Why Quantum Of Solace Could Be The Worst James Bond Movie

Is Quantum Of Solace, starring Daniel Craig, really one of the worst James Bond films?

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Ah, we’re at this one. Not the worst James Bond movie ever but certainly my least favorite. All the classic tropes – silly names, implausible schemes, megalomaniacal villains, lots of shagging – are completely absent.

More damagingly so is a plot – or indeed any sense of coherence. At 106 minutes the film should be tight but instead feels hideously underdeveloped. Style is desperately flaunted in the hope the lack of substance might be overlooked. And, in fairness, leaving the cinema I felt disappointed but not incensed by what I’d watched. But subsequent viewings really expose the many, many shortcomings. Proof that sometimes less is simply less.

The Villain: Dominic Greene. Weak. Oh so weak. The name is weak, the plan is weak, the lines are weak (literally not one zinger) and physically he is, well, weak. The climatic fight between him and Bond must be one of the most hilarious mismatches in the history of cinema. His shrieks resemble a hysterical ferret attacking a tiger.

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At no point does Greene do anything remotely devious: there isn’t even an overly elaborate execution plan from which Bond escapes. Matthieu Almeric could have made a fine villain along the lines of Kamal Khan or even Elliot Carver. Instead he’s a non-entity. Deserves the dubious honor of being the only villain killed off-screen.

The Girl: Camille. Dull. Oh so dull. The name is dull, the lines… you get the idea. Obviously after Vesper Lynd it would be difficult to write another truly romantic interest for Bond; but surely the character didn’t need to be so drab. The whole avenging-the-parents thing had more panache in For Your Eyes Only, with a far better developed heroine in Melina Havelock.

We know nothing about Camille, we care nothing about Camille. She’s just there. Deserves the dubious honor of being the first Bond girl to definitely not shag Bond, on-screen or off (a couple of Connery’s are unconsummated by the credits but clearly won’t remain so).

Some of you reading now will like Quantum Of Solace. Some may even love it. Who knows – for a handful of you, Quantum Of Solace may be the best film of the series, perhaps even the best damn film ever made. Good. I’m glad you like it, genuinely. And although we disagree in our opinions, I don’t think mine is right and yours is wrong. Diversity of taste is what keeps life interesting. I look forward to the rebuttals in the comments – and to be honest the comments section is now a much bigger part of these articles than the article itself (I’m very proud of that). So I’m going to write my piece, and the pro-Quantums can write theirs. And neither of us will win the argument because there isn’t an argument to be had – just a friendly divergence of opinion.

Unless you actually think Quantum Of Solace is the best film ever made. Then, I fear, you’re just deluded.   

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Where to start? The film is a mess. The kind of mess parents find after leaving their teenager home alone for the weekend. We start with two chases in the opening fifteen minutes. The first is a noisy blur of cars and gunfire which the film drops us straight in the middle of. After Bond dispatches his foes – are they meant to be Quantum or is the whole sequence a none-too-subtle critique of Italian driving? – we are reintroduced to Mr. White. “Who?” asks anyone who hasn’t seen Casino Royale (and probably a fair few who have). “Screw you,” says the film, not for the final time. Cue rubbish title song.

Post rubbish title song comes more of the same. M and Bond prepare to interrogate Mr. White. The latter taunts them (and us) with a few cryptic references to Quantum. Then M’s bodyguard realizes dialogue is in danger of breaking out so promptly shoots up the room. He makes his escape, with Bond in hot pursuit. And off we go again.

Although Bond is ostensibly an action franchise, action scenes are far from the most important part of a Bond film. Characters, dialogue, and charm are all more important. Indeed a great Bond film can be made that includes no straightforward action set-pieces (take Goldfinger). Quantum Of Solace tries the opposite approach. Screw characters, dialogue, charm. Let’s have a succession of chases and fights between Bond and unidentifiable opponents. In the opening half hour we have: car chase, foot chase, fist fight, bike hijack, boat fight. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a panic attack. You want to grab the film by the shoulders and scream “Breathe!”

So disorientating is that opening 30 minutes that the plot frightens and takes flight, never to be seen again. In a universe as ancient and changeable as Bond’s, generalizations are always risky but the rule “simple plot = superior film” isn’t a terrible one (‘rob Fort Knox’, ‘start World War Three’, ‘something something giant laser’). With Bond, ludicrousness is not necessarily a problem, incomprehensibility is.

If, in 2008, you asked me to summarize the plot of Quantum as I walked out of the cinema I would have tentatively replied, “um…trying to steal water?” And now, several years and viewings later, my understanding of the plot remains, “trying to steal water” (I am now certain water-theft is involved).

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Even working out how each scene links together is a difficult task. Bond turns up in a series of seemingly arbitrary locations (Italy, Haiti, Bolivia) without any clear explanation why he’s gone there, a mad Lonely Planet gone AWOL. It’s almost impressive such a short film manages to be so opaque.

The confusion is partly explained by an impossibly tight production deadline and the 2007/08 Writers’ Strike.

Another reason was the hiring of Marc Forster as director. Forster had never directed an action film and, crucially, was no great fan of the Bond franchise. An appointment trying to be innovative but which seems wilfully perverse. The uneasy marriage of action and art-house is evident in Forster claiming to base the action sequences around the four classical elements of water, earth, air, and fire. Come now. This is not only pretentious but utterly pointless. Did anyone walk out of the cinema saying, “Great. Loved it! And did you notice the elements thing?” Plus, the idea is hardly revolutionary. Many action films include a fight on a plane, a fight on a boat, several fights on land and a bit when stuff blows up (Tomorrow Never Dies is the most recent Bond example). No need to get all arsey about it.  

Both villain and girl suffer hugely. To be frank, following Vesper was a suicide pass; especially as Bond spends the whole film moping over her. Interestingly the series had experienced this problem before with the death of Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; indeed a weeping Bond was a far lower close than the semi-triumphant capture of Mr White and the iconic introduction.

The follow-up, Diamonds Are Forever, decided to forget Tracy completely: a decision made more palatable with the return of Sean Connery. DAF decamped to Vegas, promised it was all fun and games really, and introduced us to the charming airhead Tiffany Case – a woman who wouldn’t know the meaning of “emotional commitment.” And it felt a bit odd but we got by.

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Quantum had a much harder task. Its Bond was the same Bond left heartbroken by Vesper. Brushing under the carpet would be impossible. Nor does the businesslike Craig seem the type to seek comfort in the arms of a good time gal like Plenty O Toole. So what move? Actually, I think the film’s idea is sound: make the girl somebody with her own agenda whose path intersects with Bond by chance. Unfortunately the agenda is the hoary old chestnut of a parental vendetta and no effort is made in making us care. The General is a cartoonishly horrible buffoon given about three lines of dialogue and absolutely no characteristics other than being a dick. That guy should have been killed off after two minutes, not made the focus of the main subplot.

The diminished quarry diminishes Camille by extension. The obvious comparison is the similarly (if understandably) humorless Melina Havelock. But For Your Eyes Only invests in its heroine. We watch her parents die, we follow her quest for revenge and, crucially, we know the men on her kill list. Now maybe you care about the story, maybe you don’t, but at least For Your Eyes Only does its best; at least the Melina subplot feeds into Bond’s mission rather than just runs parallel. Honestly, the hitman Melina shoots in the swimming pool, the one who dies fifteen minutes in, feels more of a character than General Whatever. Olga Kurylenko plays the part very well; she might never have superseded Eva Green but she could have easily carved her own niche. If only the film bothered to give her the tools.

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The villain has less excuse: Le Chiffre leaves no baggage behind him, and writing satisfactory antagonism should be easier than writing satisfactory romance. Yet Dominic Greene is horribly flaccid. Heaven knows why, when the Bond villain allows scope for pretty much any creation, the writers decided to follow a devious yet physically unimposing Frenchman with another devious yet physically unimposing Frenchman. Yet Bond and Le Chiffre shared many scenes: their long face off across the poker table is the centerpiece. Bond and Greene barely seem to be in the same film. They don’t really share any scenes; just a few brief exchanges. Two weeks after Quantum I doubt Bond would recognize Greene across a room.     

Ironically in a film so short the most baffling aspect of Quantum Of Solace are the scenes it leaves out.

Firstly, the scene in which Bond interrogates Greene. The film cuts from Dominic Greene stumbling away into the desert to Bond tossing Greene out of a jeep (and back into the desert). But the crucial interrogation is absent. It feels like the scene has been chopped out but it hasn’t – it was never included in the first place. Why? Bond and Greene have barely exchanged a word all film but here is an opportunity to subvert the traditional Bond/Bond villain two-hander (with the villain for once in Bond’s clutches) and provide color to an organisation that is – face it – SPECTRE-lite. But nada. Greene even goddam says, “I told you what you needed to know about Quantum” – yet for some reason we aren’t deemed worthy of this info. The film sticks one big fat middle finger right up in the viewer’s face.     

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Then – as the film remembers it has two middle fingers – we find ourselves in the flat of Vesper’s treacherous lover. The scoundrel, Yusef – I had to IMDB the name as we sure don’t get told – is courting a beautiful Canadian agent… but Bond lies in wait (God knows how he got there). Bond tells the woman to get out. Finally, he is alone with the man who betrayed his dead love. “Please,” whispers the cad. “Make it quick.” Bond raises the gun… and fade out.

Are you kidding me?! The emotional climax of the last two films and you don’t show us! “Did you find what you were looking for?” asks M outside the flat. “Yes,” comes Bond’s curt reply. What? What were you looking for?! The remote control? Your mobile? A first edition copy of Harry Potter? I assume the answer is “closure,” or rather “solace,” but what passed between Bond and Yusef to enable this closure? Again, the film doesn’t see fit to tell us. And there’s the second finger.

There are redeeming features. The film is beautifully shot. The whole Tosca scene gives a glimpse of the slick, smart Quantum that never was. A dreamlike cafeteria shootout makes a fairly eloquent statement on how an arthouse Bond could actually work.

Also, the exchanges between Bond and Mathis offer much needed respite, as well as moments of real poignancy. Their midnight chat over Bond’s umpteenth vodka martini is a beautiful exchange, albeit one that further yokes the film to its predecessor. I like Bond’s curt honesty after dumping the dead Mathis in a bin: “He wouldn’t have cared.”

Gemma Arterton is very good as Agent Fields (“Strawberry” is never mentioned on-screen). What if the perky, playful and hugely endearing Fields was the main heroine? Her presence would certainly lift the gloom (jokes really are thin here). Okay, you’d need major rewrites but more Mathis, Fields as Bond Girl, flesh out Green and Quantum, and the thing might just work.

Copying Fields’ death from Goldfinger is an odd choice. A film so keen to move away from Bond tradition boasts the biggest self-homage in the whole series. Like so much of Quantum, the logic is hard to fathom.

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Well, there we go. Quantum lovers, the floor is yours. Like I say, I don’t pretend any of the above is the gospel truth; only the film as I see it. If you see a different film then great – balance the scales. And – as I imagine the case for the defence will get a fairly loud hearing in the comments, perhaps quite viciously in places – anybody who shares my opinions, or understands where they come from, it would be great to hear from you too. I’d hate for the prosecution to be a one-man team.      Final summing up? Quantum Of Solace tries to be enigmatic but is merely confusing. It tries to be tight but is undercooked. Realism mutates into banality. Style becomes pretension. Even the worst Moore films contained redeeming features: a great villain in The Man With The Golden Gun, the joyous lunacy of Moonraker. Here there is nothing. No reason to watch Quantum except for another doomed attempt to work out the plot. Throughout the franchise Bond frequently goes undercover. This time he effectively disappears up his own arse.  

Best Bit: Oh, Tosca.

Worst Bit: The most underwhelming finale in Bond history.