Is there a red-blooded, popcorn-munching movie loyalist alive who wouldn’t want Quantum of Solace to be good?
After all, it reunites us with a certain stylish Ian Fleming character (what was that name again?) who as of this outing will have graced (or, OK, sometimes Moonraked) the silver screen 22 times — though only twice yet as embodied by a bracing Daniel Craig, now tangling with a nefarious business mogul played by the great French actor Mathieu Amalric. Sounds promising, right?
And how about the poster — with him just dashing and impeccably dressed enough to class up that ludicrously gangsta-lethal machine gun? That seemed so promising that some Britons even tried to ban it. Now that’s anticipation.
If nothing else, Quantum of Solace could even compete with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, for the distinction of having the headiest, tries-too-hard title of the season. It’s less important that the former title does in fact derive from Fleming’s fiction, apparently, as the movie itself generally does not.
Which is to say, unfortunately, that it feels like a misfire.
It’s hard to admit. But there were clues even during the anticipation. Like the signature song, that Jack White-Alicia Keys duet, getting diluted through overexposure in movie-theater Coke commercials. Or our buried mixed feelings about the fact that we all now live in a Jason Bourne world. For red-blooded, fun-loving, popcorn-munching movie loyalists, that fact is great news — but what, now, for poor James Bond?
Quantum of Solace is quite specifically a sequel to 2006’s Bond reboot, Casino Royale, which means keeping up with this movie’s plot (inasmuch as it’s even possible, or necessary) will require remembering what went on in that one. What matters most is that Bond’s self-assigned mission here is to avenge Vesper Lynd, the one true love among his many many many lovers (who betrayed him, but you know).
Craig’s pretty clear on his motivation here. Yet for all its ministrations — about Amalric’s Euro-villain destabilizing the Bolivian government (and getting in bed with the CIA) so he can hoard natural resources — the script, by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, just doesn’t seem to have Bond’s back. Nor does it offer enough material of substance to Craig’s best supporting players: Judi Dench as Bond’s boss, Jeffrey Wright as a watchful, cautiously helpful CIA man, and of course Amalric, doing his best, with beady eyes and uncorrected teeth, to make his bad guy register.
The real problems most likely have to do with the direction. That’s from Marc Forster, currently well-established as a maker of art-house fare that tends toward the slushy (Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction, The Kite Runner), and perhaps simply out of his element here.
Forster doesn’t skimp on the action-intensive set pieces, but doesn’t stage them very coherently or compellingly either. As a result, Quantum of Solace is so constantly climactic that it’s anti-climactic. From the cliff-side car chase to the rooftop parkour parade to the tough guys in tensely brutal, to-the-death, hand-to-hand combat, it’s all a little too hard to follow or to want to — just as it’s hard not to think that maybe Bond helped invent this sort of stuff, but now Bourne owns it.
Quantum of Solace is a mean little movie, grim and single-minded, without the pleasure or mischief that has made Bond so endearing or contemptible depending whom you ask. The closest it comes to that old frisky spirit is when his given Bond Girl (Olga Kurylenko), quite literally an accessory here, tells him, “There is something horribly efficient about you.” To which, meaning it, he replies, “What a compliment.”
That’s the spirit, old boy. We’ll be waiting for number 23.