- Dressed to kill: Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko
The plot of new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, picks up an hour or so after the conclusion of the last film, 2006's Casino Royale. Thus, Bond is still in Italy -- and still on the job, especially after his lady-love from Casino, Vesper, messed everything up by betraying him and getting killed.
Daniel Craig -- the intriguing "new" Bond -- returns as the hard-eyed, bristly, still-gelling British MI6 Agent 007. (The overall timeline is a little wobbly: This is the 22nd Bond feature, but the last two movies suggest this is an early-days Bond.) And even more so than the rough-edged Casino, Quantum is missing a lot of defining Bond-isms: There are no gee-whiz gadgets; a dearth of scantily clad Bond girls; no "Bond, James Bond" line; and little that's light-hearted.
This Mr. Bond is Mr. Angry. He's seeking multiple paybacks from near and far -- the guys who killed his Vesper; an MI6 mole; some dastardly fellows hatching inter-governmental fraud; his boss, M, for reining him in; and, I dunno, maybe even the guy who forgot to load him up with cool killing gadgets for this rather dull outing.
OK -- deep breath -- the story goes something like this: A double-agent in MI6 leads to a bank account in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which leads to a mysterious lovely named Camille (Ukrainian model-actress Olga Kurylenko), who is after some exiled Latin American general (Joaquín Cosio), who is also working with a multi-national conspiracy headed by a Mr. Greene (Mathieu Amalric, who starred as the blinking eyeball of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), who wants to take over all the water in Bolivia -- and somewhere in this muddle are the baddies who killed Vesper, and Bond's CIA buddy (Jeffrey Wright), who may or not be involved on the wrong side.
(Greene's shadowy global conspiracy does business as "Quantum." These guys understandably don't do "solace"; the film's curious name comes from a short story by Bond creator Ian Fleming.)
The narrative manages to feel overwritten and underwritten simultaneously. It's unnecessarily complicated, but also lacks focus and is frequently dull. Sadly, Greene is not a very compelling villain, and having a variety of minor characters shoe-horned in and left dangling just adds to the general confusion. I was especially perplexed by the introduction of oh-so-silly-named Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), other than noting that her short-lived presence gave Bond a chance to indulge in some double-entendre banter about handcuffs and to give series fans a Goldfinger shout-out.
But director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Monster's Ball) seems less concerned about plot and character development than just rushing to -- and through -- the next action scene. You can work to match the action to the helter-skelter plot, or just remember this easy cheat: It's Bond vs. the other guy in the room.
Forster ladles on the action, but it rarely rises above perfunctory to give this murky adventure any much-needed gloss. For example, the film's opening car chase down a hair-pin, narrow European road hasn't been fresh since the 1960s, and the parkour-ish rooftop-and-scaffolding scramble was done better in Casino. And what could be duller than a smashing-up-a-hotel-room fight? Though in deference to Quantum's vague eco-thriller angle, it's worth noting that Ford's popular European micro-car, the three-door Ka, gets a rubber-burning work-out -- while still getting great fuel economy, of course.
The rote action and the aforementioned absence of the traditional 007 effervescence and branding renders Quantum less a sub-par Bond pic than simply any other mediocre crash-bang thriller, complete with broody macho star, chip-choppy plot, frenetic action scenes and dizzying globe-hopping.
The tension between Bond and M (Judi Dench) -- Bond sort of goes rogue, M sort of goes after him -- might have been a good opportunity to add some real dramatic tension and to contribute to the ongoing "character build" of Bond. Part of Bond's enduring appeal for those of us in the cheap seats has been how he walks the narrow line between established authority (he works for a civilized government) and the free agency of natural justice that damns all rules toward a desirable end. Certainly, Casino established that this new Bond was still finding his boundaries -- and that could have been further explored here. But the Bond-M conflict -- expressed primarily in terse quips -- is not revelatory and mostly adds to the plot's muddle.
Additionally, this millennial Bond, while brutishly handsome, is taciturn and wrapped so tight behind his flinty exterior, that there's little joie de vivre or passion to engage us. After decades of vicarious thrills, this Bond risks becoming a boring automaton, programmed simply to execute the basics: car-girl-chase-kill, repeat.