Quantum of Solace isn’t as good as Casino Royale; though I should immediately qualify that statement by saying that the previous Bond movie is not only one of my favourites of the series, but also one of the best action-thrillers ever made. It would’ve been some feat indeed for QoS to top it.
As it is, director Marc Forster doesn’t really try. Casino Royale was about a poker game; QoS is about bringing down a significant player in a worldwide Secret Evil Organisation — but it’s the former that’s more epic. Bond rattles around the world, from action sequence to action sequence, at a rate of knots. There’s a sense that Forster, who has never made an action film before and was initially reluctant to take this one on, has treated this as the time he tried an Action/Spy Movie and so thrown everything at it. There’s a car chase, a bike chase, a roof-top chase, a foot chase, a plane chase/fight, gunfights, fist fights, knife fights, sneaking around, going in all guns blazing, betrayals, reversals, having to be a maverick agent because Bond’s right while his superiors refuse to trust him… And all this squeezed into the shortest Bond film yet made.
In truth, the running time isn’t really a problem. The film doesn’t come up for air until quite far in, but if one pays attention (and can remember Casino Royale — this really is a direct sequel) the plot can be followed well enough and you’re not likely to get bored. It’s a tad ironic that Forster was chosen because of his Oscar-nominated ability to do Character Drama and the like, and yet has wound up crafting such a relentlessly action-packed entry in the series. QoS is perhaps at its best when getting stuck into the meatier scenes between Bond and M, or Bond and Camille, or Bond and a returning character from the last film. The action scenes occasionally had too much of a Bourne vibe for my taste. I love the Bourne films, but the Bond films are different, and I don’t want a handheld camera shoved so close you can barely see anything, and even when you can the next cut is only 0.4 seconds away.
There are other flaws. I don’t mind Bond being light on humour, and it does at least mean when the jokes come they’re all the more welcome, but I think Casino Royale‘s torture scene exemplified the overall mix the rebooted Bond should aim at: dark, gritty, nasty, real… but the scene also got the biggest laughs of any part when I saw it at the cinema. Bond doesn’t need the campness of Moore or Brosnan, or even as much humour as Connery injected, but I think it could do with more than Dalton had, and The Craig Era has now reached that level of humour-dearth. On the flipside of that argument, this is a darker story all round… but I’ll have to save the end of that argument for my spoilery review at a later date.
My other main complaint is probably the title sequence. I like the song, personally, but MK12’s titles are bland, generic, and too colourful for either the film or the song. They’d look fine on a tie-in video game (in fact, they do — I saw it on YouTube), but in the film itself I almost began to wonder what they were thinking. I may have some residual distaste for the dropping of Daniel Kleinman here — certainly, I haven’t seen anyone else write about them; but then Proper Critics tend to have other things on their mind — especially after he created one of the best main titles ever for Casino Royale, but I sincerely hope they bring him back for the next film.
As for the next film, I think QoS will leave some with a feeling of, “well that’s that out of the way — next!” In truth, it’s not that bad. It suffers by following the exceptional quality of Casino Royale, and also being so tied to the former’s story, but despite that pulls a well-above-average action-thriller out of the bag. I expect it will continue to receive a mixed response from critics and audiences, which is more due to people’s expectations than the film’s inherent quality, but that’s the way things go. As far as I’m concerned, Bond’s back, and that’s always a good thing.
A fuller review of Quantum of Solace — I have a lot more to say! — will appear as #73 in the next few weeks, following my reviews of After the Sunset, Stay, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hitman, St. Trinian’s, The Invasion, and Casino Royale.