Thursday 3 March 2022

In Defence of Quantum of Solace

Loathed by fans and its lead actor alike, Quantum of Solace is widely regarded as the biggest misfire in Daniel Craig's lengthy stint as 007. But having revisited it recently, I wanted to take a minute to wax lyrical about its good bits.

Burdened by the weight of expectation, caught in the middle of a writer's strike and lumbered with a frankly bizarre moniker, Quantum of Solace has developed a reputation as one of the weaker James Bond efforts.

But upon reflection, there's a lot to like about Craig's sophomore effort – largely due to the ways in which it goes against the grain, instead of with it. 

It's impossible to review or reassess Quantum without also talking about Craig's first film, Casino Royale. After all, Quantum essentially forms an extended coda to Casino Royale's dramatic fourth act. They are interlinked like no two Bond films before or since, possibly with the exception of Spectre and No Time To Die, Craig's fourth and fifth films.

Sequels and serialisation is simply not part of the Bond modus operandi. Standalone adventures that circle back and return to the status quo are par for the course, which makes this contradictory twofer so confounding and compelling. Quantum is both a sequel to Casino Royale and a rebuke of the tone that made it such a soaring success with critics and audiences. Where Casino Royale is a slick and swoonworthy drama set in romantic European cityscapes, Quantum is a punchy, angry action thriller in the harsh South American desert. 

There's an unshakeable dourness to Quantum; Bond is adrift and directionless, driven by grief and revenge rather than duty or love of queen and country. The wry wit that Craig demonstrated in Casino Royale ('Skewered; one sympathies') is all but gone this time around, replaced with an iciness that borders on nihilism at times. Craig leans into this trait; cold, cynical and with nothing to live for anymore. There's very few quips or double entendres; just hard-nosed punchiness. 

After Casino Royale's 144-minute runtime, Quantum keeps it succinct at a tight 104 minutes. Forster shoots this film with a ferocity and freneticism that mimics Bond's crazed crusade for revenge. The action scenes in particular are fractured and sometimes hard to follow, feeling more akin to Paul Greengrass' patented 'shaky-cam' technique on the Bourne series. 

Maybe it was a creative decision to align the editing with Bond's mental state; maybe this was just in-vogue at the time, what with the popularity of the Bourne films. Either way, it sets it apart from the wider Bond canon and gives the film a harder, grittier edge. Action scenes are littered with dirt, sweat, smoke, glass and blood; the opening car chase sets the bar high, but a later plane sequence above the Bolivian desert outdoes it. 

One of Bond's closest allies, Rene Mathis, makes a reappearance after playing a key role in Casino Royale; just as the two are starting to form a fun rapport, he's killed off, his body left in a dumpster and the blame is pinned on Bond. Our hero's hookup – Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) – is cast aside just as easily, drowned in oil and left as an ominous warning on his hotel bed.

Quantum signals a departure from tradition by eschewing some of the trademark motifs too; there's no Q Branch gadgetry, no gun-barrel opening titles, no ostentatious villain. 

Later films, like Skyfall and Spectre, went to great lengths to resurrect certain elements from Bond films gone by, making Quantum seem like an even bolder rebuff of said iconography in hindsight.

Politically, Bond's early entries – harking back to the days of Connery and Moore – were quite binary. From Russia With Love, The Living Daylights, right up to 1995's Goldeneye, are rooted in British imperialism versus Soviet communism. There's a neat good versus evil going on. In Quantum, things are decidedly more murky and muddled, with spies, politicians and businesspeople all vying for power, money and influence over one another.

The film's antagonist, industrialist Dominic Greene, is not some rogue Soviet general or rival assassin; instead he's posing as a philanthropist and ecologist, buying up tracts of land in Bolivia so that he can plumb for water and sell it back to the government, under the guise of protection and reforestation. 

His ploy for power doesn't revolve around grandiose Cold War weaponry or high-tech satellites that can kill a man from space, just working from the shadows as a puppeteer for his pawns. Greene isn't signposted with some bizarre facial disfigurement or creative calling card like enemies of old either; he's just some slimy dude who melds into the crowd, highlighting the secretive nature of contemporary villainy. 

In the run-up to the release of No Time To Die last November, Craig was candid about his time on Quantum, calling it a 'shit-show'. But while it may not have all the bells and whistles we've come to associate with a classic Bond caper, it does represent the character at his darkest and iciest. 

There's an admirable no-frills approach to this entry that I can appreciate, while still recognising that yeah, maybe this is definitely the weakest link in Craig's quintet of films. So even if it doesn't have a wealth of fans, I can confidently sit my little corner of the internet and celebrate the merits of one of Bond's most divisive missions.

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