With all the buzz surrounding Skyfall I recently re-watched Casino Royale and enjoyed it so much I immediately watched Quantum of Solace. It was the first time I have seen the two movies back to back, I don’t know if it benefited from this or if it is just a better movie than I (and many others) have given it credit for, but something has caused me to re evaluate the underrated movie. While Ian Fleming’s books often followed on from each other, there has never before been a Bond movie that was a direct sequel.
Following Casino Royale was always a seemingly impossible task and just about any sequel would have suffered by comparison. It is easy to look back on Casino Royale as the benchmark for Bond, but back in 2006 it was a risky proposition. Daniel Craig wasn’t the first actor to take over the mantle of Bond, and it wasn’t the first time the character was taken in a new direction, but it was the first time the story had been completely rebooted. But it worked, what we got was a modern Bond, that fitted with the modern world, a post Jason Bourne world but who retained the characteristics of what had gone before in the previous movies, but more importantly the original books. It would have been very easy to walk away from the plot threads left by Casino Royale and create an entirely new movie, but that would have been a waste.
The Bond of Quantum of Solace is an emotionally broken man following the death of Vesper Lynd having made her a more sympathetic character than the one in the book. The Bond of the novels is a cold hard bastard, here we are seeing the creation of that character more like the Bond of You Only Live Twice (1964 novel) following the death of Bonds wife Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In his quest for revenge Bond forms an alliance with a similar goal Camille (Olga Kurylenko) whose quest for vengeance overlaps with his. Given the two characters and the place they find themselves in, there is a completely new dynamic to the Bond/“Bond Girl” relationship. This leaves Gemma Arterton’s Agent Fields (read the credits to discover her first name) to fulfil the more traditional Bond Girl role. It would be easy to dismiss her small role, but it is significant to the plot and has a telling nod to the earlier Bond films. The globetrotting nature of the movie is in line with what you would expect but is less important than it was in the earlier films. The problem with Bond in the modern day is how to work around the existence of modern communications technology, contrivances of the plot and the setting make great use of this and it really works. I would however say that this can not work every time and sooner or later it will have to find its place in the world again.
As movies become more bloated it was a brave decision to make a Bond movie lasting little more than a hundred minutes, but it really works. As a direct sequel Bond hit’s the ground running, or driving to be more precise. To the credit of the short running time and the tight concise plot the pre credit sequence is directly relevant to the plot (they aren’t always). Beginning where Casino Royale’s epilogue ended sees Bond’s Aston Martin is chassed along perilous mountain roads between Lake Como and Siena with Mr White (Jesper Christensen) locked in the boot. Many of the less positive reviews criticise the plot, this is unfair, the plot is sound if a little simple. Bent on revenge but also investigating the Quantum organisation (a modern day SPECTRE) Bond’s part in the plot works. The villains, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) are suitably menacing and loathsome and walk the fine line between caricatures and believable characters. Their intentions, the control of water supplies seems a little low key in comparison to megalomaniacs set on word domination or destruction but is actually both a most timely and realistic one. The one thing that seems to have been overlooked, it is possibly the best looking Bond film. The design and photography is nothing short of stunning, from the old DC-3 plane to the desert landscapes. They also make great use of the Palio di Siena horse race and a performance of Tosca on the floating opera stage at Bregenz, Austria. You don’t watch Bond for the production design but it certainly does no harm to the overall movie.
An underrated and under-appreciated movie that its detractors really should give a second chance. Like me I would recommend you watch it back to back with Casino Royale to best appreciate it in context.