All Bond fans have their own ranking of 007 films – sometimes widely shared on social media, sometimes hotly debated during gatherings. Lo and behold, every fan also has a least favourite movie – as you can guess from the title of this article, Daniel Craig’s second Bond film has been mine for a while. Quantum of Solace was released in 2008, a mere two years after Casino Royale (2006) and is set up as a direct sequel to its predecessor: we follow James Bond as he tries to avenge the death of his lover Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and understand why she betrayed him. This leads 007 to investigate the mysterious organisation Quantum and its nefarious leader Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).
For some reason, QoS never made much of an impression on me as a kid: I didn’t get its title (though my English might have been to blame), hated the shaky cam, and mostly remembered it as a sub-par sequel to Casino Royale. But this year, the film is turning fifteen, and it was about time that I confronted my own prejudices and gave Quantum of Solace another chance. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but has recently been re-appraised by some Bond fans, who argue that it’s more ultimate than we remember. So today, let’s retro-review Quantum of Solace!
We have people everywhere – the work of Marc Forster
Before the rewatch, most of my complaints about QoS concerned the work of director Marc Forster, who made some questionable editing decisions, and did not truly capture the essence of what makes a Bond film. My opinion on Quantum of Solace has not greatly improved, but the nostalgia might be kicking in, because I felt more indulgent this time around.
Let’s start with the most obvious problem: the shaky cam and choppy editing are really annoying. Not only do they make many action scenes (and as many falls) less impressive, but they sometimes render fights impossible to follow. As a whole, the film’s spatiality puzzled me: characters are not always focused on by the camera, making it hard to understand who does what. Of course, the shaky cam and over-cut shots are really ugly, but when I spoke about nostalgia, I now see them more as a late 2000s period piece. Much like tecktonik music and neon colours, I still dislike the editing, but I have stopped hating it with a passion!
Some shots conversely stood out as carefully crafted and beautiful, especially towards the beginning of the movie in Haiti, and as Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and James escape a cave in Bolivia. These were helped by a warm colour scheme… most of the time. I cannot for the life of me understand why all sequences in London have such a desaturated tone: I know the British weather has a bad reputation, but this is downright insulting for us Londoners! Speaking of mother England and Mi6, the HQ in QoS is just confusing, full of random walls and pillars which seem to obsess Marc Forster… thank god Raoul Silva blew this maze up! So, the bottom line might be that while I now find some qualities in the film’s cinematography, the terrible editing still hinders my appreciation of QoS.
Damaged goods – the characters
Okay, but what about the characters? My memories of Camille (Olga Kurylenko) were pretty positive, and contrasted with a dislike of Mathieu Amalric’s performance as Greene. Well, not much has changed on that front! Camille remains an interesting Bond Girl, who has her own goal and backstory – though her character could have used more screen time – and she is subtly played by Kurylenko. She and Craig have good chemistry as companions going through tough times, and their lack of intimacy makes perfect sense.
I still struggle to take Dominic Greene seriously, in part because I worried that Amalric’s eyes might explode during the film, but also because he suffers from a bad case of “informed villainy”: we keep hearing how bad he and Quantum are, but only rarely see them acting terrifying. This is all too common in late Craig era villains, and to me, prevents most of them from being ultimate bad guys!
And that leaves us with supporting characters: Judi Dench’s performance as M is as good as ever, but she seems too present throughout the film (possibly a side effect of the reduced Mi6 cast). Felix Leiter’s interactions with Bond remain a joy to watch, and Jeffrey Wright simply masters the role. Gemma Arterton’s agent Fields is endearing but dispatched too quickly, and conversely, I found Anatole Taubman’s toupee-wearing-henchman Elvis neither intimidating nor really funny. I recently learnt that Elvis is in fact Greene’s cousin who was rescued by the leader of Quantum, making their interactions fun to (re)watch – but the henchman still lacks a distinct aura.
An organic experience – better than we remember?
A piece of context which really helped my viewing experience was learning that Forster organised fight scenes around all four elements (air, water, earth and fire). This matches the film’s theme of natural resources’ exploitation, and makes a rewatch much more interesting. As a whole, the “organic” feel of QoS was my greatest surprise: a lot of the time, smoke, soil and glass shards are involved in the fights, and hit the camera. They give the powerful impression that the cinematography is going wild, much like Bond himself – who is driven by his instincts. Don’t get me wrong, this still doesn’t make up for the choppy editing mentioned above, but the movie’s combat scenes are not the bland fights I remembered. In terms of script, things are stripped down to the minimum (courtesy of the 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike) but the simple, fast-paced plot also suits Bond’s story of (almost) blind revenge.
So, what to take away from Quantum of Solace fifteen years after its release? Well, it definitely won’t be making it into my top 5 favourite Bond films, but it’s not the unwatchable, brainless flick I remembered. My biggest issue after this rewatch is actually not the editing, but how the movie compares to Casino Royale: not only is QoS not as good, but it also struggles to exist as a standalone, making its interest for the franchise very relative. Still, since Quantum has people everywhere, I better watch my back and say that it remains a fairly decent action flick from the 2000s!