going to be evident here.
As I have mentioned, this was also the first ever sequel in the franchise. That allowed the movie to start with a real bang, and it does! Picking up minutes from the end of Casino Royale with Bond fleeing Mr White’s lakeside mansion in Italy, it is straight into a car chase with no pause for breath. No gun barrel, no exposition. It just dives in.
What a sequence it is. The action beats are punctuated perfectly and you feel like you are directly in the middle of things. The sudden calm after the frenetic chase is ended by a well-timed series of shots from 007 is well employed as an editing device. This is the kind of thing Friedkin employed in The Exorcist. Similar is the fast switching from the industrial quarry to the beautiful streets of Sienna in the following shot. This is clever filmmaking.
It is only at the very end of this sequence that White is revealed as Bond’s hostage, immediately anchoring the movie as a sequel.
These differences continue. Bond goes off mission, a theme that continues for Craig’s Bond but was only ever briefly touched on by License To Kill before. Bond decides what is important rather than just taking orders, he also does not get the girl at the end. These are two things taken directly from the literary Bond rather than the cinematic.
The final scene, where Bond catches up with the man who made Vesper betray him, is also a high point. This scene was directly taken from the Fleming short story 007 in New York, in which which Bond warns a female intelligence employee that her boyfriend is an enemy agent. It was worked in as Bond’s final confrontation with Vesper’s boyfriend.
After being taken to task by M for killing absolutely everyone he encounters on his journey that had anything to do with Vesper, this scene is brilliant. Craig sells the barely contained rage totally. Him leaving M standing, speechless, in the Moscow snow after informing her that as far as he’s concerned he never left, never stepped off the mission, and just walking away is a perfect ending and bookend to what happened in Casino Royale. In fact this movie really is an extended fourth act to Casino Royale as much as it is a standalone.
So yes. It is different. This is a different Bond. Get used to it. When you embrace it and let go of Union Jack parachutes and hover gondolas then you will relax into it more. Seeing Bond get a chance to deliver his personal revenge, and controlling himself? Pure Fleming. Did he get what he needed by the end of the movie? Well that brings us on to the next complaint.
The Title Is Meaningless
On the contrary. Of course, Quantum is the name of the organization in the movie. More on them later. However the title, as discussed earlier, was taken from a Fleming short story. The story was seen as experimental by Bond continuation author Raymond Benson, in that it is entirely based around a dinner party conversation and showcases Bond’s human side specifically. There is a reason why this was chosen as a title.
In the story Bond is post mission and at a dinner party thrown by the Governor of an overseas British territory. The Governor is relaying the story to Bond of a marriage breakdown. Bond is bored as his last mission was uneventful and proclaims that the story he is being told was more exciting. The Governor introduces his theory of a quantum of solace, as he calls it:
“…a precise figure defining the comfort, humanity, and fellow feeling required between two people for love to survive…”
Once the last quantum of solace is gone, the governors theory runs, the relationship is destructive, toxic and doomed to fail. Bond, with his fair share of failed relationships, is forced to concede:
“That’s a splendid name for it. It’s certainly impressive enough, and of course I see what you mean. I should say you’re absolutely right. Quantum of Solace, the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you can say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure, but actually seems to want to destroy you, it’s obviously the end. The Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You’ve got to get away to save yourself.”
This was the central idea to Bond’s journey in this movie. A few lines in a short story expanded upon to act a guide for his characters actions in the movie. Bond is looking for a quantum of solace after his experiences in Casino Royale, a shred of something that proves he was right to fall for Vesper even though she betrayed him, or to prove that the quantum of solace stands at zero due to the betrayal therefore he should stop feeling sorry for himself.
The whole movie isn’t just about Bond and his feeling though, there is A LOT more going on. Which brings us to another frequent complaint.
The Plot Doesn’t Make Sense
There is a reason why the character of Basil Exposition exists in the Austin Powers movies. Bond movies always managed to make something complicated, usually technical, very simple by deploying the character of Q into a situation for a conversation to act as the cipher for the audience. Failing that the role is frequently filled by a fairly blunt conversation with another character, either Bond explaining to a Bond Girl, or a villain laying out their nefarious plan.
Quantum Of Solace has these kinds of scenes, but it is more light touch, and at the pace the movie is going, you need to sit up and pay attention. It treats it’s audience as intelligent and you discover things at the same time as Bond. This is different to most other Bond movies where you have already met the villain, seen his plan and are watching Bond catch-up.
Another thing that throws people is that the plot is very, very real. Whereas other Bond’s frequently covered something outlandish in the thinnest possible veneer of reality, this does entirely the opposite.
The plot is a direct A to B trail. When Mr White’s capture and subsequent escape reveals deep penetration of a global power establishments by a third party, Bond literally follows the money to Haiti. He is happy to follow this trail as he believes it will lead him to whoever White was working with or for, the people who caused Vesper to betray him.
This leads him, via Camille, to Dominic Greene who is ostensibly a wealthy businessman and environmental entrepreneur who is working with a Bolivian General to foment a coup in Bolivia. When Bond’s actions kill more of Greene’s people this attracts the ire of the CIA . They are working with the General to support the coup as they believe they will get rights to oil that has been discovered beneath the Bolivian dessert. The General is happy to give away parcels of land to Greene as he knows there is no oil under them.
Bond follows Greene to Bregenz, Austria where, at a covert meeting under the cover of an exclusive Opera, he exposes him as part of a cabal, Quantum, who include Mr White among their number and are influencing global events at the highest level to further their own ends. Their number includes politicians and businessmen. They have misdirected the USA into thinking they are getting oil, whereas they are actually after control of something much more precious, water.
As Bond’s body count rises, and includes the personal protection officer of a British cabinet minister who is part of Quantum, M is unable to back-up Bond any longer against accusations he is on a personal revenge mission for what happened to Vesper. The Americans have also had enough with Bond jeopardizing what they think is an oil deal all sewn up. Bond knows he is onto something bigger so disobeys orders, evades the Secret Service team sent to bring him back and goes after Greene on his own.
The plot is a reference to the “water wars” in Bolivia in 2000, when water rights were sold to a corporation, which sharply increased the price beyond the ability of many Bolivians to pay for it, inciting demonstrations that forced the government to reverse the decision. It also mirrors the U.S. agreement in the movie to support a coup for oil to their real support for the attempted coup against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002.
You wanted a space based laser? Maybe a volcano base?
Michael G Wilson, the producer and the man behind the story concept, summed up the reality of it:
“If you remember in Chinatown, if you control the water you control the whole development of the country. I think it’s true. Right now it appears to be oil, but there’s a lot of other resources that we don’t think about too much but are all essential, and they’re very limited and every country needs it. Because every country knows that raising the standard of living (and populations are getting bigger) is the way we’re all going.
Director Marc Foster went even further, drawing out his influences as some very real world events:
“Because Bond plays it real, I thought the political circumstances should be real too, even though Bond shouldn’t be a political film. I thought the more political I make it, the more real it feels, not just with Bolivia and what’s happening in Haiti, but with all these corporations like Shell and Chevron saying they’re green because it’s so fashionable to be green. During the Cold War, everything was very clear, the good guys and the bad guys. Today there’s much overlapping of good and bad. It isn’t as morally distinct, because we all have both elements in us.”
In Dominic Greene there is perhaps the most real of all recent villains. A wealthy environmentalist who hides behind his green credentials while he uses these causes to further his own, and Quantum’s, power. What is not to like about that? Seems even more prescient now than it was in 2008.
All of this serves as a vehicle for Bond to explore his rage and seek his revenge. Of course, with so much going on, and a seemingly deliberate decision taken to avoid massive exposition scenes, leads to the next common criticism.
The Pacing Is Too Fast
To which I say, is it? Really? Or is it that the movie is actually very lean so it can move as it does, like a bullet? If you think of it as the extended 4th act to Casino Royale then the pacing is exactly as it needs to be. Even if you don’t, as the plot is actually a very linear investigation trail from point A to point B, with a new discovery propelling the plot to point C and so on, then it moves exactly as fast as it needs to and also has a sense of urgency.
Think about how that beat plays out across this movie and what it delivers in that time. We have a car chase, a foot chase, a fight, another fight with Mr Slate in Haiti, a motorbike stunt and a boat chase all before we move out of the first act. That’s like 007 Christmas all in one go. It presses every Bond button perfectly while actually launching you into a Bond adventure that is very different. It does achieves both things at pace. I think it’s masterful.
Speaking of masterful, the Bond vs Slate fight in the Haiti hotel room is epic.
Picking up the violent Bond, who bleeds, is also from Fleming and follows on from what we saw in the stairwell fight in the previous movie, it is swift, brutal and contains some great touches. Bond taking out Slate’s artery in his neck and then in his leg, then holding him down and waiting for him to bleed out while quickly checking his perimeter. He finds Slate’s briefcase and without a seconds hesitation assumes his identity and just rolls with it, directly through Camille to Greene. As I said, A to B, no fat or messing about.
Nice touch also to use the Universal Exports business card with Robert Sterling as the name, Bond’s cover to meet Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me when posing as a marine biologist.
From here the movie rolls straight on through a boat chase to Austria and the Opera scene. This is one of the great scenes in all of Bond history. The setting is pure 007, and Bond being in a hurry leads to a great little sequence where he simply calls out Quantum over their own radio channel, using their fleeing to capture their identities, is a small thing but so well shows what this version of 007 is all about.
The Tosca opera juxtaposed against Bond’s violence against those pursuing him, and another The Spy Who Loved Me callback on the roof with Special Branch officer Craig Mitchell brings an incredibly tight sequence to a close.
Yet another great little touch is Bond’s company credit card being declined at the airport as M tries to bring him back to heel:
“In a minute that phone is going to ring… do me a favour and tell them I was heading for Cairo.”
This movie is full of these little flourishes, effortless call backs, Bond being Bond while maintaining Daniel Craig’s harder edge. Of course, this sense of pace gives rise to yet another regular criticism.
The Editing Is Too Frenetic
To which I say, that is a cost of doing business at this pace, and adds to the relentless sense of urgency. It also links back to what I said earlier about having to pay attention. Some clear editing and framing choices are meant to convey the desperation of the situation Bond sometimes finds himself in. Sometimes it is to put you at the center of the action.
Look at the construction of this scene. First of all, like the rest of the movie it gives you extra, with a plane chase giving way to parachute stunt. That’s a car chase, an excellent fight, a boat chase AND a plane sequence with added sky diving. Nobody can say this movie doesn’t deliver.
What is important is to examine how the editing, the shot selection and the motion of the camera combine to create what should be remembered as a real highlight.
Related to this are the constant claims that this is “Bourne Bond” due to Paul Greengrass and his love of a shaky-cam in the second and third Bourne movies. As if Bourne was the only movie to ever deploy these techniques to add a sense of realism and jeopardy? Think of the speeded up, slowed down camera speed trickery of Peter Hunt in his Bond movies, or the sudden cut techniques of John Glen and Alan Hume in their time as director and cinematographer in this series and, if anything, you could argue it’s the other way round. The previous record of the cinematographer and the editing duo point to the form being within them.
The camera frequently follows Bond into and through a scene or a stunt. When you think of the motorbike jump or the foot chase through the exploding hotel, it’s some of the most dynamic camera work done in the series to date.
The frenetic nature of this can sometimes make things feel a little too close to comfort. It is quite bone crunching at times. This led to another criticism.
It’s Too Violent And Too Serious
It is very, very violent for a Bond movie. The fight scenes pull no punches and the chases have a weight to them. A 2012 study by the University of Otago in New Zealand found this to be the most violent film in the franchise. Whereas Dr. No featured 109 “trivial or severely violent” acts, Quantum of Solace had a count of 250. This was the highest in any Bond movie in the entire series… in the shortest film!
I’m sorry? And that is a bad thing? Look, the 007 franchise yo-yo’s back and forth. The hollowed out volcano silliness of You Only Live Twice was followed by one of the most faithful Fleming adaptions ever in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond in flares, then in outer space in Moonraker was followed by For Your Eyes Only. Dalton followed Moore. Daniel Craig and his harder, more violent edge is a reaction to Brosnan with his Christmas only coming once a year, invisible cars and virtual reality simulation shootouts in Oakley sunglasses.
This is what happens. And sure as night follows day, just as people were bitching about Die Another Day, a load of other people will be bitching about Quantum Of Solace, and Daniel Craig in general, for entirely opposite reasons. Welcome to the world of a 60+ year old movie franchise that constantly reinvents and recasts itself.
Of course it’s serious. At it’s heart Quantum Of Solace is a revenge thriller wrapped in a political mystery. You want a comical midget henchman? Wait around a few years then. It will come back again. Until then, pipe down and let the Fleming fans have their fun, like they had to put up with safari suits and Tarzan yells in the 1980’s. Daniel Craig is the closest we have had to Fleming. Fleming’s Bond was not a nice man, was not a suave ladies man who always got the girl, frequently hated his job, took a beating, bled and did whatever it takes to get the job done. Quips and clever gadgets were in short supply. He was also deadly serious, as were the situations he found himself in even as Fleming surrendered to his pulp inspirations at times. This movie is among the most Fleming-esque in the series.
Finally, the elephant in the room. The big critique. What is the single biggest thing Quantum Of Solace is guilty of?
It’s Not As Good As Casino Royale
Yes, but very little is. It’s not the same as Casino Royale. That movie had a central story already written by Fleming, had the chance to surprise and do something new. This has to pick up this baton and run with it. It does it superbly, at an incredible pace and with enough of a tip of the hat at its cinematic forbears without ever being in danger of bogging itself down in parody.
It really is the little things in Quantum Of Solace that, for me, combine to actually make it greater than the sum of it’s parts. The villains coup de grace is like nothing we have ever seen in a Bond movie before.
Bond just abandons him there, to a fate worse than death, making him suffer and getting a bit of revenge for what he did to Agent Fields in the hotel room.
Craig is as good as he gets in the role in this, with his barely controlled rage burning just beneath the surface as he cuts a swathe through Quantum to get to who he wants. The interplay with M is top notch and has developed nicely from where they were in Casino Royale, with her still unsure if she can trust him with a coveted 00 mantle. It is clearly a Bond movie, but also something different. It is a sequel while also standing on it’s own two feet. It’s absolutely action packed, but contains many small moments and nice fan touches.
I state my case. It’s underrated and will grow in regard over time.
Give it a re-watch, do it with an open mind. I think it will surprise you.