(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Quantum of Solace deserves better than the frequently snide dismissals you’ve all been giving it.)

Casino Royale (2006) is not only the best of Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies, but it’s the best Bond movie period. That’s just factual and not up for debate, but there seems to be less certainty when it comes to ranking the remaining three films from his tenure as 007. It’s easy, though, if you remember that the chronological order is also the order of descending quality – Casino Royale > Quantum of Solace (2008) > Skyfall (2012) > Spectre (2015). Yup, they’re a series of diminishing returns. You’re welcome.

Those Other Two? Pretty, Dumb, and Bloated

Look, don’t get me wrong, both Skyfall and Spectre have their positives. They feature some solid action beats, appealing supporting players like Albert Finney and Léa Seydoux, and attractive cinematography with the former in particular delivering jaw-dropping visuals courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins. Both stumble, though, with their often obtuse, cluttered, and utterly idiotic scripts. After two films featuring Bond as a brutish, young-ish agent, Skyfall introduces him as a near over the hill agent already weary with the world, meaning we’ve completely bypassed the middle ground where he’s just a kick-ass spy doing his job.

It’s focused on that bland and overly familiar plot of a stolen list of undercover agent names, Bond lets the assassin in Shanghai kill three people before even attempting to intercede, he has sex with a woman he knows was a child sex slave (and who then dies, of course), and the top nerd at MI6 connects a suspect’s laptop to their internal network! Seriously, I worked IT for a coffee retailer and even we knew better than to do something that stupid. Toss in an elaborately moronic plan by the villain, and you have a big, beautiful disappointment. Spectre doubles down on the idea that we should care about Bond’s childhood – spoiler, we don’t – and then gives us a ridiculous supervillain responsible for the deaths of every woman Bond’s ever swapped spit with? Dumb. Both movies are beautiful but inane garbage fires.

But I’m not here to knock down those two blockbuster misfires. I’m here to lift up the second best of the Craig-era Bond films – the smarter, more engaging, and equally beautiful Quantum of Solace. (Yeah, I don’t know why this counts as an “unpopular” opinion either.)

Think of It as a Fourth Act

The only criticism facing Quantum of Solace that you won’t see me arguing against is in regard to its running time. Clocking in at a mere 106 minutes it’s the shortest of the twenty-four Bond movies. By contrast, the other three Craig-led Bond films are the three longest of the franchise at 144, 143, and 148 minutes respectively. So yes, on a purely mathematical level it’s easy to see why some people might feel ripped off when it comes to thinking they’ve been shafted when it comes to bang for their buck as it’s forty minutes shorter than the film that precedes it.

But – and yes, this is where I argue the thing I literally just said I wouldn’t argue – its shorter, tighter story actually shines if you think of it as the fourth act to Casino Royale. Seriously, next time you watch and love Casino Royale follow it immediately with Quantum of Solace. The result might surprise you.

Past and future Bond films carry over characters and references, but as the only direct sequel – as in picking up the action mere minutes to hours later – in the series Quantum of Solace actually wraps up Casino Royale rather nicely. It directly continues the immediate storyline, concludes an emotional arc involving Vesper Lynd, adds more to the mythology of the villainous agency combating MI6, and tosses in some fresh dramatic thrills along the way.

Mr. White is captured by Bond at the end of one film and is being transported to an MI6 black site at the very beginning of the next. His interrogation with M goes awry, but they manage to get some information regarding the dastardly organization Quantum as well as more specifics regarding Vesper’s betrayal. That latter detail allows for a coda that closes the most romantic chapter in Bond’s life as he learns the truth and tragedy behind her actions in the previous film. It’s this that ultimately hardens his heart and seals his fate as the love ’em and leave ’em Bond we all know. It’s this knowledge – he let someone in, and the world forced her betrayal – that confirms his turn into a soulless, hard-hearted dick as capable of bedding a woman forced into sex slavery (Skyfall) as he is of shtupping a widow the day she buries her husband (Spectre). There’s character growth here, and that’s never a bad thing.

Women Rule, Boys Drool

Before reaching that point, though, Quantum of Solace sees him cross paths with two women as diametrically opposed as any in the Bond universe. Like the unfortunately named Honey Rider, Christmas Jones, Pussy Galore, and Holly Goodhead before her, Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) is saddled with an utterly cartoonish name that makes it difficult to take her seriously. And like many of the women in Bond’s world she sleeps with him and winds up dead the next day (this time via a nod to Goldfinger). The incident earns Bond a rare rebuke with M (Judi Dench) criticizing him for dragging women into harm’s way simply because he wants a quick and callous shag. “She worked in an office,” says M. “Look how well your charm works James. They’ll do anything for you.” We’ve seen this pattern before (and will again), but hearing another character, especially a female, call out his deadly behavior is refreshing.

Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) is her flip side in every way. She’s a “Bond girl” allowed to be completely disinterested in sleeping with him, but more than that, she’s a female character with her own past, future, and present agenda. She’s not there for him and in fact is pissed when he intrudes into her storyline. Camille is on a quest for revenge, a vengeance that she succeeds in acquiring by film’s end, and her methods have been every bit as shifty and sleazy as the ones Bond employs. “You infiltrated Green’s organization by having sex with him?” asks Bond, to which she replies “That offends you?” “No, not in the slightest,” he says with a smile. Like him, she’s a driven personality willing to use whatever it takes to achieve a goal, and there’s a unique respect at play here between Bond and a woman who he’d be trying to seduce in any other film. He holsters his license to diddle and at one point even says he’s sorry to her – James Bond gives a sincere apology to a woman!

As action/thrillers, the Bond films are filled with violence, but while most male characters who die do so while engaged in a fight of their own making, the women are often collateral damage. Many of them exist to provide information and horizontal mambo time before being snuffed and/or forgotten, but Quantum of Solace actually highlights violence against women as a thematic element. From M’s comments to Bond after Strawberry’s death, to Camille’s own backstory and her road to revenge, to the coda where Bond confirms that Vesper’s actions were done out of fear of violence, weight is given to women and the suffering they endure at the hands of men.

Camille is also highly capable of kicking ass when required due as much to her determination as to her training. The list of Bond girls who are an active part of the action is a short list indeed – Camille, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies), Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, Skyfall), and that’s it right? And Eve is relegated to desk duty after just one film because she’s supposedly not cut out for the field! So it’s really just Camille and Wai Lin. Across twenty-four movies and fifty-three years.

Despite where the film leaves Bond at the end, the journey there is one featuring rare emotion for the character and the franchise. He recognizes Camille’s pain, both in her story and her need for revenge, and as their world is burning down around them Bond lets his own quarry go to help her instead. She’s succeeded in her quest for revenge, but the surrounding fire and painful memories of a similar circumstance from her childhood have left her paralyzed. He gets her to safety and the two part ways having never seen each other’s nether regions. Kurylenko does a great job here with the franchise’s most multi-dimensional female character, and I’d love to see them bring her back into Bond’s world for a second go-around.

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