I've done a few of these review/essay things before and they're got good feedback so here's another crack, here's my Cr one from before and I've done so for the Brosnan flicks:
I’ve always been an advocate of QOS. I’ve always felt that in the years that have passed since its release the film has had to deal with an unnecessary amount of flack that it doesn’t deserve. Having re-watched Casino Royale the other week I thought it high-time that I gave QOS another look. CR was a real breath of fresh air; a bold reinvention of the Bond character in the modern age. What made the film really work was its emphasis on character and the direction at the centre of it. The story was about making Bond human, making him fallible and relatable. However, the film was still inherently a ‘Bond movie’, it had everything you’d want from a Bond flick in it, but the way it handled those ingredients was smart and subversive. It therefore hurts me a little to say this but QOS is a categorical disappointment. But considering the path left before it, did it really stand much chance?
Let me clarify, QOS is not a bad film, it’s just not a great one. The biggest mistake with the film is that it really seems to lose perspective in terms of character development. I said in my CR review previously, good Bond movies work because at their core they function as great thrillers, bad Bond movies tend to rely on action sequences and gadget-whizzardy. What set CR apart from the group was the emphasis taken on character and really charting the arc of how Bond became 007 and making that journey interesting and entertaining. The most annoying thing with QOS is that Bond really doesn’t seem to have any real arc in the film and he stays rather stagnant throughout most of the film. It’s such a shame because Daniel Craig is such a fantastic actor and he never really gets the material he deserves with this movie, there’s no real meat for him to chew on. Bond essentially becomes a charisma-less killing machine with his sole function being to travel the world kicking people’s heads in. This for me was the biggest disappointment of the film, what CR did so wonderfully was humanise Bond, therefore the biggest sin QOS commits is to essentially undo much of this good work by making Bond ‘super human’. When Craig got into a fight in CR he wore his scars both physically and psychologically throughout the film; there is a great pain going on throughout that film, in QOS Bond seems to simply dust himself off and move on to the next location without a second thought. I know the events of the previous film hardened Bond and the man we meet in the last 5 minutes of CR is clearly no longer the more vulnerable person we saw at the start of the film, but QOS interprets this by essentially showing 007 as a cold ruthless bore for 106 minutes.
What is more annoying about this is that in many pre-release interviews Marc Forster really seemed to really be putting Bond on the couch. He talks a lot of how Bond is a very repressed man keeping his feelings to himself and not letting anyone in. A considerable amount of lip service is also provided from Forster telling us how vulnerable Bond apparently is. Well there’s not a lot of that on show as the film moves at such a relentless pace it barely gives the audience let alone Bond a moment for reflection. What’s more irritating is that Craig does get to play some quieter scenes, and it’s these scenes that the film really begins to excel, you really sense a real heartache in those quieter moments and it becomes clear that this guy really is very lonely and isolated with a lot of pent-up angst to boot. It’s a shame then we only get occasional flickers of this element as really it is what the film is actually about.
So what then is the film about? Revenge? Closure? Well I’m not really sure and I’m not sure the team behind it are either. In interviews Forster has said it’s a revenge movie, however Daniel Craig says it’s the opposite. So what is Bond after – vengeance or answers? I understand that ambiguity is a wonderful thing in film and I really do encourage it as it’s a great way to spark conversation but you know things are a little too ambiguous if the audience don’t quite know what the film is about. My interpretation is that Bond is after answers, he has stumbled upon this large organisation that are responsible for his girlfriend’s death and he is purely motivated by his duty to uncover Quantum. However, the events of CR have left him cold, hard and emotionally shut off from the world. Bond is angry and dogged in his determination to get answers, the biggest issue therefore being his overly developed trigger finger. Bond is too quick to kill before asking questions first, this is something which greatly worries his superiors. M begins to fear that Bond’s true motivation is that of revenge and begins to question whether she can trust him or not. Meanwhile, despite his denials it’s clear to the audience that Bond is still reeling from the death of Vesper, but just like in CR, Bond has his armour up and won’t let his true feelings come out. His pain is only really evidenced by Mathis, M and later to some extents by Camille. M begins to question Bond’s motive to chase after Greene and begins to think Bond is actually seeking revenge, however Bond is able to convince her otherwise and it becomes clear that the pair implicitly trust each other. Camille is representative of what Bond could potentially become; a former agent forced out because of her desire for revenge which has consumed her for years, and it seems that a number of times throughout QOS Bond is close to joining her down this route. However, by the end Bond can see the emptiness of Camille’s revenge and when given the opportunity to take down Yusef decides not to. The finale shows Bond as something akin to the finished article; he knows now not to kill before getting answers but more so the ending is deeply personal as it shows Bond getting closure over Vesper’s death. But this arc is far from solid or consistent throughout the film’s runtime.
Much has been said about QOS’s action overkill and all the stick it gets for it is well deserved. The first act is burdened by 3 huge action sequences (that’s as many as CR and SF have in total over their much longer runtime). The big issue is though that the action doesn’t contribute to either the plot or develop the characters further. There is literally a boat chase and a plane dogfight in the film for the simple sake of it, neither is necessary. Having said this; the action is fantastic, I’m a fan of the shaky cam and often found myself ducking and wincing throughout the segments. I also found myself following the action a lot as well, typically QOS’s editing is accused of detracting from the narrative during the action but I thought it was fine, but this may be because it’s the sixth time I’ve seen the film. The Palio is by far the best chase in the film, it’s artfully handled by Forster and the intercutting of the horse race is a masterstroke in cranking up the tension. The sequence is very much from the Martin-Campbell-school of escalating the stakes whilst telling a story and the final rope swinging section is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The standout scene of the movie is undeniably the opera, it’s classically Bondian but also very Marc Forster-y, the fast editing here is stunning as the whole sequence has a great almost dreamlike quality to it, the whole segment is like a poem on violence.
The real shame of this is that after CR it was clear that audiences loved the more character-driven approach so why did the producers essentially revert back to such a formulaic action template? I said in my CR review that while the action is great the film is a rare example where the character stuff is far more interesting and entertaining than the explosions. It’s almost like they completely ignored what made CR so compelling: Daniel Craig. Here he’s essentially just used as an action-puppet jumping from location to location. It’s almost feels like the prods are apologising for the long casino game in the last movie with sheer action overkill this time around. If that’s the case they have completely misunderstood what made CR so great and refreshing.
Furthermore when the action begins to detract from the plot, you know you’re got issues. Instead of the story unravelling itself it’s left to Greene and Medrano to explain the movie in an overly long exposition scene in Haiti. This scene is a mistake, Bond is a spy and should be uncovering these clues himself we as the audience should never be allowed to get too ahead of Bond, plus it adds to the narrative to have us discover the plot with Bond opposed to being spoon-fed it by the villain.
However, despite many criticisms I really like the villains in this film and I really feel that QOS is a great example of what a contemporary espionage thriller should look like. First of all the organisation itself is so interesting, the large conspiracy unravelling on screen is fantastic as we see the influence of Quantum stretches from M’s personal bodyguard all the way to the MP’s top advisor. Quantum is almost like a gas, slowly poisoning the room without anyway noticing, I do hope they aren’t abandoning them as I feel they lend themselves excellently to great dramatic possibilities.
Also Forster’s very liberalist stance is very evident throughout the film as QOS is definitely one of the few Bond films that really touches on political and socio-economic ideas. Here the villains aren’t cartoons or caricatures instead the villains are actually the real villains of today: a corrupt and greedy CEO and the CIA. I loved this touch as it’s so true; this is exactly the type of issues that modern spy thrillers should be tackling. Green is a corrupt CEO trying to present the image of an eco-warrior but in actual fact is plundering the South American economy – something that is a very real issue. Another theme of the movie that ties into this is the discussion on heroes and villains. Tapping into Ian Fleming’s nature of evil passage, the lines are most definitely blurred between good and bad throughout with the Americans and later the British willing to work with the villains in the interests of self-preservation – this message is hammered home in the Foreign Secretary scene. This is interesting as it makes us wonder if the real Mi6 and CIA are really representing the interests of their countries or the interests of a few. This discussion is also significant as it ties back to the more ambiguous angry Bond we have in this film who seems to harnass both the darkness and the light. Of course Bond, M and Felix are above their own organisations corruption and will ultimately fight for the good guys.
The best thing in the film though is Judi Dench and her relationship with Daniel Craig. It’s no wonder that Sam Mendes really developed upon this in SF, Dench is fantastic as the weird Mother/son relationship begins to display itself. Neither tells the other how they feel, M is concerned for Bond after the whole Vesper ordeal but only alludes to her concern. Bond appreciates her unease and gives the briefest of smiles when she asks him when the last time he slept was. The Mother relationship is furthered when she freezes his credit cards and passports treating him like a child put on the naughty step. The relationship between Bond and M plays to the main thematic issue for the film and that is ‘trust’; a great theme in espionage fiction. Despite doubting Bond initially it’s clear by the end that M trusts Bond completely and the pair’s relationship is cast in stone. I also got the sense that the two loved each other slightly but obliviously never mix the professional with the personal, there seems to be a lot going unsaid between the pair. Dench is great in the film and Daniel Craig is stellar throughout. The way he moves is fantastic, he’s like a cat and has such magnetic a screen presence, Craig has never looked better than in QOS I think especially when roughed up, he has this great demonic presence. His Bond is perfectly laconic and the coolest cat in any room.
Say what you want about Forster but this film is really very sexy and stylised and for that I’m grateful and at times reminded me of The Ipcress File. I really enjoyed the little creative flourishes like the location titlecards and dutch-camera angles. Despite dealing with timely issues, the film looks very timeless and if it was not for the cars and the phones the film could easily be set in the ‘60s or ‘70s. I love the look of the film and Roberto Schafer’s very filmic photography is a real treat, especially the stuff in Panama with the bright blue water and sea, it’s a real treat for the eye. Furthermore Dennis Gassner’s sets are stunning and make for such a welcome break after Peter Lamont’s dreary and gaudy eye over the last few Bond flicks. The new Mi6 is a highlight for me and is very reminiscent of the golden era Ken Adam days. I love the cutting back and forth from Mi6 to Panama; it really shows the stark contrast between Bond’s field duties and the relative luxury of things back in London. The Tosca set is also fantastic, Forster struck gold finding that, as the eye is a fantastic metaphor for Bond spying on Quantum as well as a great metaphor for spy fiction period: someone is always watching over you. The eco hotel is also standout and I adore how it just blends in with the desert backdrop. The locations are also great, with Haiti feeling dusty and poverty-stricken contrasted to the very sleek minimalist Bregenz. The desert is also beautiful; I feel Forster was right to set Bond there after Vesper’s betrayal as it really highlights his loneliness and isolation.
The performances are also great, Kurylenko never really gets the material she deserves sadly and aside from the fantastic mercy killing scene never really gets a chance to shine. Arterton’s appearance is pleasant but problematic as it causes as rather large tonal misstep – her light frothy “oh gosh” persona doesn’t quite gel in this dark, brooding no-frills film. Amalric is the one who really shines I think, Greene is a nervous coward in public but confident and menacing in private. It’s helped that he looks quite so scary with those eyes of his. I also liked the weird sexual relationship between him and Camille. David Arnold gives another great score and Jack White’s song has grown on me, however MK12’s title sequence hasn’t. The editing is an issue as the film never lingers long enough on a shot to really let it seep it, which is a shame because some of the framing is really stunning and it does feel occasionally that the film is missing moments. The script is also bone dry with little humour, and the attempts at humour do fall a little flat – teachers winning the lottery? It’s not great. Also the film does still feel like a ‘Bond movie’ despite ditching a number of the key elements - no Q/Moneypenny, none of the catchphrases and little of the traditional wit – we still get Bond, M, the sexy women, villains, exotic locations, glamour mixed with violence etc. It’s not like LTK which does away with much of the formula, but QOS is very much a ‘modern’ or maybe even post-modern Bond film, it has all the traditional elements but plays with them for instance Bond and Camille never consummate their relationship.
So in conclusion, Solace is an undeniable disappointment and doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The producers made a rod for their own back by making the film a direct sequel as it essentially encourages you to compare the movies. However as a brutal and breathless epilogue to Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace does work and is actually a great modern espionage thriller. However, it’s still a messy film and something of a step back after the refreshing Casino Royale.