How ‘Quantum of Solace’ fell into disrepair

50 Years of Bond

The common consensus surrounding Quantum of Solace, especially in the wake of the vastly better-received Skyfall, is that it was the sort of unmitigated misfire that necessitated a full-on reboot. (Nevermind that the delay between films was more or less entirely to do with MGM’s financial woes.) After the success of Casino Royale, the series’ producers had a unique opportuniy to rebuild the franchise with their gritty, efficient new Bond, Daniel Craig, but circumstances conspired against them.

Quantum of Solace is a movie of intruiging parts and a strangely unsatisfying whole. For a $200 million tentpole movie, it takes an awful lot of chances that didn’t really need to be taken. For starters, Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction) was enlisted to direct, which seemed like a stretch at the time and feels even moreso in hindsight. An admitted non-fan of the franchise as a whole, Forster shows little adeptness for action sequences, preferring the rapid-fire editing of the Bourne series to the fluid gymnastics of Casino Royale. Even notions that sounded good on paper – opting for a lean 100-minute runtime, for instance – end up backfiring, resulting in a movie that feels oddly paced and weirdly truncated.

But the real issue with Quantum lies with the writing – or lack thereof. There might have been adequate time to shape the film’s proposed environmentalist themes into an effective series departure – producer Michael G. Wilson contrived the scenario while Casino Royale was in production – but the Writers’ Guild strike forced co-writers Paul Haggis, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis to rush the job. After the strike deadline hit, only Forster and Craig himself were allowed to tinker with the result, often on a day-to-day basis as the film was being shot. For stretches of Quantum of Solace, you’re essentially watching the most expensive improvised action movie ever. (This process also somehow turned the film into a direct sequel to Casino, something that may or may not have been planned from the outset. It seems confusion reigned early.)

In a recent CriticWire survey, participants were asked about recent movies that could stand a “mulligan” – a re-do. I don’t think there’s a better candidate among major Hollywood tentpoles than Quantum. Despite the scattered, bordering-on-incoherent plot – more than enough for one regular-length Bond film, here compacted awkwardly into a shorter-than-usual runtime – the materials are here for a superior Bond film. Besides the already-established Craig (not to mention Dame Judi Dench), there’s a new-school Bond Girl who’s an active enough participant to disqualify herself from that passive class of character (Olga Kurylenko), and old-school Bond Girl who doesn’t get nearly enough screentime (Gemma Arterton), a great American character actor who seems to recognize what a mess the whole affair is (Jeffrey Wright), an Italian screen legend who gets taken out of the proceedings in the least dignified fashion possible (Giancarlo Giannini) and a Euro arthouse semi-icon who gets to preen and moonlight as a posh facsimile of a real Bond villain (Mathieu Amalric). (As if realizing he’s not really cut out for this mastermind stuff, he assures his own demise in the film’s final minutes by driving a hatchet into his own foot.)

Despite the fact that almost no one (besides Kurylenko, who’s still reduced to weeping in a corner near the film’s end, unfortunately undermining her kickass contributions earlier on) is used enough or to their full potential, that’s a pretty incredible ensemble. Individual moments, ideas, and setpieces contantly threaten to distinguish themselves, until Forster’s execution bungles it, either through hyperactive editing (almost every action scene) or pretentious filigree (the intercutting and audio tricks emplyed in the modern-opera sequence). With a less hampered scripting process and a director more interested in presenting coherent action sequences, Quantum might have been just the sort of relevant, lean action picture everyone involved pictured. As is, it’s a textbook study of how even the most polished of money-making ventures can break apart into anarchy and disrepair.

Simon Howell

This article is part of our 007 marathon. You can find all the entries by clicking here.

By Simon Howell

Simon Howell is a new Toronto transplant, having divided the rest of his time between Halifax and Montreal. He joined Sound On Sight in 2008 and has since become a member of the OFCS (Online Film Critics Society). Currently he co-hosts and co-produces Sound On Sight Radio as well as the Televerse TV podcast, and obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University in the spring of 2012. His favorite films include F for Fake, Brazil, Stroszek, The Fog of War, Grave of the Fireflies and In a Lonely Place. Simon's Twitter handle is @suckerhowell.

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