Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond, 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on October 8, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Quantum of Solace (2008)!
I distinctly remember when the heads of EON Productions, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, announced that they would follow up Casino Royale (2006) by doing something the James Bond franchise had never attempted. They would make the next film in the rebooted, gritty Daniel Craig 007 era a direct sequel. My first reaction was an immediate sense of unease at such a creative direction. Now, you can call me old-fashioned or close-minded, but I prefer my Bond pictures to be the anthology the franchise had long-established at this point. But the more I sat with the genuine sequelization concept, I became more open to it. After all, Casino Royale had proven to be one of the best entries ever in the series. Surely making the 22nd official installment in the franchise a sequel to that film couldn’t be a wrong move. Could it?
It’s not as if the idea of true sequelization was a spur-of-the-moment notion by the producers. On the contrary, Wilson conceived this film during the production of Casino Royale. As a result, the co-producer decided he wanted Casino Royale to have loose ends that the movie in review would tie up while creating more loose ends for the franchise. Moreover, Wilson knew he wanted a plot in the vein of the classic noir Chinatown (1974). Thus, he tasked screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis with developing a plot centered around the environment and corruption at the highest levels of power. Beyond that, though, the story would explore the aftermath of the previous picture and how its events ultimately make James Bond into the charming but hardened super spy we’ve come to know and love.
Of course, penning another original screenplay would move the films away from Ian Flemming’s novels; although, not entirely. Quantum of Solace is taken from a short story of the same name by Fleming, which was originally published in the May 1959 issue of Cosmopolitan. Unlike most James Bond tales, this short story is not one of adventure and intrigue. But, instead, one of woe in which Bond, while a guest at a dull dinner party, hears a recounting of a relationship gone wrong. Thus, I can see why EON chose to utilize the title Quantum of Solace from a thematic standpoint. Even still, I can’t help but find the title itself to be rather uninteresting. And, let’s face it, while calling this film’s criminal organization Quantum fits in that quantum is defined as a small amount, it’s still a bit of a stretch.
In true sequel fashion, Quantum of Solace picks up almost immediately after the conclusion (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective) of Casino Royale. What starts as a mission by James Bond (Craig) and MI6 to get to the bottom of the conspiracy in the last film quickly throws the world’s greatest spy into a whirlwind of events as he digs deeper into the mystery of it all. Bond goes rogue after learning that an elusive terrorist organization known as Quantum is responsible for all the tragedy that’s recently befallen him. As he digs deeper, our hero becomes acquainted with a fellow assassin named Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who is also hellbent on revenge. Together, the pair’s mutual bloodlust leads them ever closer to Quantum and one Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). A man whose villainous plot is terrifying but straightforward. With his resources as a member of Quantum, Greene plans to destabilize a small government and control a nation’s oil and water resources. Now, Bond and Camille must not only cut a path of vengeance, but also stop Quantum from gaining more control in the world!
While the plot of Quantum of Solace is not the most elaborate of the 007 adventures by a long shot, it’s certainly not the worst one in the bunch either. But with GoldenEye (1995) and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell declining to return, who would bring this story to the screen? That, my friends, ended up being a shocking choice. After being recommended by Craig, Marc Forester came aboard to helm Quantum of Solace. Craig was a fan of the director’s previous work, which consisted of severe dramatic fare up to that point, most notably Monster’s Ball (2001). But, I suppose that such a choice was logical since Casino Royale has a decidedly dramatic core — especially in comparison to the previous Bond films. Still, hiring Foster to direct a 007 picture had me scratching my head at the time.
Much to my chagrin, my initial befuddlement over the selection of Forester as director was warranted. While he’s generally on point for all the dramatic and dialogue-based sequences, Forester’s instincts for action are all wrong. He takes the kinetic style established in Casino Royale — itself inspired by the Bourne films — and cranks it up to eleven. This approach makes most of the action sequences feel more like they’re all done in a shaky-cam style and sloppily edited after the fact. Otherwise, I might think the opening car chase is as impressive as many fellow fans claim it to be. But, by that same token, the final action sequence is impressive. Following up the opening with the terrible theme song, “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys, and things were off to a bad start.
Between the story and the majority of Forester’s choices, Quantum of Solace can’t help but feel more like a generic action film than the classy, tentpole picture that it should (production designer Dennis Gassner does a tremendous job, though!). After all, the focus of the narrative is arguably more on Camille than Bond. Combine that with the theme of vengeance, and the film ultimately becomes more concerned with being a revenge picture instead of a James Bond film; much like Licence to Kill (1989) before it.
Even with all these issues, I still cannot entirely blame Forester as a lot of my qualms come out of the film’s story — what little there is. Although, there is a good reason for the thin story. Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace was one of the many productions forced through during a writer’s strike. Therefore, what ended up being the final draft of the screenplay was turned in a couple of hours before the strike commenced.
Once it began, the screenwriters were not allowed to step foot on set, much less touch the script. Thus, the cast and crew of Quantum of Solace only had what was essentially a rough draft with which to work. So much so, in fact, that Forester and Craig often improvised to fill in gaps. Hence, why Craig said that he would never do a movie without a nailed-down script again. Between the unfinished screenplay and the multiple injuries the star sustained during production, it’s evident that Quantum of Solace took its toll on the actor’s enthusiasm to play the iconic role at the time. Despite this, the actor is still at the top of his game when it comes to the emotional evolution Bond is experiencing in the film.
Not that we get to see enough of what our hero’s going through. Between Forester tact, the lack of a solid script, and the overall troubled production, what we do see is a mess. Clocking in at 1 hour and 46 minutes, Quantum of Solace is the shortest film in the franchise to date. Yet, it somehow feels painfully slow and too choppy at the same time. Worse still, the film seems to focus more on Camille’s journey as a character than it does Bond’s. While I think that’s a mistake, I will say that Kurylenko’s performance makes Camille the strongest, most independent Bond girl thus far. Not only can she give Bond a run for his money, but she never becomes romantically involved with him. Despite this franchise being twenty-two films deep at the time, that was still a legitimate surprise to me.
Camille is certainly more fleshed out than the film’s secondary Bond girl, Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton). Mind you, that’s no fault of Arterton, who lights up the screen with her beauty. As you might expect, though, her character is there to merely serve a function. The same can be said of this movie’s primary antagonist, Dominic Greene.
While I love how dastardly his scheme is, Greene comes across as nothing more than a slimy businessman who has others tend to his dirty work. One such individual is this film’s supporting villain, General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), who, I think, could just have replaced Greene as Bond’s opposition. On the upside, even if Arterton and Amalric don’t get the opportunity to bring much to the table, we do get a great supporting cast, which again includes Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, and the new addition of David Harbour.
Despite the lukewarm reception from both critics and fans, Quantum of Solace was a box-office success, $589.5 million worldwide on a $225 million production budget. Since its theatrical release, many fans of the franchise have come to see the movie in a warmer light. I, however, am not one of them. Even still, I was torn about Quantum of Solace‘s franchise status. After all, it could be argued that the film is an Expansion based on it being a direct sequel. Alas, that’s not enough for me. Quantum of Solace is an interesting but misguided experiment which results in a Franchise Implosion for all the reasons stated throughout this review. But who knows, perhaps my revisitation of this current Bond era will prove to me that this entry matters more than I think it does.
Quantum Of Solace is Available on All Home Video Formats
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Skyfall (2012)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will (Finally) Be in Theaters on October 8th
Read About Bond’s Past Missions:
Casino Royale (1967)
Casino Royale (2006)