When I first saw Quantum of Solace in 2008 I admired the film and how it stayed true to the new vision of James Bond as presented in 2006's Casino Royale but at the same time I felt a slight disappointment because I had loved Casino Royale and somehow this film fell short of that film's greatness. When Quantum of Solace came to Blu Ray I watched it and Casino Royale back to back and found myself enjoying the film more as part of a origin larger story of James Bond, and certainly these two Bond films are the lead up to a more recognizable James Bond. Watching it again recently, I think I've finally begun to stop wringing my hands over the film and just enjoy the film as a solid entry in the Bond canon.
First, I want to talk about why Quantum of Solace, as a film, seem a little bit "off." I think there are several factors regarding its creation which give me this feeling. For one, this film feels like an extended epilogue to Casino Royale than it does a full fledged film. This of course is the first Bond film to be a direct sequel to the film before it. The Bond films, while previously having a loose sense of continuity, have always been self contained adventures but Quantum of Solace uses the events of Casino Royale as a jumping board for this adventure. Faced with the task of making the (arguably) first genuine sequel to a Bond film, I don't feel the fillmakers knew exactly how to expand the story in to something which feels more stand alone. This film is also a sequel which seems more modest in scale than the previous entry. Quantum of Solace is a much shorter film than Casino Royale and does seem to move quicker than that film. Casino Royale was also a more ambitious film than Quantum of Solace; it set out to reboot a long running franchise for the 21st century with a rugged and controversial leading actor, and re-introducing familiar Bond elements with a twist. Casino Royale was a breath of fresh air, whereas Quantum of Solace wants to leave the audience breathless. Quantum of Solace is less concerned with being revolutionary than Casino Royale was. It's a red-blooded action pretty much all the way, but not without its tender moments.
While the scaled down quality of Quantum of Solace does throw me off a little, I like the economy and brisk pace of the film. While the Bond films are often burdened by being too long without enough substance to fill the two hour plus running times, there's not a lot of fat on its bones. While it does have its own plotline regarding a coup in Bolivia set in motion by Dominic Greene (Mathau Amalric), in order to put General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) in power in return for control over Bolivia's water supply, the plot is kept in check, somewhat convultued but still simple enough for the film to still be essentially about Bond. I like how while this film has the set up of a revenge film, the person Bond would want revenge against is already dead. He fell in love with Vesper Lynd only for her to break his heart when she's revealed as a traitor and killed herself. Bond doesn't know quite who to turn his vengeance against. When he kills a few leads which can lead him to QUANTUM, the organization Le Chiffre worked for, it suggests Bond is "taking out" his pain on the wrong people. The film is kind of an "existential" revenge film, or better yet, an anti revenge film. This is not to say its preaching against revenge so much as its about Bond moving past his feelings of vengeance and becoming the 007 we know and (sometimes) love.
I like how the main Bond Woman, Camille (Olga Kurylenko) has actual motivation, which gives her a purpose in the narrative aside from just being the Bond Woman. She has gotten close to Greene in order to kill Medrano for killing her family. Unlike Bond, she does have a definitive target for her revenge but by the end of the film she becomes Bond's partner. They learn to trust one another and the mission becomes more than just about revenge but about stopping QUANTUM. The second Bond Woman, Agent Fields (Gemma Arterton), has a few fun moments with Bond but she doesn't get to really develop as a character and feels like she's just there to be a reference to Goldfinger.
I also wish Jeffrey Wright, returning as Bond's CIA friend Felix Leiter hadn't been so underused. I always find the Bond films play down their relationship while it comes through more in Ian Fleming's novels. However, I did like how they played the Rick Blaine card, having Bond say Felix isn't as cynical as he pretends to be. The CIA is turning a blind eye towards Greene's operation yet they are not portrayed as villains, which I thought was nice touch. As Bond's friend Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) says, when one gets older, it's harder to tell the good guys from the bad, which comes from a passage in the novel Casino Royale.
With sequels, we sometimes think of them as being darker than the original film. In Quantum of Solace's case, it's not so much a darker film but a more melancholic film. I think the reason why the film can feel disappointing is because it's a film about disappointment, of knowing you'll never get the one you love back and the only thing left to do is forgive that person for leaving you and to forgive yourself. The film, while very action driven, is never soulless. The scenes between Bond and Mathis expand upon their relationship in Casino Royale and I love their final moments together as Mathis is dying; Mathis tells him to forgive Vesper and to forgive himself. When Mathis dies, it's a genuinely sad moment since we've come to like the character.
Marc Forster, who replaced Casino Royale's Martin Campbell as a director does a really fine job of hitting the appropriate emotional beats, making the film feel like an authentic human drama. He has been criticized for not being a good action director but I don't have a huge problem with his action scenes. I do like the frantic editing at the beginning of the car chase at the start of the film and I love the final assault on Greene's hotel. I like how it's similar to the typical Bond Villain fortress but more grounded in the real world.
I still would have liked to see Bond's two conversations with Greene and Vesper's boyfriend who tricked Vesper in to working for QUANTUM by being faux-kidnapped, though I understand how those things may be better left to the imagination.
Quantum of Solace, like the Timothy Dalton Bond entries, is a divider among Bond fans. I usually like the dividers and Quantum of Solace, while starting out as somewhat of a disappointment, and a way still is, is nevertheless a very humane and unique entry in the James Bond mythos.