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Quantum of Solace (2008)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini

Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis Directed By: Marc Forster

The Short Version

James Bond returns to a mixed bag with a freaky title.

Daniel Craig remains solid, and the exploration of 007’s character is interesting.

The story makes sense, but damn, what a dull villain.

There’s good here… but I wouldn’t call it satisfying on its own.

Watch Quantum of Solace as a double feature with its predecessor; it plays best that way.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

OVERLY MELLOWED GOUDA.

Well, that could have been good, but… I suppose it’s not bad, but…


Pairs Well With...

CHEAP MALBEC.

South American red with some flavor to it, but you can’t help but feel disappointed about the stuff.

“I don’t give a shit about the CIA or their trumped-up evidence.”


Before we start, I’ve got to say that any script that has Judi Dench as M declaring that she “doesn’t give a shit about the CIA” is going to earn some up front brownie points for ballsy awesomeness.  This is good, because despite some obvious effort being made to kick things up a notch, Quantum of Solace spends a lot of time feeling flat, especially toward the end.

Our story begins with enough promise, though.  Picking up just minutes after the end of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace kicks off with a hot car chase through Italy, followed right after by an equally fun foot chase and scaffolding duel.  It turns out that the organization that was pulling Le Chiffre’s strings in the last film is just some small time terror cell; rather, it’s a globe-spanning legion of doom with moles everywhere, including inside of MI-6.  Now it’s up to James Bond (Daniel Craig, Cowboys & Aliens) to find out who runs the show and stop whatever dastardly plan they have cooked up next… and maybe take care of a little personal business while he’s at it, too.  Unfortunately for 007, he leaves one too many bodies in his wake, so when the British government decides to declare him rogue, he’s going to have to go underground and call in a few favors to get the job done while avoiding his own employers’ security.  “Trust” is the name of the game this time around…

Quantum of Solace may be a passably good Espionage Thriller, but as far as James Bond movies go, it’s not exactly a standout.  Rather, it comes across as a collection of “almosts” and “pretty good buts,” saved primarily by material that carries over from the previous film.

The title – a source of endless vexation and grumbling for many – comes from Ian Fleming’s own playbook, though Eon Productions has reverted back to its old tradition of taking a title without bothering to take any of its story along for the ride.  I’m okay with this, really; the writers have taken Fleming’s obscure phrase and managed to craft a story from it that manages to be relevant to both of its essential terms.  However, the fact that they’ve made good on the game of making a new plot match an old title doesn’t mean that the plot they’ve come up with is an automatic winner, especially when one draws a split between the main plot and the scripts primary subplots.

Starting off in the plus column, the frame upon which the main plot is built is a solid one: a shadowy syndicate of powerful multinational conspirators looks to use its influence to overthrow the government of Bolivia (not some fake country, you notice, but a real one!) for the financial gain of its membership.  This idea is not only interesting, but it’s also very real-world plausible; indeed, Quantum of Solace sports one of the most realistic central plots of any James Bond film.

Unfortunately, this great idea run into a variety of pitfalls rooted both in franchise history and in present-day execution. 

Historically speaking, the moment the audience catches wind of the film’s “secret bad guy organization,” Quantum, 99.9% of them immediately start thinking SPECTRE, the group of conspiratorial baddies who served as 007’s nemesis for many of his adventures during the classic era.  Thanks to the infamous Kevin McClory lawsuit, however (go ahead and Google it if you’re unfamiliar), Eon Productions is forbidden from ever using SPECTRE or it mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, ever again, so Quantum is Absolutely Not SPECTRE… except that the audience doesn’t give a crap about petty lawsuits, so most of them end up waiting for a fluffy white cat that never shows up.  It’s a case of historical expectations sabotaging present-day attempts at new storytelling, and for many fans, rightly or wrongly, Quantum of Solace takes a hit for that.

Even without that historical baggage, however, the script takes the great idea of Quantum and proceeds to do nothing interesting with it.  Instead, the audience is stuck with Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, Cosmopolis) as this story’s primary baddie, and he’s nowhere near as interesting as the no-explanations/couple of scenes henchman who ties this film to the last, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, The Interpreter).  The director’s stated intention with Greene was to make him as realistic as possible, and in that, he and his actor have succeeded: Greene is utterly believable as a back office dealer who rose to power by manipulating others and who’s never gotten into a real fistfight in his life.  He could in fact walk into the office of a Goldman Sachs executive and seem perfectly at home… and he’s boring as hell.  Greene is one of the lamest, most utterly forgettable villains in the history of the James Bond franchise, and the film’s secondary villain, General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio, Savages), is even less interesting.  (Fat ass South American military dictator/rapist stereotype… yawn.) 

The uninteresting villain problem is compounded by an incredibly unsatisfying climax.  Yes, the setting of the hotel out in the middle of Desert Nowhere is Travel Channel interesting, but as far as James Bond settings go, it’s very dull, and the battle that occurs there feels something less than climactic.  What’s worse, the “ultimate spill” wherein the secrets of Quantum are confessed happens off camera, and the audience never gets to find out what was said!  This is the functional equivalent of being promised a big bang only to be handed a whoopee cushion and a slap in the face.  Not exactly fulfilling.  Sure, I like what happens to Greene in the end, but that doesn’t make up for how we get there.

As for the movie’s “Bond girl” (Olga Kurylenko, The November Man)…  Again, unsatisfying for the sake of being utterly forgettable.  (She's also not really a "Bond girl" in the classic sense, which could have made her very interesting indeed if only the script had made her more than just a plot device.) The film’s “secondary Bond girl,” the wonderfully named (even though you don’t get confirmation until the credits) Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) is far more captivating, but she’s got next to no screen time, and, well… let’s just say that Producer Barbara Broccoli had some regrets about letting something happen after all was said and done.

So with all of this bad news, why should one bother with Quantum of Solace?

First and foremost, the returning cast of heroes automatically make things watchable.  Daniel Craig is a superb James Bond, Judi Dench is an amazing M, and it is very wonderful indeed to see Giancarlo Giannini (Hannibal) reprising his role as Mathis and Jeffrey Wright (Source Code) returning as Felix Leiter.

Even more compelling, though, is how these heroes are used to tie up the loose ends of Casino Royale through a couple of subplots that prove to be far more interesting than the central story.  The relationship between Bond and M is further explored and strengthened here, and once again, Daniel Craig and Judi Dench prove to have wonderful chemistry together.  Also fascinating is the storyline that examines how Bond wrestles with the scars left behind by his relationship with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (including the first ever moment in franchise history where Bond is intoxicated on camera), and his betrayal of Mathis.  (The question of whether or not Mathis himself was innocent is also tantalizingly played at.)  It has been said that this emphasis on revisiting the previous film came about as a result of trying to work around a writer’s strike; whatever the reason may be, that emphasis end up being what saves the film, which would otherwise be low-mediocre at best despite its inherent plausibility.

Oh, and the seedy stripper pole music that’s supposed to pass for the film’s theme song?  Yuck.  Hands down, it’s one of the worst theme songs in the history of the franchise.

Bottom line, Quantum of Solace certainly has a lot of potential, but taken as a standalone film, it squanders most of that potential away and falls flat as a story, propped up by some excellent action sequences at the beginning of the movie that only serve to magnify how unexciting those from the movie’s third act are.  It is saved, however, by excellent performances from its returning cast of heroes, as well as by a series of subplots that refer back to the previous film.  As such, I’d say that the best way to experience Quantum of Solace is as a double feature played immediately after Casino Royale.  That way, you’re seeing the movie at its maximum potential, and you might even be convinced to overlook its many flaws.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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