Quantum of Solace (PG-13)
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring Daniel Craig, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench and Olga Kurylenko
The 46-year-old series of 007 movies has a special place in my life. Back when my wife and I were childhood sweethearts (we thought we were adults, but we were 12), our primary dating activity consisted of a streetcar ride, a movie and a hamburger. The first film we saw was The Manchurian Candidate; the second was From Russia with Love, still, in my estimation, the best of the James Bond thrillers. It had the best Bond in Sean Connery, the best villains in Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw — best because they were human in scale and the best fight scenes because they were real rather than exaggerated. There was plenty of action, but there also was a cohesive story, one that seemed to matter in the Cold War era of its setting.
Twenty-one Bond films have followed From Russia with Love, which was second in the series after Dr. No. Connery gave way to George Lazenby briefly and to Roger Moore, who played Bond seven times over 12 years. Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan starred in six installments between them. And now the license to kill rides in the wallet of Bond the Blond, Daniel Craig. I have seen them all, the Connery films more than once, and Craig is a worthy successor, adding a gritty spin that takes the character somewhere new. But if Craig's Quantum of Solace were the first Bond film I saw, I wouldn't still be watching.
Directed by Marc Forster (who helmed better films like Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction and The Kite Runner) and surprisingly penned by Paul Haggis (who has written such important films as Crash, Million Dollar Baby, In the Valley of Elah and Letters from Iwo Jima) along with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Quantum of Solace is an exercise in incessant, improbable and uninvolving violence crammed into a vehicle trading on nostalgia for better, more fun-filled times.
Proceeding directly from the end of Craig's first outing in Casino Royale, Bond is still in Italy pining for Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), his true love, who not only died but, he believes, betrayed him before she did so. That romantic tragedy angle might have led to a movie worth remembering, but it doesn't. It's an excuse rather than a premise. We start, as always, on the fly. Bond roars down a twisting mountain roadway, dodging 18-wheelers, buses and bullets and spraying off some payback as he steers. We actually do learn who was after him and even why, but it hardly matters. For a nanosecond, Bond and M (Judi Dench) interrogate a bad guy, but immediately our hero is off on a rooftop chase that involves crashing through skylights, navigating a cascading scaffold and swinging by pulley ropes from way up high to ever so low. How many different ways can I say that just because it's preposterous doesn't mean it's not tedious?
Eventually, we get the faint outline of a plot. Without the shades of genuine characterization, a typically evil villain named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is jetting around the world on the pretense of being the planet's greatest environmentalist, raising capital from limousine liberals on every continent with banks and stocks of caviar. The CIA, treated here as being peopled with the kind of guys who would try to kill Castro by mailing him exploding cigars, thinks that Greene is trying to corner the market on oil reserves and wants to do business with him. It takes Bond a while, as he takes a beating or 10, to figure out Greene is trying to control water, not petroleum. Sounds like the ingredients of a story the picture isn't really interested in.
Fairly early on, Bond joins forces with a mysterious beauty named Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who manages to hang around the entire flick without ever actually being incorporated into the storyline, an amazing feat of sustained irrelevance. Bond rescues Camille a couple of times and dukes it out with her a couple of others, but their connection remains utterly contrived and fundamentally pointless.
Most of the time, we haven't a clue what's going on, though there are chases and fights on land, air and sea. I think the reason such capable filmmakers got involved in this project was just for the locations they got to visit: Italy, London, Haiti, Austria, Italy again and the Bolivian Andes. We don't know why they had to go there, but at least the travel must have been exciting.