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-[Film Reviews]-, British Cinema, EUROPEAN CINEMA, Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008): The Limits of Franchise Brand Recognition

Directed by: Marc Forster || Produced by: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli

Screenplay by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade || Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench

Music by: David Arnold || Cinematography: Roberto Schaefer || Edited by: Matt Cheese, Richard Pearson || Country: United Kingdom, United States || Language: English

Running Time: 106 minutes

Despite my lifelong affinity for filmmaking and my self-identification as a cinephile, I have a short and somewhat disinterested personal history with the James Bond movie franchise (Eon Productions: 1962-2021; Famous Artists’ Casino Royale [1967]; Taliafilms’ Never Say Never Again [1983]). I didn’t watch more than a handful of Bond features throughout my childhood and found most of the classical films dated and corny in a negative way. Numerous peers and extended family members sang the series’ praises to me over time, however, echoing a broader cultural fascination with the property with which I could never empathize. Even after the previous series reboot of Martin Campbell’s Goldeneye (1995), the first and most popular feature to star Pierce Brosnan as MI6’s Agent 007, I never gave much of a damn for the property even though action filmmaking is one of my favorite genres of cinema. Part of the reason for my general disinterest in Bond on film may be a result of the older films being surpassed by various spy thriller descendants like the Bourne (2002, 2004, 2007, 2016) series, Mission: Impossible (1996-2022), and others.

Left: Daniel Craig (right) and Judi Dench (left) interrogate Jesper Christensen (center) before the latter escapes, which is preceded by… Right: Quantum of Solace’s opening chaotic chase sequence.

And that brings us to Quantum of Solace. If Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) was the standout blockbuster of 2008 that surpassed most people’s high expectations, then Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace, the second Eon Productions James Bond film to star Daniel Craig in the lead role, was one of the most disappointing of that same year. The film lost much of the goodwill rebuilt for the franchise by Campbell’s successful Casino Royale (2006) reboot (yes, Campbell rebooted the Bond series twice) after Pierce Brosnan’s final installment, Die Another Die (2002) ended his era with a wet fart. Royale was critically acclaimed and seen as a breath of fresh air for the series, stripping away much of the extraneous gadgetry, science-fiction elements, and cornball humor of older entries as a result of both Austin Powers’ (1997, 1999, 2002) savage parodies of the property and the popularity of the minimalist Bourne films. The only downsides to this self-aware reimagining of the franchise were that Bond himself lost much of his recognizable identity beyond his nationality, a handful of catchphrases, and the occasional Walther PPK .32 ACP, not to mention a silent acknowledgement that the series now followed action-spy trends and no longer set them.

Quantum’s significant drop in profitability and critical goodwill relative to its immediate predecessor may have been the result of longtime franchise producers Michael S. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli’s inability to adjust to this grittier, simpler Bond concept after the departure of James Campbell from the director’s chair, now occupied by Forster. Forster, like Shane Black, seems an otherwise competent filmmaker who struggles with big-budget genre films, as his work on this and World War Z (2013) leave much to be desired compared to his smaller, dramatic films like Monsters Ball (2001), Finding Neverland (2004), Stranger than Fiction (2006), and Christopher Robin (2018). His action-direction in Quantum feels like a poor man’s Paul Greengrass, one of countless Hollywood imitators of the caffeinated editing and chaotic handheld camerawork (i.e. “shaky-cam“) popularized in American action films by Greengrass’ Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum (2007). From hand-to-hand combat to car-chase sequences to shootouts, I can’t tell what the hell’s happening and find most of the set-pieces tiresome.

That’s major problem #1. Major problem #2 is the lackluster story credited to Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve cowrote every Bond script since The World is Not Enough (1997), as well as Paul Haggis, director of one of the most notorious Oscar-bait of all time, Crash (2004), and also cowriter of Royale two years earlier. Whether the director or writers deserves more blame for the screenplay’s translation to screen or for writing a turd from the start, respectively, is a controversy as old as cinema itself when it comes to bad movies; no doubt the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike scrambled pre-production timelines, but if that was the case, then the powers that be should’ve postponed principal photography. Quantum of Solace’s story is lackluster, in any case, serving as a direct sequel (the franchise’s first, I believe) to Royale but failing to capitalize on that story’s momentum. Craig’s memorable relationships with costars Eva Green, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench from Royale are further underutilized, which strands Craig to work with female lead Olga Kurylenko and main antagonist Mathieu Amalric, all of whom have mediocre chemistry with one another.

Top: Craig shields female lead Olga Kurylenko in Quantum’s over-the-top finale. Bottom: Mathieu Amalric (left) stars as the most forgettable villain of the Craig-era Bond films. Why wasn’t Christensen the main bad?

What saves Quantum from complete disaster are Craig’s screen presence, the creative staging and location photography of multiple set-pieces, and its succinct 106-minute running time. Craig has remained likable and charismatic throughout all his performances as 007, a reliable professional, while Marc Forster makes use of the series’ iconic location-photography in ways that flaunt the movie’s cinematic violence instead of feeling like a tourism video. Last but not least, I appreciate Quantum of Solace’s modest length, the shortest of the franchise, in comparison to the bloated runtimes of every other Craig-era Bond movie, including Royale

I feel like James Bond on film is reminiscent of the watershed influence of Star Wars (1977), which birthed the modern Hollywood blockbuster and decades of imitators since, including the contemporary Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008-2019), intellectual properties that have achieved a level of brand recognition that shield their lesser, forgettable installments from criticism. Regardless of how poorly the less effective Bond movies are perceived in hindsight, the franchise always makes money and even negative reviews are rarely scathing. The franchise has run its course, from what I can see, with the budgets and runtimes of individual installments outgrowing their distinctive quality. Quantum of Solace is emblematic of the average quality of these repetitive movies, regardless of their evolving tones over the years, more the rule for Bond films than the exception.

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SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Inconsistent and incoherent from a visual standpoint and dull in terms of characterizations and acting, Quantum of Solace represents the low-point of Daniel Craig’s turn as James Bond. Mathieu Almaric is a boring Bond villain, Olga Kurylenko is a flatline as our female lead, and the rest of the supporting cast aren’t memorable in the least.

However… Craig’s athleticism and charisma step up when the rest of the film doesn’t, while the scenery and set-design of Quantum are impressive. The movie is inconsistent and forgettable, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

—> Quantum of Solace is NOT RECOMMENDED, nor are most of the other Bond movies I’ve seen, for that matter.

? Wait a minute, No Time to Die (2021) is 163 minutes long?!

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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