WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: Thirsty for revenge after the death of his beloved Vesper, James Bond discovers that the organisation behind former enemy Le Chiffre has influence everywhere, reaching – through the covert operations of supposed environmentalist Dominic Greene – the highest levels of government, even his own MI6. With enemies and colleagues alike looking to bring him in, Bond sets up an explosive showdown in the Bolivian desert.
While many purists threw up their hands at the notion of a blond Bond, and were even more distraught to find that their suave hero had turned into a semi-robotic action man, many watching Casino Royale were thankful that Daniel Craig had turned cinema’s most famous secret agent into a credible figure, someone who got bloodied in a fight and a muscular presence to smack down young pretender Jason Bourne (how dare he steal those initials!). And it wasn’t as though Bond was without feeling, as the conclusion to Casino showed 007 conflicted about Vesper Lynd’s death and acting out of vengeance as much as duty to Queen and country.
Quantum of Solace doesn’t miss a beat as it picks up the tale, with James escorting Mr White to an MI6 hideaway in Siena for interrogation; though this being Bond, White is trussed up in the boot of an Aston Martin being peppered with machine-gun fire. Bond arrives safely in Siena but he and M (Judi Dench) have barely begun the interrogation when agent Mitchell starts shooting the place up, revealing how far and wide the power of White’s organisation (the Quantum of the title, not that we are told this until much, much later) has spread. Killing Mitchell and following his trail to Haiti, Bond replaces a hitman and meets intended mark Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), girlfriend of big wheel Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Greene, fronting an environmental organisation, is actually in the regime change business for a General Medrano who wants power in Bolivia, Greene’s price being a patch of land in the Bolivian desert. As far as the British government and Agent Beam (David Harbour) of the CIA are concerned, Greene is an untouchable source of oil; but as Bond and Camille – with a score to settle against Medrano – fight their way across Austria, Italy and onwards to Bolivia, they find allies to help them out of tight spots, including CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and in Bolivia compliant operative Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton). The vengeful pair eventually track Medrano and Greene to a hydrogen-powered hotel in the Bolivian desert, where an explosive resolution is guaranteed.
When people berated Casino Royale for its emphasis on action over quick-wittedness I was unsympathetic – come on, Bond throwing guns at people on cranes is much more exciting than dressing him up as, say, a clown; but here the action is literally all over the place and very often not in Bond’s control. The pursuit of Mitchell, this film’s equivalent of Casino Royale’s free running sequence, ends with Bond suspended upside down and getting lucky in the timing of his swing; and soon after he’s reliant on the ineptitude of a hotel employee who not only mistakes him for the man he’s just killed but readily offers up the suitcase that will see him on his way.
These slices of good fortune (later, Bond and Camille parachute into the exact location of Greene’s dam in Bolivia) undermine Bond’s supposed resourcefulness and further cut away at the things that define Bond films in the first place. I know I praised Casino Royale for disposing of many sacred cows, but here there is nothing – M apart – that marks Craig’s character as anything special or distinctive. The silhouetted girls may be back in the credits, to the accompaniment of a noisy Jack White song, but James Bond should surely never be more interested in gin and Virgin Atlantic than the ladies; here, his relationship with Camille is business only and his coupling with Fields is one of the most perfunctory in Bond history: despite a complete lack of chemistry, she hops into bed with him anyway, then trips someone up at a party and is abandoned to die in a sequence that only serves to remind you how much better Goldfinger did it. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wright’s Leiter exists solely to look sour and get Bond out of a scrape for the second film in a row.
Filling the gap is Judi Dench’s M, who’s entertaining in a matronly way as she scolds Bond for his unfortunate habit of murdering everyone he meets; but her role in guiding Bond and commenting on everything he does is far too intrusive, her constant appearances reminding me of the shopkeeper from Mr Benn*. As for the villain, anyone who can make Le Chiffre look terrifying is not up to much and Amalric’s Greene is woefully short, both on threat and in stature. 007 used to save the world from destruction: here he tackles, in effect, corrupt utility bosses, making him little more than a super-violent Watchdog* presenter.
Apart from its sheer incoherence (as I’ve already mentioned, the purpose or even name of Quantum is unclear until the coda), the main problem with Quantum of Solace is the extent to which it asks the viewer to take things on trust, namely that neither the British nor American governments would bother to make their own enquiries in Bolivia, or that M would order Bond’s arrest one minute and let him go with a motherly smile when he beats up fellow agents and escapes. None of the plot-building sections are convincing, so when the action sequences do arrive they feel disconnected; more than ever, the climactic shoot-out in the hydrogen-fuelled hotel feels as though it was designed from the explosions backwards, not even trying to explain why anyone would build such a fantastic building in the middle of nowhere. And I’ve not even mentioned Forster’s headache-inducing direction which looks for hand-held camera realism but utterly destroys the flow of scenes with its attention-deficit editing.
Quantum of Solace isn’t awful. It’s comparatively short, and as it travels the world some extraordinary stunts occur in some very nice locations; but they’re chopped up visually and sprinkled into the plot in such a way that the viewer never gets a sense of continuous narrative, Craig and co. doing nothing to build on the Bond mythology – indeed, Craig is so taciturn that he consistently dampens the excitement of scenes. I always thought that saying ‘I forgot it as soon as it finished’ was a glib way of dismissing a film, but this was absolutely my reaction to QoS: that’s not really good enough for any film, and a very black mark against a James Bond movie.
NOTES: If you know not of Mr Benn or Watchdog you’ll either have to do some research, or accept that you can’t know everything.