Quantum of Solace (2008)

After coming off the high waves of the 2006 version of Casino Royale, my gut reaction is that Quantum of Solace is one of the worst Bond films ever made. I know that on my first viewing I thought it was quite possibly one of the worst follow-ups to a film I’d ever seen. And while there’s no denying that this is a huge step down from the previous film, upon reexamination, I think the film has some merit.

For one, I think it sports a smart story. Picking up minutes after the ending of Casino Royale, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is in the middle of unraveling the secret organization that, as it turns out, has agents inside MI6. Bond’s only lead is Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric), a self-proclaimed environmentalist who happens to be doing some shady dealing on the side. But when a girl named Camille (Olga Kurylenko) gets involved, Bond finds his cover compromised.

Part of what makes Quantum of Solace work is that Bond/Camille relationship. In a lot of ways, it’s a riff off of For Your Eyes Only. An understated relationship built around both dealing with the loss of someone close and trying to cope through violence makes their dynamic a bit more deep than the typical Bond relationship. That, and the fact that the film all but disregards any romantic undertones in their relationship.

This also helps tease out the turmoil Bond is still experiencing over the loss of Vesper from the previous film. The way he goes about coping with it, lashing out at the wrong people and trusting absolutely no one, makes his flaws more relatable as part of his rage-induced vendetta. However, it also means he’s a loose cannon and ends up displaying some almost psychotic tendencies. Once again, it’s a Bond I find interesting but not one I’m sure I’m supposed to like.

However, when it comes to watching a lot of this film, it’s a mess. I’d place a good deal of the blame on the film editors, Matt Chesse and especially Richard Pearson. A lot of the editing is of the hypercutting, so frequent I can hardly get a glimpse of what is happening before the next shot, style. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum and since Pearson was actually one of the editors of Supremacy, I think his influence is a bit part of why the film is so incoherent.

This film is not shot in the hyperaware, shaky came style. It’s similar to the Cinematography of Casino Royale and I actually like a lot of how the film was shot, but the editing runs action set-piece after action set-piece into the ground. It’s just not fun to watch this style of tight, controlled car chases and slow, operatic gunfights with so many cuts. It ruins the elegance and flow of the action.

And the film also displays some truly atrocious CGI. There’s a gun battle in particular that displays what should be a cool shot of two figures crashing through a glass ceiling as the camera follows them, but the figures are so plastic looking that it ruins the effect. The film hopes to glaze over it with that fast editing style, but it’s so obvious that it’s hard to miss which shots are of stuntmen and which are poor CGI models.

All of this is a shame because I actually like the way a lot of these action scenes are composed and choreographed. I think Mark Forster’s direction displays a phonetic and graceful momentum to some of these action sequences. Some, like the opera shootout and the rooftop chase scene, I still like a lot despite how much the editing messes up the solid direction.

But even without the editing, I think there are enough issues that bring the film down a good notch. Dominic Greene is too similar an antagonist to Le Chiffre and Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) feels like one of those cheap, disposable Bond girls that the series finally grew out of. Still, the story has enough pathos and explores more of the dark dimensions of Bond.

I’d hesitate to call Quantum of Solace a good Bond movie. I think it makes a lot of mistakes by trying to be a Bourne movie. However, on closer examination, there are merits to this Bond outing. It’s a diamond in the rough, one that I think with a different group of editors and a few character tweaks could have held up as a worthy successor to Casino Royale.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing