Picking things up just after the conclusion to Casino Royale, James Bond has captured a man that he believes can yield further information related to the organisation with which the arch-criminal Le Chiffre was associated. When things go sour, Bond finds himself tracking a mysterious businessman named Dominic Greene, who is working a new deal with an infamous Bolivian dictator and is somehow linked to the same organisation. But things become complicated when the American secret service gets involved, and Bond finds himself without the support of Mi6 as he sets out on a dangerous mission to find information and, just maybe, retribution.
The 22nd recognised film in the James Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace was always going to be a difficult one. Following the hugely successful reboot, expectations of the next film were (perhaps unfairly) very high and the creative team was placed in the difficult position of doing more of the same whilst doing something new at the same time. Crucially, Solace was not actually based on original Ian Fleming material (it takes its name from a short story written in 1960 but the plot is entirely new) and was written as a direct sequel to Casino Royale.
Following resolutely in Casino Royale’s footsteps, Quantum of Solace maintains the new-look Bond for sure, largely comprising nothing more than a relentless series of hard-edged action scenes woven around a markedly contemporary premise. It is, however, unquestionably superficial and almost certainly the least satisfying Bond film to date (and that’s not just the woeful theme tune either).
Director Marc Foster is more normally used to rather more profound subject matter than this, having previously worked on the likes of Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner and Stay, but it’s fair to say that he definitely has an eye for the action movie. Solace is, at times, stunningly comprised, with a seamless, graceful flow that is very occasionally jaw dropping. Foster demonstrates true versatility here, starting with a rapid (and brutal) car chase along a bustling Mediterranean coastal highway before taking us to a shoot-out at a Viennese opera house and then through a cacophony of explosive disasters in a bizarre, modern hotel. Previous Bond directors have gone for the obvious, pitching Bond into deadly circumstances among familiar landmarks like the Millennium Dome, but Foster’s approach is (slightly) more understated, focusing on the speed and pace of the peril rather than every opportunity to make Bond look cool. As far as it goes, it works well. There is nothing fake or obviously choreographed about anything going on here and it’s occasionally breathtaking to watch.
On the writing front, however, it’s hard to be so complimentary. Returning for their fourth Bond outing, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis team up with the screenwriter of the moment Paul Haggis for the second time and manage to create what is arguably one of the least memorable Bond screenplays of all time. With hints of this and signs of that Quantum eventually leaves the audience feeling that it is really just a bookmark between Casino Royale and the as yet unnamed Bond 23. The continuity of screenwriting is there, with characters and events from Casino Royale appearing or getting an appropriate mention but this isn’t really the problem. The fact is that Haggis, Wade and Purvis never really deliver a suitably scaled story. The ‘action’ shifts around the world but as the running time clocks up it fails completely to create any sense of growing danger or drama. The film’s comparably short running time (one hour and forty minutes is fairly short for a James Bond film) recognises the fact that there isn’t as much going on here as the audience could expect.
The characterisation is adequate. The re-invention of Bond continues, but only in small doses. Bond’s relationship with M develops in a more affectionate manner here and the impact of the events seen in Casino Royale has a profound effect throughout Solace. The more compassionate side of Bond makes a welcome return too, notably when he tends a dying friend and reminds us that he’s not quite the cold-hearted character that Casino Royale led us to believe. Royale’s Bond was perhaps just a little too detached and distant and whilst he’s still a million miles away from previous incarnations, the Bond of Solace is arguably more likeable. The ‘Bond girl’ has a different role to play in Solace too. Whilst Bond’s seductive nature still crops up, he manages to keep his relationship with Solace’s main lady out of the bedroom, which is probably the film’s biggest shock. But in spite of the strong screen presence of both Bond and M, there’s a real lack of strong supporting characters here, good, evil or indifferent.
Fortunately, Daniel Craig’s Bond once again oozes charisma. Now more settled into the role, Craig seems to have an even stronger commitment to the man he wants Bond to be and he’s utterly convincing from start to finish. This time around, the script provides him with occasional opportunities to be slightly wry (as opposed to the outright comedy we came to love from Roger Moore) but he’s no less physically impressive. The hand-to-hand combat is ferociously fought, the chases are breathlessly thrilling and he still manages to fill every inch of that tuxedo perfectly. Olga Kurylenko is a stunning Bond girl and certainly looks the part on Craig’s arm. Kurylenko’s Camille is the right blend of bitterness and innocence and she seems less assured in her own beauty than previous counterparts – a good thing all round.
The main villain of the piece, Dominic Greene, is one of the less interesting Bond baddies we’ve ever had. The fact that as a businessman he’s ultimately more a terrorist than a environmentalist doesn’t really give him the credence to take on the world’s foremost spy and the simple motivation of money isn’t really enough. Mathieu Amalric is competent to a point, but he doesn’t really have the material to really engage with the audience and his sidekick is memorable only for a very bad haircut. Judi Dench’s M is really a staple part of the franchise now and, not surprisingly, she gets a bigger slice of the action than her previous incarnations.
Solace is, by and large, a more enjoyable film than the critics would have us believe. The storyline is, however, by far the weakest to date, which is really disappointing when the film is the franchise’s first true sequel. There’s plenty of action here but, curiously, nothing really happens.