Quantum of Solace was intended to be the sweet dessert to compliment the main course preceding it (i.e. 2006's Casino Royale). By this I mean Casino Royale developed the characters and established the plot (all the vegetables, so to speak) with very minimal amounts of action (the sweet portions of the meal, in a manner of speaking). Quantum of Solace therefore establishes a reason for itself to offer nothing more than pure action. And therein lies the unforgivable, lethal flaw of this film: it's all action and style without an ounce of soul or substance. Even with the "sweet dessert" philosophy applied, Quantum of Solace is only marginally redeemed.
Usually there's no problem with an overabundance of action, but it's crucial for action to be two things to make it work - comprehensible and exciting. The action in this particular Bond outing fails to adequately adhere to these aforementioned necessities. But the film's predominant fatality is its over-reliance on its predecessor. Casino Royale established the story; however CR's story hopelessly lost momentum into its final third. The story was milked until the milk began turning sour, thus there was virtually no interesting story remaining for Quantum of Solace to continue. Consequently the story is stilted and convoluted to the point of non-existence. Bond dashes around an action arena shooting every individual he can aim for. He shoots first, asks questions later. He is grilled by his superiors for this, but the film's self-awareness of Bond's new killing policy doesn't redeem this flaw.
Quantum of Solace tries to do something unimaginable: it endeavours to compete with the Jason Bourne films. It jettisons a solid story in favour of continuing a story which seemingly felt already complete. The result? Fundamentally an extended trailer (that at the same time feels tragically underwritten) featuring our beloved Agent 007 in name only form.
The film kicks off almost exactly where Casino Royale ended. In the timeline, the first scene in Quantum of Solace occurs merely one hour after the end of CR, hence the first Bond adventure in history to establish chronological obligations to its forerunner.
James Bond (Craig) becomes obsessed with revealing the mystery behind a top-secret organisation known as QUANTUM (a modern-day SPECTRE). Bond desires to exact revenge for the death of his girlfriend Vesper (played by Eva Green in Casino Royale) who was blackmailed by the enigmatic organisation. His off-the-grid investigation leads 007 to Austria, Italy and Bolivia, along the way crossing paths with the nefarious Dominic Greene (Amalric, keeping both eyes open after 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Bond soon uncovers a plot to control the world via the water supply. (Yes, the movie is about water. Why not make the next Bond villain intent on eliminating a breed of moose in Alaska?)
The principal flaw with the story of Quantum of Solace is simple: it doesn't have one. A conventional Sylvester Stallone affair offers a more intricate plot. In Fleming's Casino Royale novel, Vesper dies and Bond moves on. The truth behind Vesper's enforced betrayal is so clearly set up during the last film, but it becomes hopelessly lost in a welter of unnecessary distraction and abandoned threads. This film acts as a bridge to complete Bond's origins tale before allowing the series to proceed to more conventional Bond canon entries. In all honesty, every blundering frame of Quantum of Solace seems every bit as useless as the one preceding it. If the screenwriters didn't make Casino Royale so despondently long-winded, they could have summarised a fairly adequate Bond origins tale in the space of just one movie.
Marc Forster (the genius behind Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction and Monster's Ball, just to name a few) has adequate skill to tackle different genres with each new film on his résumé. Alas, action/adventure isn't a genre Forster is capable of handling. Director Martin Campbell offered exhilarating action scenes in Casino Royale as they were competently handled. But for this sequel Forster succumbs to the baffling technique of each shot lasting a nanosecond. When it comes to an action scene it's crucial to offer an opportunity for a viewer to confidently distinguish what is happening and, critically, why it's happening. A sequence intercutting an opera house shoot-out with a performance of Tosca is virtually impossible to follow. Veteran Bond directors have been capable of orchestrating action with confidence. Martin Campbell's sweeping action scenes in both Casino Royale and 1995's GoldenEye are simple to follow and enjoyable to watch. In this case Forster generates zero tension. As guns are fired and things explode, a viewer can't discern who's been killed.
70% of the film's 100-minute duration is action. The prevailing philosophy appears to be "when in doubt, cut to the chase". Every time an intriguing dialogue scene is established a gun is commonly pulled out and bullets begin to fly. Each scene develops into an excuse for action. The film tears, rips, bangs and shatters but says zilch. No pop. No fizz. No story. When the action scenes aren't handled well (and quality of action in a Bond film is essential), there's something gravely wrong.
Quantum of Solace opens with a frenetic car chase. There's a great deal ruckus occurring on the roads, but it's so perplexingly filmed, hence impossible to decipher what's happening and why. Cameras are placed at awkward angles, shots are too tight and it's outright jarring. Unfortunately, these poor filming techniques mar action sequences throughout the film. The narrative fights a losing battle with Forster's cinematic style and in the end it's the audience that loses. Valuable information is barely discernable in a jumble of dissonant images. No sequence of shots ever grips the attention of a viewer. There isn't a sufficient spine to hold the fast moving elements together. The opening car chase is breakneck (albeit jarring, as I said before), but the film's other action set-pieces are a decidedly mixed bag. There are a few crisp footraces, some semi-coherent punch-outs and an awful boat pileup that evokes agonising memories of the invisible car Pierce Brosnan tooled around in a few movies ago. After the opening car chase, the film moves onto the traditional opening credits sequence. The title song (performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys) is an abysmal cacophony of indecipherable lyrics and mismatched musical idioms. The title sequence over which those idioms do squalling battle is likewise disharmonious: conceptually clever yet visually grating. It's a pleasure to witness the return of silhouettes of naked women in the opening title sequence, but as a whole it's tragically unremarkable.
James Bond is supposed to be a spy. Yet the definition of a spy is one who employs convert methods while remaining underneath the radar. Here Bond is swinging, shooting, punching, diving and flying...yep, just like Jason Bourne. Being depressed about losing a loved one isn't an acceptable reason for Bond to abandon his orders. Bond is also transformed into more of a superhuman in this instalment. Towards the end Bond battles in an exploding building. Looks like game over for anyone human...but Bond utters cringe-worthy dialogue before miraculously escaping without even appearing threatened. The stylish, brainy secret service agent created by Ian Fleming (and established quite well in Casino Royale) is dead. He's been reincarnated in the form of a PlayStation game character. In fact, the abundance of stupid action scenes probably allows more of a compelling video game spin-off. But that's the thing - Quantum of Solace feels like a video game with all action and little substance.
The relatively smart character exploration of Casino Royale has been jettisoned. There is also a distinct lack of classy dialogue. All the explication confuses matters - from inaudible exposition (the dialogue is subdued in the sound mix which seems ruled by gunshots and explosions) to a Minority Report-style briefing sequence (it's so visually overripe that one's attention constantly shifts from the unclear dialogue to fussy imagery with little chance to extract meaning from either). For over forty years, Bond films have been standalone features with few recurring characters and few references to previous escapades. Quantum of Solace is a direct follow-up to Casino Royale, yet there is no recap of anything. If an audience hasn't seen CR for a while, how are they supposed to remember the Bond/Vesper romance? The Mr. White character would also appear pretty puzzling. But continuing the story where the last film ended probably seems so contemporary and the producers probably feel smart for doing so. After all, the Bourne series are one large chunk of connected happenings split into three films. This marks another example of evidence that Bond has become a clone of Bourne. That's the problem: it desperately tries to be something it clearly is not, nor was ever designed to be.
It's not a total disaster, though. The action is occasionally visceral, invigorating and hard-hitting when director Forster gets it right. And the colourful globe-trotting (while occasionally unnecessary) is marvellous. As much as it pains me to admit, it did pass the time and it wasn't boring. To an extent I did enjoy it. The stunt-work is to be admired, and the delightful mayhem (while not captured particularly well) is somewhat intense. The ending is also to be lauded. The film effectively wraps up the Vesper tale with a neat ribbon, and the scene is set for classic Bond to return (the gun-barrel sequence is even right at the end, signifying that Bond is now the Bond we remember).
Quantum of Solace is a bitter, incoherent, unclear, messy action film without any soul or substance. Poor Marc Forster doesn't adapt well to the action genre, with several quick cuts in the space of one second detracting from the film's excitement. The Bond origins story didn't need to be stretched into two movies. This film is just pure silly action. In the Bond canon it isn't the worst (Moonraker receives that honour), but it's sitting towards the bottom. Heck, I even enjoyed Die Another Day far more than this dreary film! As a continuation of Casino Royale, Bond 22 is unspeakably lacklustre. As a standalone movie it's even worse. Only die-hard Bond purists will have any reason to check this one out. The Bond Ultimatum is a more appropriate title.
On that note, an ultimatum for EON: return Bond to the smart stories with menacing villains. Also give him the charm, the trademark one-liners and womanising. And for the love of God hire a director who knows how to direct action scenes!
James Bond:" I don't think the dead care about vengeance."