Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008)

Quantum of Solace

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Unlike a lot of people, I love the title. It’s the name of an Ian Fleming short story and is a fantastic phrase. Also, this movie is a direct sequel to Casino Royale, which is a thoroughly interesting thing for the series to do. However, overall Quantum of Solace is a very cold, detached film. That’s not a ridiculous approach to take with a spy thriller about characters hell-bent on revenge, but it does make it difficult to care about what’s going on. The influence of the Jason Bourne franchise has now become copying rather than the more satisfying stealing and improving that Casino Royale carried off with aplomb. The action is staged and shot very, very inventively, it must be said – yet it all lacks heart. I don’t necessarily object to ‘style over substance’ or an avant-garde approach to Bond. Boundaries must be pushed, new things tried. But the whole film feels empty. Soulless. Was this a deliberate reflection of the characters’ damaged psyches? If so, it doesn’t work. Some scenes, such as the Palio di Siena horse race and the stuff in rural Bolivia, seem like sections from a visual tone poem like Koyaanisqatsi (how’s that for a wanky film reference?) rather than from an action thriller. Bond has some very on-the-nose dialogue, occasionally telling himself what’s happening, while the actual plot – bad guys hoard water supply – is not exactly scintillating. On the upside, I did like the distinctly 1970s feel to much of the production design and imagery – we see it in a modernist London tower block, Bond’s Robert Redford sunglasses and jacket, the use of the Barbican’s Frobisher Crescent as a location, CIA dickhead Gregg Beam’s moustache, and a Russian housing estate. (MI6 headquarters, by contrast, is a grey, anti-septic Apple store with Minority Report touchscreens!) Maybe in a few years, we’ll look back at Quantum of Solace and reappraise it – the same way the reputations of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Licence to Kill have blossomed with age. But for now it feels like James Bond’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – an adequate if uninspiring coda to a much more successful movie. Six cans of motor oil out of 10.

Bond: He’s on a revenge mission after the events of the last film, even if he tries to insist he’s not bothered about Vesper’s death. During a late-night flight to South America, we see him sloshed on martinis – a series first.

Villains: Mr White returns from Casino Royale. The main baddie is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a Jools Holland lookalike who works for global crime syndicate Quantum. His principle heavy is a guy with a bowl cut called Elvis. They’re in league with rapist scum General Medrano.

Girls: Camille Montes is a Bolivian agent who’s out to avenge the deaths of her parents. She’s played by Olga Kurylenko, very earnestly. She and Bond have an interesting chemistry, though – he recognises something in her, a familiar darkness maybe, and she’s the first headline Bond girl who 007 doesn’t sleep with. The beautiful Gemma Arterton plays a prim MI6 consulate agent, Miss Fields. She’s basically there so Bond can have a shag and then gets killed by people who have seen Goldfinger. She does have a nice moment at a party when she deliberately trips up a bad guy then coyly says, “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry!” Bizarrely, despite it being set up as something Bond wishes to know, her forename – Strawberry! Geddit? – isn’t revealed until we read it in the end credits. There’s also a cute woman working on the desk of a Haitian hotel, the stewardess on the CIA’s private aircraft, Miranda’s Sarah Hadland (playing an airport check-in woman, are we?), the hotel worker who Medrano attacks, and Mathis’s sunbathing girlfriend, Gemma. Right at the end, Stana Katic – star of kooky crime drama Castle – has a small role as a Canadian agent who’s being duped by Vesper Lynd’s ex-boyfriend.

Regulars: Mr White returns, as mentioned. M is on fine grumpy form (we see her home again and hear her hubby off-camera). Tanner has been recast with Rory Kinnear. Felix Leiter gets a small role, which was reportedly going to be larger but then rewritten during filming: Jeffrey Wright gives him a very defeated, world-weary attitude. Bond drags Casino Royale’s Mathis into the story.

Action: The contribution of second-unit director Dan Bradley (fresh from two Bourne movies) is very evident throughout. The opening car chase, for example, is superbly shot, edited and sound-mixed for maximum visceral impact. Bond’s pursuit of telegraphed traitor Mitchell – a bodyguard whose name is mentioned a couple of times just in case you were in any doubt he’d be important – is all frenetic handheld camera, running across rooftops, leaping from building to building, falling glass and characters hanging from swinging ropes. Bond’s brawl in a hotel room is likewise very Jason Bourne: the room gets wrecked, 007 uses found objects as weapons. Bond knocks a guy off a standing bike by flicking the handlebars, then he steals it so he can follow Camille. He later rides off the quay, jumping from boat to boat. He saves Camille and there’s a good chase. A lengthy sequence in Austria, at a performance of Tosca, is expertly staged – the build-up of tension, the opera itself, the audience of 1,500 extras, Bond twigging that members of Quantum (one of them the dad from Friday Night Dinner) are meeting there then using an earpiece to cut into their conversation, and the gunfight with its abstract sound design… all excellent. In Bolivia, Bond kills two cops who find Mathis in his car boot. There’s an aerial chase with Bond piloting a Douglas DC-3 cargo plane; he and Camille have to jump out with only one parachute. M shows up in Bolivia and suspends Bond, so he beats up three MI6 heavies while handcuffed and escapes. He then has to flee CIA gunmen too. The remarkably short climax at the desert hotel sees Bond kill the guy who sold out Mathis. There are then explosions galore (one minor car crash sets off a chain reaction that destroys the whole complex – how did it pass health and safety?). Camille goes after General Medrano, while Bond does lots of running and jumping then fights Greene. The sequence ends with a startling moment when Bond considers shooting Camille in order to save her from being burnt to death. (A 2012 study by the University of Otago in New Zealand says this is the most violent Bond movie yet, with 250 instances of “trivial or severely violent” acts.)

Comedy: There’s amazingly little of it. Bond is carrying an unconscious Camille off a boat and hands her to a dockside porter, quipping, “She’s sea sick.” A Bolivian taxi driver natters away as his passengers try to talk. Bond enjoys one-upping Fields over which hotel to stay in. When meeting Felix in a crummy bar in La Paz, Bond says, “I wonder what South America would look like if nobody gave a damn about coke or communism.” That’s about it. The use of different stylish fonts for each on-screen caption made me smile.

Music: David Arnold’s final Bond score (so far) is perhaps his least distinctive – it’s certainly never made much of an impression on me. The theme song, Another Way to Die, is dreary hipster hogwash from Jack White and Alicia Keys.

Personal connection: I first saw this with Mark Wright and Fraser Dickson, on Monday 10 November 2008 at the Odeon Marble Arch.

People I’ve met: Not met, but I did once share a tube carriage with Sarah Hadland.