Back then, we expected standalone adventures, which is one reason why the action-packed opening of the film is somewhat disorienting. The film jumps in the deep end with a frantic car chase right after Bond catches Mr White (Jesper Christensen) at the end of Casino Royale.
We then pick up with 007 discovering Quantum, the criminal organisation that coerced Vesper into working for them in the previous instalment.
Read more: The road to No Time To Die: Casino Royale
His quest for revenge is matched by that of orphaned Bolivian agent Camille Montes, (Olga Kurylenko) who helps to uncover a conspiracy orchestrated by philanthropist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).
Naturally, Casino Royale looms large over this one. Unusually for a Bond film, many surviving minor characters returning, including Mr White, Felix, (Jeffrey Wright) and Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade also return to complete what they apparently saw as a two-part story, with Paul Haggis providing rewrites once again.
Though not as acclaimed as its predecessor, Quantum Of Solace proves a more direct continuation than anything else we’d seen in the Bond series up to this point.
The sequel ran into problems early on. Craig suggested the late, great Roger Michell as director, but the filmmaker quit negotiations in May 2007 because the script wasn’t ready to get the film finished for EON and MGM’s proposed May 2008 release date. With a new November 2008 target date, Marc Forster (The Kite Runner) signed up to direct instead.
Another obstacle was the impending Writers’ Guild of America strike, during which the producers wouldn’t be able to hire WGA members to work on the script. But with a Screen Actors’ Guild strike also potentially on the horizon, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson wanted to start production before any further delays came along.
Haggis reportedly submitted his Bond 22 draft, titled Sleep Of The Dead, just two hours before the strike began in November 2007, a year before the film’s release date. While some second-unit filming took place in various locations, principal photography only started in January 2008.
By his own admission, Daniel Craig is not a writer. Yet he, Forster, and the producers were the only people allowed to fine-tune the script during filming. Accordingly, Quantum Of Solace makes shaggy work of its plot.
Happily, the strike ended during filming and writer Joshua Zetumer performed some uncredited work with actors on set, performing rewrites based on their ideas on the day. The film’s dialogue triumphs and disasters meet at the Andean Grand Hotel check-in scene, which starts with “We are teachers on sabbatical who have just won the lottery” (great joke) and ends with “I can’t find the stationery, help me look” (dodgy chat-up line).
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Finally, the choice of an unused Ian Fleming short story title was made and announced during the strike. Quantum Of Solace suits the film, thematically, but naming the SPECTRE-alike evil organisation after part of it is a baffling choice that most writers would avoid.
Oil and water
It’s a film of contrasts like that, as you’d expect from a plot that mixes up oil and water, but that’s not why this instalment gets a bad rap. The story sees various world powers attempting to capitalise on what they think is a major oil find in Bolivia, little realising that Quantum aims to control the country’s government by seizing most of its water supply instead. Greene isn’t conceived as a formidable opponent, but a political player, with Amalric basing his performance on Nicolas Sarkozy and Tony Blair.
Forster had enjoyed Casino Royale but wanted a shorter, faster-paced runtime. The frenetic, close-cut editing of action scenes and emotional beats alike doesn’t always gel with the unusually convoluted geopolitical plot. It often draws attention to the cuts and occasionally takes the viewer out of the film.
On the cruder side of things, the oily demise of Agent Fields the field agent (Gemma Arterton) recalls an iconic moment from Goldfinger but sells the character short. Arterton filmed her death on the first day and frankly didn’t get much more to do after that. She later wrote a satirical short story, Woke Woman, about her character for the 2018 anthology Feminists Don’t Wear Pink And Other Lies.
Nevertheless, this is the rare outing that succeeds in making its female lead an equal counterpart to 007, instead of a romantic interest. It’s a revenge movie, with Camille’s story running parallel to Bond’s, and there’s a tender rapport between them. The meaning of the title is what they’re fruitlessly looking for in their respective grief-fuelled vendettas.
Theme song artists Alicia Keys and Jack White prove an eclectic match too, and 'Another Way To Die' is another rockier number than most classic Bond themes. Like the film, it got a mixed response but there's still lots to enjoy in there, from its catchy guitar riff to its suitably paranoid lyrics.
Understandably, this is the only Bond film to date where the title doesn’t appear in either the film’s dialogue or the lyrics of the theme song.
Still, Quantum Of Solace is one of the few in the series that could stand to be longer so it can breathe a bit – at 106 minutes, it’s the shortest entry to date. Flawed though it is, it’s at once refreshingly brisk and thematically rich, which makes it a grower on rewatches.
Despite all production issues, the film’s November 2008 release date was more in keeping with the traditional two-year window between Bond movies. As it turned out, the Craig era wouldn’t match that relatively quick turnaround again.
For better or worse, the later Craig outings become even more entangled in continuity, but this ever-under appreciated sequel is built to deliver closure for Casino Royale, rather than revising or rehashing previous hits.
No Time To Die arrives in cinemas on 30 September. Watch a trailer below.