Redeeming Quantum of Solace
First, watch Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace back-to-back.
Wasn't that an improvement? I think they make a solid double-bill. The join between the two is seamless; Casino Royale is by far the better-received film and Quantum can coast on that good feeling for a good percentage of its running length. Casino Royale was always a little bloated with that fourth act, whereas Quantum of Solace is well-understood to be very rushed both in production and the final product. Knocking out the wall between the two evens things out.
Now let's go one step further and see if we can completely fix this thing: move the fourth act of Casino Royale to the start of Quantum of Solace.
What we have are two new films:
In his first outing as 007, James Bond tracks down and matches wits with a man named Le Chiffre, "private banker to the world's terrorists". Bond defeats the man at poker, ruining him and leaving him with nowhere to run but into the arms of MI6. Le Chiffre captures and tortures Bond, but is himself killed by the mysterious Mr. White, who leaves Bond alive.
Smitten with Treasury agent Vesper Lynd, Bond leaves the Secret Service and they both live happily ever after.
This film ends after around 122 minutes, in the brief beach scene with Bond and Vesper. The last few minutes of the film drag out rather, but you can definitely see a couple of places where the credits could feasibly roll. Ending it early makes Casino Roya' a fairly conventional outing for the rebooted James Bond - he beats the bad guy, he gets the girl, everything is wrapped up neatly.
Le Quantum of Solace
The sequel is the destruction of James Bond. The fairytale ending was too good to be true and in this film he pays the price for believing it.
Vesper and Bond sail into Venice, while Bond emails his resignation to MI6. All is well until Vesper steals the winnings of the pivotal poker game of the previous film. Bond pursues her as she delivers the money to the mysterious Mr. White. White escapes and Vesper kills herself. It turns out Vesper had a boyfriend this whole time; White's organisation, Q.U.A.N.T.U.M., was holding him hostage.
Just to clarify: Bond said to Vesper, "Whatever's left of me, I'm yours." Then, Vesper killed herself.
The remainder of Quantum is a blizzard of meaningless action because that's all that's left of James Bond; the plot is delirious, mirroring his mental state. Bond sets out to find the truth. He pursues Dominic Greene, a senior member of Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. who is attempting to acquire indirect control of the nation of Bolivia by monopolising its water supply. Bond defeats Greene and learns from him - among many other things - that Vesper's "boyfriend" was simply another Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. agent who seduced her to gain leverage.
So by the end, everything that Bond has ever known to be true is a lie, except his duty. 007 resigns himself to his fate as a personality-less, country-protecting automaton.
And Mr. White escapes through the cracks in the plot.
Okay, it's not completely fixed, but it's closer.
So... why bother trying? A lot of people didn't like Quantum of Solace for a lot of valid reasons. We all know these reasons; there is no point in reciting them.
The thing is, I don't like not liking films. I want every film to be good. I know that that's ridiculous and impossible. But every film takes a huge amount of earnest effort from a huge number of people and I'd like it if that effort could be not wasted. So let's focus on the positives. If a film is bad, but there's a way of viewing it which makes it good, then let's find that angle.
Some people watch bad films on purpose because they gain enjoyment from the badness. If you gain enjoyment from a film, then doesn't that make it a good film by definition?
The adjective for Quantum of Solace is "rushed". The film runs for 106 minutes and its plot has suffered badly from excessive editing and from the Writer's Guild strike. There was a great interview with Craig on this topic, apparently no longer available, but some bits and pieces still exist. (Oh wait, here it is!) You can see Craig and Marc Forster trying to improvise something coherent and meaningful without backup.
And there's a lot that I do still like about the film. It's beautiful to look at, great to listen to, and it does things to Bond that have never happened before. I think the water plot is an intelligent take on "world domination" - if successful, it would have given Q.U.A.N.T.U.M. a seat at the international table, which raises all kinds of interesting possibilities. And I love Mathieu Amalric as Greene. Sure, the character has no bizarre physical defect, but instead he is a little short and pathetic and strange to look at and talk to. He comes off as almost uncanny-valley phony, smiling exclusively when it's politically wise to do so. Look at his eyes: all the way through the film, Greene is crazy in the eyes. This worked for me because Amalric could very easily have played him as genuinely pedestrian and conventional, just another man-in-a-suit.
And there's the final fight scene. You know, in the exploding hotel, when Greene goes nuts and screams and tries to kill Bond with a fire axe. During that scene he actually feels murderous and wild and properly crazy, in contrast to other Bond villains who have always been relatively measured and calculating even in the final confrontation. Bond is a character who drives people crazy by persistently not dying, and it's a nice touch for the villain to be human enough to actually crack.
But anyway. What I'm saying is that the seeds of a good film are somewhere in Quantum of Solace, more obviously than they are in many films. It's obvious that things could have gone another way, and I don't think it's a waste of time paying attention to what makes a - let's not say "bad" - an unsatisfactory film unsatisfactory, any more than when we look at what makes a good film good.
And if we gain enjoyment from trying to patch a film up retrospectively, that must be worth something, right?