James Bond and Batman are both mythical characters in pop culture who have been repeatedly reinterpreted and reinvented to suit the times. Like Christian Bale’s Batman from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Daniel Craig’s Bond, from Casino Royale and now Quantum of Solace is a darker, more morally dubious character, reflecting a post 9/11 and War on Terror world where the goods guys and bad guys are no longer clear-cut.
Quantum of Solace is the first Bond film to function as an actual sequel, as it begins right after the end of Casino Royale, where the woman Bond loves had betrayed him and then died for him. Nevertheless, the Bond film that Quantum of Solace seems to most resemble is Goldfinger. Not only is there one direct visual reference, where the gold paint is replaced by crude oil, but also these are both films where Bond continually makes mistakes that cause people to die.
The events of Casino Royale heavily impact upon the proceedings in Quantum of Solace and unfortunately unless you have recently seen Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is incredibly difficult to follow. It is certainly a major trend in sequels these days to assume prior knowledge from the audience but Quantum of Solace assumes just a little bit too much for somebody who may have only seen Casino Royale the one time when it first came out.
However, this is a Bond film, so intricate plot details are of secondary importance to the main action and at least Quantum of Solace somewhat delivers in that area. There is a splendid on foot chase through the Tuscan city of Siena and Bond gets to do plenty of damage in a car, boat and plane. Comparing the action to the style of action in the Jason Bourne trilogy has become almost obligatory for critics, but the similarities are worth noting. A lot of the action is in close quarters and is rough and brutal. But while Bourne had an almost clinical gracefulness to the way he fought, Bond completely lacks finesse and he frequently stumbles, falls and gets badly beaten up. He is also violently clumsy and the fact that he is continually accidentally killing people becomes a running joke in the film. As a result the hand-to-hand combat scenes often deliver thrilling and visceral action. In particular, there is a complicated fight on scaffolding, which Jackie Chan could have choreographed, that is great fun.
Unfortunately the significant problem in Quantum of Solace is that most of the larger action sequences, which involve a variety of vehicles, are so rapidly edited, that they become impossible to follow. While directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass from the Bourne films (and for that matter Casino Royale’s director Martin Campbell) were able to capture the nuances and detail of each moment of spectacle, Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction) has adopted the Michael Bay (Transformers, Pearl Harbour) approach, which is to frantically edit each shot so savagely that the whole scene flies past in a blur of colour and movement. The quick edits and dramatic sounds certainly gives you the sensation of witnessing something exciting, but you are not often sure what.
The most frustrating thing about Quantum of Solace is that all the interesting character work that had been done on Bond during Casino Royale has now gone. Full of rage over the death of the woman he loved, the character of Bond has now been regressed into that of the tormented man. Daniel Craig doesn’t really help either by playing the whole film with the same monotonous steely gaze. He’s almost too cold, too callous and his vigilantism makes him come across as a bit of an international Dirty Harry but without the charisma and sense of righteousness.
Quantum of Solace would probably be a more enjoyable film if viewed back-to-back with Casino Royale but as a stand-alone film it suffers from poor characterisation and a lack of explanation for what is going on. Giving Bond more of a thuggish edge worked in Casino Royale but there now needs to be more to the character in order for audiences to emotionally invest in him. Likewise, audiences need to be able to follow the action if they are going to properly engage in a film like this, which although exciting at times, frequently pales in comparison to the far superior Bourne films.