Initial thoughts on the 22nd James Bond film.
Directed by Marc Forster
Not the sequel to the environmental dystopian kitsch Soylent Green. Nevertheless, Quantum Of Solace is equally kitschy: in this aftermath of Casino Royale, we find a scheming environmentalist, who just happens to be called Mr. Greene, in the most suspenseful story ever told about the water rights of Bolivia—and the film does it all through gunfire, speedboat chases, fight scenes, explosions, rooftop chases, fight scenes, explosions, and car chases, though none of the cars are a Prius.
By my reckoning, Quantum Of Solace starts one hour after Casino Royale (in the mountain tunnels along Southern France), but the exact number of hours will vary based on your time zone. Even more disturbing, despite the bloated marketing campaign that mandates everyone to watch this film, many are forced to wonder: was Casino Royale really Quantum Of Solace Part 1? Was the direct sequel of Casino Royale even necessary? What was the story of Casino Royale, anyway? Well, who could forget Vladimir Putin, or rather Daniel Craig, as the chunk-headed muscles from MI6 wearing tiny undignified swimming trunks in that 2006 extravaganza? Everyone, of course! And even more astonishing, this $250 million sequel is, at heart, no different from a typical direct-to-video action fest of a Van Damme or a Dolph Lundgren.
In any case, Craig reprises his barely sentient 007, only this time we’re expected to believe that he is in mourning. I think. Somewhere in the story is a vague reference to Agent 007 suffering from the suicide and betrayal of Casino Royale Bond girl, Vesper Lynd. He therefore seeks recovery by doing the only thing a clinically sane person would do: gad about in tight-fitted white pants and avenge her death through a killing rampage.
In the span of 106 minutes, the remarkably below-average director Marc Forster takes us through sudden shifts in locales—Italy, Haiti, Austria, Bolivia—and forgets to probe the significance of the title as the Craig-Bond shoots more stuff, kicks more stuff, and jumps out of the way of more stuff that explodes, all the while beating and killing somebody dumber than himself about every 5 minutes or so. The action, along with the motif of conspiracies and a vengeful Bond on the run, smack deliberately of Bourne (ah, the spy film du jour that even 007 is forced to follow!). This derives in large part from 2nd Unit Director Dan Bradley, who re-stages the frantic action set-pieces he established for that other franchise—and Forster cobbles it all together with bits of Hong Kong action fare, rehashes of previous Bondian scenes, Steven Seagal-caliber acting, minimal dialogue (enhanced by grunts and stares primarily from Craig), and bargain-basement actors specializing in withstanding deafening explosions. The garbled storyline—something about a despot returning to Bolivia and the control of the country’s water supply—is populated by effeminate bad guys in tuxedos, double-crossing good guys, and Judi Dench appearing at the various scene changes to attempt to explain the mindless plot elements. As a nod to his contribution to human confusion, Forster presents this mountain of chaos by way of dizzying camera work, rapid cuts, and a narrative pace that rushes by without lingering on anything.
The film also suffers from weak characters. Olga Kurylenko, a forgettable Bond girl, inevitably encounters the Craig-Bond and rather than doing the sensible thing—running away from him and getting an unlisted phone number—she inexplicably joins forces with the brute. Gemma Arterton contributes to the nonsense by appearing as the only sexual conquest for an otherwise un-sensual (and even metaphorically emasculated) 007, although the sight of this young woman with the pale, scaly old-enough-to-be-her-grandpa Craig makes for painful viewing. The scene, mercifully brief, plays out like a decrepit goat attempting to seduce a humming bird. Meanwhile, the terrorist syndicate known as Quantum consists of members who think so little of themselves that they allow French actor Mathieu Amalric to boss them around. Sad to say, Amalric offers the wimpiest Bond villain, an eco-industrialist who resembles a lemur and longs to control the water service in Bolivia.
The central imagery is the desert, first appearing in the bland title sequence (accompanied by the inane hip-hop title song), and serves as the stage for the climax. It was also used prominently in the teaser posters and trailers, which depict the Craig-Bond emerging from the desert horizon, clutching a high-powered rifle. For all their emphasis on frequent scenic changes, the filmmakers focus on such an imagery that inadvertently reminds us of those Arizona canyon locations used in cheap direct-to-video action films. Then again, behind the mask of a glitzy multi-million dollar production is a movie of the caliber of a direct-to-video release. This fixation on such a barren landscape could be looked upon as a cry from the Bond makers that Quantum Of Solace—and the current state of the series—is lost in emptiness.