In 2009, when I was a 20-year-old junior in college, two of my buddies and I had a few drinks and stumbled over to the student theater. It was showing a cheap Friday night double feature of Casino Royale (which I had seen before) and Quantum of Solace (which I had not).
I cannot emphasize enough how perfect of a movie viewing experience that was. We were laughing and whooping and cheering and fist pumping for over 3 hours. It made Quantum of Solace seem not like a mediocre sequel grasping desperately for a compelling story to cling to. It felt, instead, like an extended coda to one of my favorite action movies of the previous decade, taking some threads from Casino Royale (my review) and running with them, plus a new anti-American conspiracy plot. In my inebriated mind, Quantum of Solace was a delightful film with some great action scenes.
A couple months later, my friends and I all decided to make Top 100 Movies lists. Reader, I am ashamed. I was still riding the high of that amazing theater experience, and I ranked Quantum of Solace my #82 favorite movie. Of all time.
Looking back on that list, there’s a lot to be embarrassed about, but that pick might be the most embarrassing. Not because the movie isn’t good (though it isn’t) but because it’s so damn inconsequential.
(To give 20 year old me a little bit of credit, I was slightly more daring with classics and art films than my friends. While their lists were entirely 80s, 90s, and 2000s genre/blockbuster/filmbro stuff, that was only, like, 2/3rds of mine.)
I haven’t seen enough Bond entries to know whether Quantum of Solace’s attempts to be a full-on sequel has much precedent in Bond’s history. But it really feels unnaturally attached to Casino Royale, attempting to ride the emotional payoff of that film’s final hour for its own impact. We get pivotal, emotional scenes in Quantum of Solace with, like, the 6th and 7th most important characters of its forebear.
Bond’s driving objective in Quantum of Solace is finding revenge and moving on from Vesper; yet the final scenes of Casino Royale had already shown Bond emotionally detaching himself, so it feels like a bit of a retread — or at least a theme stretched thin. It’s a concept that could have worked with the right writing and story shape, but never fully clicks.
That attempt at franchise emotional continuity had the potential, but not with the stodgy story we’re given. It raises the stakes (international coup!) while somehow feeling more trivial than Casino Royale. Characters and motivations blur together; main Bond girl Camille (Olga Kurylenko) has about 12 different identities in as many scenes.
The film’s action sequences are largely a letdown. They feel overlong and under-cooked. The basic Cartesian geometry of the action scenes — who is where and when? — is so botched that the chases and fighting often feel like a chaotic haze of fisticuffs and/or explosions.
There are a few standout segments. A shootout in an opera house has editing that borders on the impressionistic, tying together the theatricality of the opera singers with the choreographed action of our super-spy. And there’s a leap from a plane near the end of the film that so drastically simulates the scary speed of falling I almost got vertigo.
But the movie never figures out how to justify its existence. Despite being more than a half hour shorter than Casino Royale, it still feels like it’s stretching. Judi Dench and Daniel Craig are both excellent, but it’s not enough. Sorry, #82.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Not Very Good (3/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.