Black Sheep is dedicated to re-evaluating the under-appreciated, whether it’s the unloved entry in a popular franchise or the lesser work of a particular director. Just in time for Spectre, let’s take a quick look at what exactly went wrong with Daniel Craig’s second James Bond outing, Quantum of Solace.
When James Bond roared back to life in 2006’s excellent Casino Royale, the prospect of a sequel was exciting. The back-to-basics approach and the promise of something resembling continuity had people suddenly invested again in a series that had just seen Pierce Brosnan surfing on a tidal wave caused by a space laser. But when that sequel arrived two years later, the consensus was…less than enthusiastic. Quantum of Solace was almost immediately shunted off to the sidelines of the Bond canon while fans spent four long years waiting for Skyfall.
At the time, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Sure, it wasn’t quite as good as Casino, but that would have been a tough act for anyone to follow. I enjoyed the visual flourishes added by director Marc Forster, most of which appeared as tasteful title cards and cool Minority Report-esque computer interfaces. Watching it eight years later, though, it finally clicked: This movie is a goddamn mess.
The most damning thing about Quantum is its story. The film picks up the thread left by its predecessor, with Bond interrogating Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) about his involvement in Vesper Lynd’s death, but Bond’s prying leads him to discovering a secret organization led by Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who’s bent on monopolizing the world’s water and oil reserves. One doesn’t really have anything to do with the other, but the film keeps forcing tenuous connections to try and convince us they’re two halves of the same whole. Introducing Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a fellow agent on her own quest for vengeance, adds one more plot to a story whose threads only come together at the end simply because they have to.
Bond’s every move seems to lead us further and further into the weeds. (Part of this was likely due to the 2007 Writer’s Guild strike, which forced Daniel Craig and Marc Forster to fill in the gaps in the script themselves. Not calling them bad writers, but…one wonders.) It’s particularly baffling when you consider what kind of film this is supposed to be. It’s sold to us as a revenge movie, meant to be the second half of the Casino Royale story. Bond should be laser-focused on his objective, but that objective seems almost blatantly like a wild goose chase. If that were really the film’s intent, we might have been given some subtle clues along the way that Bond is beginning to crack. (M seems to think he is, but then when doesn’t M think that?) We don’t see him go on a straight-up killing spree, nor do we see him lose himself in the thrill of the hunt. The Bond we see here is the same Bond as before, doing his thing and strolling into an international conspiracy like that was the plan all along.
That’s a shame, because there are signs peppered throughout the film that Forster might have been shooting for a sort of speed run of blind vengeance. The opening car chase, for example, is breathless and chaotic; over almost as soon as it begins. It’s a brutal sequence to kick off the film, but it hammers home the point very clearly: Bond is out for blood, and nothing is going to stand in his way. All of the film’s action beats feel this way, with Bond throwing himself at people with reckless abandon, sometimes killing valuable assets completely by accident. When Quantum kicks into action mode, it starts to feel like the film we’re supposed to be watching. Once the carnage is over, though, the film slips back into its perfunctory plot and loses all sense of forward momentum. I know I’m in the minority on this, but the entire film should play more like that opening car chase.
At 104 minutes, Quantum is shorter than every other Daniel Craig Bond film to date by at least a half hour, and could actually still stand to be shorter. At times, it seems like the film is too dedicated to following up Casino Royale, bringing back Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and René Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) for essentially no reason. A story this heavily invested in Bond’s vengeance and grief needs fewer scenes of Felix Leiter drinking and more scenes of Bond driving a speedboat into someone’s face. A lean, mean 80-minute film about James Bond on the warpath might have made this a Bond film truly worth remembering.
Today, Quantum of Solace is looked upon (when it’s looked upon at all) as the flailing runt of the current James Bond series, flanked by two of the franchise’s most celebrated entries. Thanks to a needlessly convoluted plot, what should have been a visceral gutpunch of a movie winds up feeling bloated and listless. Only time will tell if Quantum will remain the sole outlier in the Daniel Craig ouevre, or if his tenure as James Bond will follow Star Trek’s example and suck every other outing.
BLACK SHEEP STATUS: CONFIRMED
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