The 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace is a cruelly misunderstood and underrated entry in the decades-long series. The remarkable product of a difficult production process, Marc Forster's film is a superb and bold follow-up to Martin Campbell's Casino Royale (2006), which reinvigorated 007. Part of the film's strength lies in its basis in a strong theme which informs almost every aspect of the production: revenge.
It had been decided ahead of time that Quantum of Solace would serve as a direct sequel to Casino Royale - a first for the series. During the climax of Campbell's film, Bond's newfound love Vesper Lynd had been murdered by agents of Quantum, the shadowy organisation behind the film's villain Le Chiffre. The sequel would focus on Bond's quest for revenge, and the conflict between his orders and his emotions. However, the writing process was disrupted by the 2007-08 writer's strike, to the extent that Forster and and Craig were forced to complete the unfinished script themselves.
Despite the challenges, Quantum of Solace proved to be one of the most focused and powerful Bond films ever. The theme of revenge was not new to the series - it had been used to great effect in License to Kill (1989) - but it provided a framework around which the film could be built. Bond's need to avenge Lynd's death not only presented opportunities to expand the world of Casino Royale, but also exposed the core of Bond's character. Focused on his personal vendetta, the film shows a 007 who is without gadgets, back-up, or much in the way of one-liners. Described as a "blunt instrument" by M (Judi Dench), he powers through anything and anyone standing in his way.
This energetic approach makes for a sharp and refreshing contrast with the more pensive Casino Royale. The sequel is almost 40 minutes shorter than its predecessor, owing to Forster's desire to make "a really tight and fast film [...] like a bullet". The breathless pace reflects Bond's reckless mission, dictated by his own emotions rather than the requirements of queen and country. Gone are the long, tense poker scenes from Casino Royale - instead, the film is packed with more violent action than any other Bond film, from a car chase in Italy to a dogfight over Bolivia.
The action scenes are superbly constructed, but their editing has come in for some deserved criticism. Clearly inspired by the Bourne series of films, the hyperactive and chaotic approach can be frustrating but does tie in well with Bond's fractured state of mind. The various chases, shootouts and fight scenes were largely shot on location in several countries, and represent some of the best large-scale practical effects and stunt work in recent history. The intensity of Bond's emotions and the sheer fury of Craig's performance surely demanded this enormous effort.
Even the settings mesh wonderfully with the film's core theme. The stark desert locations in Bolivia serve not only as a nod to the climax of License to Kill but also mirror the single-minded pursuit of revenge. As Bond and his ally Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) walk through the Atacama desert, it is revenge that unites them and cuts them off from the rest of the world. It is the shared motivation of revenge that gives Bond one of his few meaningful, equal relationships with a woman: in Bolivia, 007 and Montes bond over their shared loss and their intertwined quests for vengeance. When they aid each other and then part as equals, it is one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in Bond history.
Quantum of Solace was misunderstood and disliked by many critics, and MGM's long-awaited bankruptcy put a third Craig film on hiatus. Upon its eventual release in 2012, Skyfall picked up few of the threads from Quantum. It was a tremendous financial and critical success, but like its own successor Spectre (2015) it lacks the grit, economy and drive that Forster achieved with his film. With the future of the series shrouded in mystery, we can only speculate how things might have worked out differently had Quantum's concise charms been more widely appreciated.
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I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.