CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SEWERAGE CHARGES
I suppose it's appropriate that Eon, the production company behind the James Bond films, has the same name as E.ON, the power company. How many of us have opened the gas bill on a Monday morning and shouted "How much??? You thieving bastards!!!" at the sight of the fat red figures at the bottom? Never mind drugs barons, dirty bombs or laser satellites: deep down we're far more annoyed about Anglian Water ramping their prices up again. I can imagine Bond producer Michael Wilson seeing the invoice for all that water used for the flooding of the ice palace in Die Another Day and deciding then and there that at some point Bond would not be taking on the demented genocidal likes of Blofeld and Hugo Drax - instead, James Bond 007 would use his 22nd adventure to sort out the utility companies.
The lack of a decent threatening villain is only one of the problems with Quantum Of Solace, and it's not the worst: far more damaging is its insistence on spending the whole running time tying up the end of Casino Royale. Sean Connery spent less than ten minutes of the pre-credits sequence of Diamonds Are Forever avenging the death of his bride at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and then she was forgotten save for two brief references in the Roger Moore years, but in the caring, emotional 21st Century Quantum has to go with Bond on his journey of emotional closure. It picks up immediately after Casino, with Bond delivering the mysterious Mr White to M in a secret torture dungeon underneath a racetrack in Italy, before M's personal bodyguard kills him: this mysterious international crime syndicate has even infiltrated the top echelons of MI6!
Through a tagged banknote, the trail leads to Haiti and an environmentalist called Greene (Mathieu Amalric) a sleazy generalissimo and the mysterious Camille (Olga Kurylenko). And then they go to Austria for a surreal staging of Tosca before heading for Bolivia where Greene is hoarding all the country's natural water resources prior to becoming the new utilities provider after the imminent regime change - but they're exchanging the money and signing contracts (can you imagine Blofeld or Rosa Klebb bothering with the paperwork?) in a huge empty hotel in the middle of the desert which blows up at the end (because it's a Bond film and it has to).
It's not just that the plot is a whole bunch of nonsense involving the transfer of ownership of a Bolivian water company, or that the villain is probably the least threatening than Bond has ever taken on, or that Camille is only a Bond Girl in the sense that she's a girl and it's a Bond film (the traditional Bond Girl role of disposable shag object is taken by Gemma Arterton). There's the cat-in-a-mangle howling of Jack White and Alicia Keys' so-called "song" which is the least musical thing to come out of 007 since Three Blind Mice and makes Madonna's contribution sound like Shirley Bassey. There's still too much of M and there's a total absence of humour. And there's the absurd overediting of the action sequences which reduce them to gibberish: I honestly had to take three runs at the pre-credits car chase before it was remotely clear which car was in front of which and which car James Bond was actually driving. Say what you like about the unfussy point-and-shoot style of the John Glen years; at least you knew what the hell was happening.
Yet watching it again last night it's not the crushing disaster it seemed on opening day. All those faults still hold true but, like Eric Serra's awful Goldeneye score, you get used to them as part of the film. At 102 minutes it's one of the shorter Bond films - it may even be the shortest - so it doesn't waste a huge amount of time, though perhaps it could have done with a little room to breathe as it's front-loaded with big action scenes, chases and fights. And David Arnold's score isn't his best for Bond, but it's still fine (I've been playing the CD this morning). While there's a lot wrong with Quantum, it's improved somewhat since it came out. Let's just hope that Skyfall doesn't require four years to mature on the shelf to the point where it's actually okay.
Kumquat Of Sausage: