We finally went to see Quantum of Solace at the weekend. I adored Casino Royale mainly because it succeeded as a film not just as a Bond Movie. Even my wife liked it and she’s hardly a Bond fan. It certainly had its problems, particularly spending most of its third act waiting for the other shoe to drop. Any faults, though, were easily outweighed by the fact that it allowed Bond to be flawed, to show emotion, and to have a second and at times, yes, even a third dimension to his personality. Bond has an actual emotional arc (one that somehow you can’t picture in the hands of Roger Moore). Daniel Craig was perfect in the part, and the action scenes felt more bruisingly real than just about any thriller since Die Hard. Or the Bourne movies, to which the new-look Bond certainly owes a debt.
My accumulated goodwill from Casino Royale was so strong that Quantum of Solace really only had to coast along and I’d still have felt some affection for it. Unfortunately that’s about all it does do.
The main fault with Quantum of Solace is that its emotional punch lies almost entirely in the previous film; viewed as a standalone tale there’s very little reason to care about Bond, his grief or his revenge. It’s a bold step to open the movie with a grim leading man obsessed with revenge, and play almost that same note for the entire film, but it comes off as very flat. Even with the intellectual knowledge that Bond is hurting on the inside I could have used a few more moments to humanise the character, although it probably works better as Casino Royale, Part 2 than as its own story. It doesn’t help that the female characters are much less interesting than Vesper, and Gemma Arterton is very wooden.
My other main gripe is that the editing of the early action scenes is so choppy that at several points I couldn’t have told you which character was Bond and which the villain. It’s possible I’m very old. It’s equally possible that the Director forgot you can be modern, pacy and edgy without throwing clear visual storytelling out of the window.
Still, while Quantum of Solace is less of a satisfying film than its predecessor it’s certainly not Just Another Bond Movie. Craig remains fantastic, even if his emotions are so tightly reined in that the audience has to read between the lines. The sequel thankfully inherits Casino Royale‘s grittier, more ‘realistic’ approach. There are no real gadgets (loved the MI6 computer kit though), the security services seem murky and compromised, and even the nebulous SPECTRE-like organisation is very much operating in a pseudo-legal political world. There are some pleasing set pieces such as the opera hall, and a slimy but believable villain who is despatched in a more elliptical way than usual.
The grand finale — set in a building that must surely have missed a crucial Health & Safety inspection — is more typically Bond than the rest of the film (much like the sinking building at the end of Casino Royale) but still slightly anticlimactic, probably because the real finale is the subtle coda.
I like it as an action movie and for trying to deal with the emotional consequences of the previous film, but I understood Bond more than I empathised with him and I’m left craving a third movie that packs more of a human, emotional punch.