What went wrong with James Bond‘s Quantum of Solace? As introductions to a new Bond go, Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale had pretty much everything. 007 was on shaky ground after the tone-deaf disappointment of Die Another Day and Craig’s arrival marked a welcome change in direction – a darker Bond, a modern aesthetic and a more grounded story. Financially and critically, Bond was back better than ever, the wheels of his Aston Martin screeching into the new millennium, and fans couldn’t wait to see where Craig’s story went next.
Unfortunately, where Bond went next wasn’t worth waiting for. Written by the same team as Casino Royale but with Marc Forster directing instead of Martin Campbell, Quantum of Solace introduces Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric and Gemma Arterton alongside the usual suspects of Bond, Judi Dench as M and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. While the 2008 effort performed well enough at the box office (although not quite as well as Casino Royale), the initial buzz and excitement around Daniel Craig’s reborn bond was very much muted by Quantum of Solace. That momentum would be restored by Skyfall a few years later, but Craig’s second 007 adventure remains a blot on his license.
Quantum of Solace‘s problems were a mixture of events outside of the production’s control and changes in the franchise’s direction that didn’t quite come off as intended. Here’s why the Casino Royale sequel is often considered the “difficult second album” of Daniel Craig’s 007 career.
The backbone of Quantum of Solace‘s lackluster reception isn’t entirely the film’s own fault. Production had the misfortune of coinciding directly with the 2007 Writers Guild strike and while an initial script had just about been completed, Forster was unable to make any subsequent changes or rewrites, at least not using actual writers. Quantum of Solace was forced to commence filming with a script that was both inflexible and unpolished, and that backstage chaos tells in the finished product. Daniel Craig has previously admitted the absence of professional writers left himself and Forster reworking the story in-between takes – a predicament he acknowledges was far from ideal. Interestingly, the actor also admits that before being Frankenstein-ed on the fly, Quantum of Solace was much less of a direct sequel to Casino Royale. The direct continuation between those two films ruffled feathers when Quantum of Solace hit theaters, and it seems the writers strike was responsible for this controversial direction.
Overt sequel elements aside, Quantum of Solace‘s plot suffered other assorted wounds from the writers strike. The eco-terrorism story lacks the punch and gravity of usual Bond villain schemes and despite a more brisk running time, the narrative feels far more cluttered and indirect compared to Casino Royale. These are issues that a proper script touch-up might’ve addressed, had that option been available. As it stands, it’s evident where Quantum of Solace tries to make up for its under-cooked script and one-dimensional characters with gratuitous action sequences. The sizzling dialogue and verbal confrontations James Bond is famous for are tragically absent and while Quantum of Solace does well to continue avoiding the tired Bond girl stereotypes with Kurylenko’s Camille Montes, the film also avoids giving her a proper character.
A lot of these deficiencies can be attributed to the writers strike, at least in part, and while Quantum of Solace was probably never going to be a classic, it might’ve been more fondly remembered with some extra meat on the bone.
Quantum of Solace is fundamentally a revenge-driven movie, and this proved a generally unpopular direction with fans. In a break from tradition, Craig’s second film picks up in the immediate aftermath of Casino Royale, as 007 tries to uncover the secrets behind Vesper Lynd and the mysterious organization she was working for while also finding time to avenge her death. This creates a major disconnect whereby Quantum of Solace‘s story and characterization are essentially Casino Royale: Part II, but the film is stylistically and thematically different from its predecessor, creating an awkward mix of carry-over and fresh ideas. The opening action sequence, for example, begins mere moments after Casino Royale, but immediately employs a disorientating new shaky-cam filming style with frantic editing.
Lynd’s murder motivates Bond throughout Quantum of Solace and there’s certainly potential in addressing the emotional impact of Craig’s character losing a loved one across multiple films. Without doubt, Quantum of Solace would’ve been worse-off not addressing Lynd’s death whatsoever. But while the ghost of Casino Royale‘s watery climax could’ve become a fascinating ongoing character arc for Daniel Craig’s Bond, Quantum of Solace went a step too far by tying Lynd into Dominic Greene, Quantum and the film’s wider plot – a decision that took Bond very far away from his roots. Compare this to when Blofeld killed Bond’s new wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The follow-up (1971’s Diamonds Are Forever) allows Bond to get his revenge before swiftly moving onto a new story altogether.
Casino Royale undoubtedly brought Bond into the modern era, but largely maintained the aspects that made 007 unique. By framing Quantum of Solace as a revenge story, that Bond DNA is lost. There’s a greater emphasis on violence, as Craig’s James Bond becomes more of a generic action hero, plowing through villains to defeat the big boss and avenge Lynd, but notable by their absence are Bond’s charm, wit and occasional subtlety. The vengeance emphasis is made worse by Bond’s clear lack of satisfaction once the mission is completed. Yes, those who seek revenge must dig two graves and all that, but the finale risks coming off as downbeat without any emotional payoff to the very story driving Quantum of Solace.
Marc Forster has admitted to not being a James Bond fan outside of Casino Royale and this perhaps explains why the version of 007 seen in Quantum of Solace is even more of deviation from the original template than Daniel Craig already was.
Quantum of Solace makes a crucial error with regards to its supervillain setup. Casino Royale had already hinted at the presence of a shadowy cabal of Bond villains, and fans were eagerly anticipating the arrival of SPECTRE and Blofeld. Unfortunately, SPECTRE as a fictional organization had long been the subject of copyright wrangling, with Ian Fleming and a writer he worked with on Thunderball, Kevin McClory, both claiming to have come up with the SPECTRE idea. These issues have plagued SPECTRE’s presence in the James Bond movies, with Eon able to come to an agreement with McClory on some occasions, but not on others. When Daniel Craig first suited up, SPECTRE was firmly off the table, meaning Quantum was invented as their narrative replacement. Eon and McClory’s estate reached another deal in 2013, however, which allowed SPECTRE’s introduction into the modern James Bond movies.
As a result, Quantum had to be retconned into the SPECTRE mythology and this leaves Quantum of Solace feeling outdated, unnecessary and looking a little foolish for spending so much time setting up an organization that ultimately didn’t matter. Fans were generally fine with ignoring Quantum in favor of SPECTRE though, likely because Quantum of Solace‘s set up for the organization wasn’t as effective as it should’ve been. The addition of Quantum feels parachuted-in as a means of reworking existing plots and characters to serve a larger story, and the result is more contrived than natural. Quantum of Solace doesn’t bear all of the blame here – Spectre was accused of doing exactly the same with its own villainous team. It’s probably not a coincidence that the more popular Daniel Craig Bond films (Casino Royale and Skyfall) were less reliant on the interconnected supervillain organization idea.
Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene was an intentional departure away from the standard Bond villain tropes, but what Quantum of Solace fails to realize is that Bond villains, however many similarities they might share, are renowned as some of the most memorable baddies in movie history. Greene’s plan to seize de facto leadership of Bolivia by monopolizing the country’s water supply already feels a little small-scale compared to previous evil masterplans (not offence to our Bolivian readership, of course) and that could be symptomatic of how Quantum of Solace took Casino Royale‘s realistic approach even further. But Greene doesn’t exactly sell himself to an audience of expectant Bond fans.
It’s one thing going for “grounded” (losing the facial deformities and trapdoors into shark tanks, etc.) but Greene is the villain in Quantum of Solace purely by circumstance, not because he’s particularly formidable. Tricking a suspiciously gullible military general does not a James Bond villain make. Casino Royale‘s Le Chiffre has the good decency to exude the aura of a classic 007 adversary in Daniel Craig’s era of toned-down ludicrousness, but Dominic Greene sounds like the name of a door-to-door insurance salesman and proves only marginally more threatening. Between the forgettable villain and the unambitious plot for world..err..Bolivian domination, there’s a real sense that Quantum of Solace is a stop-gap for Bond both in the story and in his series of films – merely a means to the end of avenging Vesper.