2006’s Casino Royale appeared to signal a blistering return to form for the 007 franchise, which had seen its reputation tarnished by increasingly outlandish misfires like The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Indeed, aside from marking the acclaimed debut of Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy, a recent poll now ranks it the best James Bond film of all time. Much to the dismay of critics and fans, then, this auspicious reinvention was followed-up with the outstandingly unimpressive Quantum of Solace in 2008. Despite the enlistment of award-winning director Marc Foster and featuring a script by the same screenwriters as Casino Royale, the film seems to have strayed too far from the series’ roots in a bid for greater artistic expression. As the world prepares for the release of Skyfall, the twenty-third official Bond film, I’ve therefore decided to highlight some key lessons incumbent director Sam Mendes and his team have hopefully gleaned from Quantum’s shortcomings.
1. Ditch the “queasy-cam” aesthetic
Strongly influenced by Paul Greengrass’s Jason Bourne sequels, Quantum was similarly constructed using a plethora of shaky camera movements, indistinct framings and very, very rapid editing. For a perfect example, look no further than the pre-credit car chase, which ignores almost every rule of spatial continuity and has an average shot length of just 0.82 seconds. Particularly when it comes to contemporary action films, there’s a widespread belief that this frenetic visual style adds energy and excitement, but I often wonder how enjoyable audiences really find sequences they can barely comprehend. Spare me arguments that it “increases subjectivity” and “makes the action more realistic” – this is popular entertainment and so the filmmakers have a certain responsibility to keep viewers engaged, not reaching for a bottle of aspirin. Master directors like Steven Spielberg and John McTiernan continue to prove that longer takes, coupled with expressive camera movements and meticulous framing, can help audiences remain orientated and absorbed throughout even the most preposterous action sequences.
2. No more sequels
Although the 007 series has a history of overarching storylines and recurring characters, Quantum was technically its first ever sequel. Opening just hours after the final scene of Casino Royale, the story centres around Bond’s attempts to bring down the criminal organisation responsible for Vesper Lynd’s death. Yet despite plenty of redundant exposition for those unfamiliar with the previous film, I still feel that Quantum lacks the narrative drive of many earlier entries. This is especially true since Bond is primarily motivated by vengeance, but we never actually see any scenes of him and Lynd behaving like a loved up couple. As a result, Bond might have a deep desire to bring Dominic Greene and his associates to justice, but we couldn’t care less. If the past fifty years have taught us anything, its that these films work best when a new threat is established in the setup and eventually foiled during the climax.
3. Don’t make Bond too dark
Casino Royale introduced us to an edgier, more hard-boiled Bond than had ever previously been seen. In a refreshing display of emotional depth, we saw him fall in love, consider settling down and even wrestle with his conscience after exercising his newly acquired “licence to kill.” Attempting to explore the role even further, however, Quantum inadvertently stripped Bond of his trademark humour and charisma; consumed by grief, he forgoes his familiar witty quips in favour of staying stony-faced and terse. Admirable as it may be for Craig and the filmmakers to try creating a fully realised character, I rather feel that it ignores what has made Bond so appealing to generations of cinemagoers. Surely part of his continuing allure is the deep contradiction that on the surface he’s a suave gentleman and lounge lizard, but underneath he’s a compulsive womaniser and master of espionage. In my opinion, at least, Bond works best when he doesn’t come with too much emotional baggage.
4. Give audiences a villain they can love to hate
Looking back at the past five decades of Bond, it soon becomes clear that all of the series’ truly great villains possess some type of gruesome deformity or signature prop: Ernst Blofeld has his white cat and prominent facial scar, Le Chiffre produces tears of blood, and Francisco Scaramanga has his golden gun and third nipple. In an apparent effort to symbolise the hidden evils in society, however, Quantum’s Dominic Greene has no such discernable characteristic, which ultimately causes him to become the dullest nemesis in years. To make matters worse, he also has one of the most boring plots ever: to buy Bolivian water reserves and resell them at inflated prices. While others look to take over the world or get control of nuclear weapons, then, Greene is simply interested in getting rich. Perhaps such a boring villain could normally have been overlooked, but with Bond lacking his usual charisma, Quantum really needed an intriguing and credible antagonist. They say an action film is only as good as its villain – let’s hope future Bond screenwriters remember for subsequent instalments.