In what will become a regular feature on Film ’89, we take another look at a maligned and/or misunderstood film that may have not received the credit it deserves and may be worthy of a second chance. In our first entry in the series we take a look at the 2008 James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.
Giving Bond a second chance.
Or to put it more accurately, a reappraisal of a film seen by many as being something of a weak link in the chain of Daniel Craig Bond films, one that is seen as being inferior to Craig’s first and third turns in the long running franchise, Casino Royale and Skyfall. Why now then, nine years after its release am I choosing to reappraise Quantum of Solace? Well, recent news would suggest that the Daniel Craig series of Bond films, thought to be dead in the water after the general critical mauling that 2015’s Spectre received, is now back on track and I felt the need to look at what caused that near halting of what had been a very successful reinvention of Bond.
Whilst Spectre received generally middle of the road reviews, it’s still scoring higher on IMDB than Quantum of Solace as well as on Metacritic. Some have decreed Spectre the third best film in the Craig series of Bonds with Quantum still the runt of the litter and that prompted me to re-watch Quantum as, to be honest, I’d only seen it twice whereas I was more familiar with Casino Royale and Skyfall whose outright quality few would deny. Without going into too much detail as to my innumerable issues with Spectre, they’ll be covered in another related article, my main issue with it was it’s poorly written script, many of the elements and ideas within which should never have passed an initial proof read so illogical were they.
This issue with Spectre’s script, the fact that it’s very much lazily underwritten brings me to what I feel is the single biggest problem that most people had with Quantum of Solace, myself included, that of it’s overly complicated plot. It is a film borne of a script that seems to have been either overwritten to the point of making it just slightly too difficult for most to follow when compared to standard Bond fare or simply rushed which, taking into account the film’s troubled production, is the more likely reason. Indeed it took me three viewings to be fairly satisfied with where it was going and how it got there and I still feel that it’s plot is a little too messy for its own good.
What many casual Bond fans may not have known is that Quantum of Solace was the victim of an unfortunate event external to its own production, that of the 2008 writer’s strike that hit Hollywood during the early stages of Quantum’s production. This led to the script being rushed by screenwriter Paul Haggis who finished his draft two hours before the strike started and this shows in the final film. Coupled with a restricted editing period of only five weeks it’s no wonder that the film’s plot isn’t anywhere near as finely tuned as it should have been. Another issue is the film’s nonsensical title. It takes its name from one of the few remaining un-filmed Ian Flemming short stories and, as later admitted by the crew, has little to do with the plot and when a film’s title has no bearing on the story then that’s never a good start.
So, meaningless title aside, Quantum’s single biggest flaw is its messy and overly convoluted plot yet I am willing to forgive some of Quantum’s failings in this regard as there are several elements that come together to form a script. The dialogue in Quantum isn’t an issue for me, the way characters act and interact is also fine so it’s just that one element of story cohesion that sticks out so it’s not an entirely failed affair and as such not totally without merit. I’m sure that with a fine toothed comb one could find other flaws and pick it apart a little more (the title song isn’t memorable for one) but my third and most recent (post-Spectre) viewing of Quantum was by far the most enjoyable and dare I say it, I actually quite like the film now. Why you may ask? Well there’s a lot that I feel Quantum gets very much right and it has certain elements that clearly mark it as being very unique in the series.
Firstly, Quantum of Solace makes an effort to eschew many of the restrictive elements of the tried and tested Bond formula. It’s not a self contained story and directly follows on from Casino Royale and takes the approach of a more straightforward revenge tale and may also be Bond’s most violent outing. This idea of making a direct sequel of sorts to Casino Royale wasn’t originally the plan and was another byproduct of the writer’s strike but for me it made Quantum a more unpredictable and frenetic film in a series renowned for its entrenched, almost by the numbers plots. It also has a very action heavy opening with a stunning car chase through the outskirts of Sienna followed by a great rooftop foot chase through the inner city. Quantum rarely lets up and is the shortest Bond film in the official Eon Productions series and rolls along at a pace that is at times breakneck. Would it be a better film if it took its time? Maybe, but I personally welcomed the kinetic feeling of the film. Bond was desperate for revenge and the film’s pace suits his character’s driving motivation. The innumerable action scenes are extremely well executed and the cinematography is uniformly stunning throughout giving a lush vibrancy to the film’s gorgeous locales, very best Bond films tend to be known for. The score is also very fitting and at times gives a sense of impending doom best showcased in the lead up to the superb opera scene as we realise that a greater power may be at work than just the film’s slightly underwhelming single antagonist, Dominic Greene.
In hindsight the mystery organisation referred to by Greene and recurring character Mr White now seems more clearly defined. In 2008 the rights to the term ‘Spectre’ we’re in dispute so the name of Bond’s most longstanding enemies, who it now appears Greene and White were members of, had to be kept a mystery. This only makes the resultant disappointment of Spectre harder to swallow because if the first three films had led to something truly satisfying then we would have been left with a four film story arc like few others seen in a series like this.
Craig’s Bond in Quantum is more driven and ruthless than we’ve ever seen him and he is willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. This lack of restraint is well handled and doesn’t seem too much of a push as far as his character’s credibility goes which again feeds back to things the script does get right. Craig certainly doesn’t seem in any way disinterested as he did in Spectre and gives another great performance as does the ever reliable Judi Dench. I very much like the place Bond finds himself in by the final scene and his show of mercy with Greene (to a point, as we later learn that Greene died anyway) firmly returns him to the path that we are more comfortable with. He went off the reservation for a while and with good cause too but by the end he’s back to business as usual having attained some satisfying cathartic resolution along the way. If Casino Royale was a reimagining of Bond starting afresh at the beginning of his career then Quantum shows us how he evolves and becomes the stoically controlled professional seen in Skyfall having shed the skin of vulnerability seen in the previous film and this gives this entry to the series a bit of added weight and a much needed extra dimension.
Any criticism levelled at the film’s antagonist, Dominic Greene, can, to a degree, be countered by the refreshing fact that he doesn’t have a physical peculiarity that marks him out as the trademark Bond villain. He’s just a greedy, ruthless entrepreneur and this eschewing of a somewhat overused Bond tradition has to at least garner some respect. His every-man appearance also helps prevent him from becoming the more dominant character in a film where Bond must be at the centre of the story. It’s all about Bond’s development and growth, in this film more than any other in the series. This is where the coolly efficient killer from Ian Fleming’s novels was forged in the fire of his own revenge fuelled vendetta and a show stealing villain would have been counterproductive somewhat to that element of the story’s focus.
If you are one of the film’s detractors then in light of Spectre’s clear step backwards for the series towards the more formulaic Bonds of old, I ask you to reconsider whether Quantum of Solace is better than you remember? Now that it can be viewed as part of a greater continuity then for me it is no longer the poorest link in the recent run of Bond films. Whilst certainly not one of the very best Bond films, I feel that it is way better than some of the series’ lesser efforts and more than any other Bond outing, is one very much worthy of reappraisal.
Film ’89 Verdict – 7/10