Countdown to Skyfall – Quantum of Solace (2008)

Flickering Myth’s writing team count down to the release of Skyfall by discussing their favourite James Bond films; next up is Anghus Houvouras with Quantum of Solace…

I’m a Bond fanatic. Officially “in the tank” for a good spy thriller with action, espionage and criminally attractive women. The Bond series has been through a creative rollercoaster since Sean Connery donned the role in Dr. No; in fact, it has taken some intriguing twists and turns.

The character of James Bond has been around so long that he has been reduced to clichés and catchphrases. “Bond, James Bond.” “Shaken, not stirred” — often donning a tuxedo and high-tech gadgets that strain credibility. However, with 2006’s Casino Royale, we were treated to a James Bond we hadn’t seen in quite some time: a brutal, pugilistic spy who was willing to kill indiscriminately if it meant getting the job done. They kept the best aspects of the Bond franchise: exotic locations and mind-blowing action but reduced the cheese factor to a minimum. It worked.

For the first time in decades, Bond felt fresh again. Quantum of Solace is the follow-up to Casino Royale. The film opens up just minutes after the end of Royale, with Bond trying to extract information from a member of a mysterious organization. His motivations are immediately called into question by M (Judi Dench), who believes Bond is acting out of revenge for his lost love, Vesper. Before either of them know it, they discover a traitor among them, and Bond must quickly take off across the globe to try to unravel a conspiracy of staggering proportions.

Quantum of Solace does exactly what Casino Royale did right, stacking the odds against Bond and company, making the task of taking down the bad guys seem almost impossible. Daniel Craig returns as Bond, and I make no bones about it: he is the best Bond ever. One can argue that Connery created the mold, and was a fascinating combination of dashing and rugged. Roger Moore was amusing but took the character into a poncy area from which it never quite recovered. George Lazenby is the most underrated Bond, and Timothy Dalton is hardly even worth mentioning. Pierce Brosnan was an admirable attempt to reinvent the franchise, but the films were still stuck in a science-fiction cartoon world that seemed far removed from reality.

We probably have the Jason Bourne films to thank for Bond’s return to reality. The success of the down-and-dirty spy franchise gave MGM and Sony a reason to bring Bond back to basics. Quantum of Solace proves once again that it was a wise decision. Though not perfect, it is another fine entry into the relaunched series.

Still, the film has some serious story issues. Half the time I was a little confused as to who was responsible for what and why, and the intentions of this secret evil society were a little less than lucid. The villain is extremely underwhelming, an entrepreneurial snake named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who plans to help overthrow the Bolivian government for a controlling interest in the country’s water supply. Like Casino Royale the reality of Bond’s new world order feels deficient. I realize that with reality comes some compromise; I don’t require giant volcano bases and city-destroying laser satellites. Yet it would be nice to see Bond involved in more world-threatening scenarios.

My other major gripe about Quantum is the action. There’s a lot of it, and a few of the pieces are breathtaking. Yet, much of it feels schizophrenic. Quick cuts and a constant moving camera make it difficult to get a sense of geography. For some reason, directing action has become complicated. With all the advances in film technology, is it that difficult to make a lucid action sequence, instead of the attention-deficit killing madness thrown at us in half-second flashes?

All quibbles aside, Quantum of Solace is still an entertaining yarn. Though, I’d be remiss to say those who haven’t seen Casino Royale would be totally lost (even having seen it myself, I was a little confused by its connections). But the film’s director, Marc Forester, has made a nuts-and-bolts action thriller, setting the stage for larger and more complicated twists down the road. Though I wish there was more at stake in this outing, it’s still a fine piece of cinema, focusing on revenge, honor, duty and general kiss-ass-ery, but it doesn’t feel as complete as Casino Royale, and the villains are weak sauce.

Daniel Craig is fantastic in the main role and has an old-school movie star gravitas. It’s nice to see an actor take on a super spy who looks as cold-blooded as the character he plays. In the film’s final scene, his eyes convey both rage and a moral ambiguity. He’s fascinating to watch, finally giving the character of James Bond a depth and morbidity that makes me eagerly anticipate further outings.

Read our ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ review of Skyfall here.

Anghus Houvouras

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