It’s been speculated by some that this new direction for Bond may have been borne in part out of Jason Bourne envy, but Casino Royale never dipped into outright Bourne copycatting. Quantum of Solace does, going so far as to duplicate entire Bourne scenes, only done much more clumsily and with only a fraction of the artistry found in Matt Damon’s roof jumping or close quarters knife fighting in The Bourne Ultimatum. Yes the second installment in the new Bond franchise is just as gritty and dirty as the first one which everyone loved, but it’s quickly becoming less original, less surprising, and less exciting. Maybe Quantum of Solace would have been helped if someone had taped Bond to a chair and punched him in the balls. It did the trick last time.
Other critics are bound to trumpet Daniel Craig’s 007 performance as the movie’s saving grace. Quantum of Solace picks up shortly after Casino Royale, with James still stinging over Vesper’s death and though he denies it, looking to get even. This is a revenge tale, and that should mean plenty of breathing room for a great Daniel Craig performance. Unfortunately the script, in yet another blatant borrowing from the Bourne franchise, seems to contain very little dialogue at all for James. Even more than he was in Casino, Bond is now a silent killer, walking through the film like a brutish pitbull shooting and driving and murdering without expression or remorse. His mask breaks only very rarely and in the most extreme of circumstances, as in a scene where he pauses to stare intensely at the camera while holding a dying friend. Bond does a lot of that intense staring, his substitute for actual emoting. Anyone else starting to miss Pierce Brosnan’s impish grin? Daniel Craig’s performance as Bond is largely silent and mostly stoic, though the film seems to hint repeatedly that he’s suffering from immense inner turmoil. I’m not buying it.
I’m also not buying this shadowy secret organization Bond is up against. The plot of the film involves hunting down a mysterious group named Quantum, whose goals are never readily apparent and whose connection to the death of Vesper is as clear as mud, though the number of intense stares Craig directs at the camera whenever he’s around one of their operatives seems to confirm that yes indeed, there is one. I’m not sure, but I think Quantum is out to destroy the rain forests, or maybe steal all of our water. Perhaps both! They’re just that evil (we know this because their members snivel and speak with French accents), and even though James kills at least a two-hundred people over the course of the film, you can just bet that Quantum has surely killed more than that somewhere off camera, and maybe even slaughtered a few innocent camels. It’s not so much about how or why Bond is killing all of these people as that he is doing so because he’s miserable. Some people drink, Bond grabs a glock and starts slinging bullets. That’s one of the movie’s strengths really, it doesn’t waste time. It moves along at a blistering pace, with few annoying plot pauses to keep us from the next exciting… well whoever it is that Daniel Craig is doing in for whatever reason.
It doesn’t matter why Bond does what he does, his supposed inner suffering is the movie’s excuse for everything, including numerous instances of inexplicable behavior. In theory he’s tracking down a big, all-encompassing mystery and at the same time looking for Vesper’s killer. In practice, he simply shoots everyone he meets without asking them any questions, making detective work impossible. You don’t learn a prisoner’s secrets by slitting his throat. I get that this new Bond is supposed to be more brutal and vicious, but is he also brain dead and stupid? This Bond achieves success only because, well, it’s written into the script. Much of what he does or how he gets from point to point in the movie’s plot makes very little sense.
Maybe the plot’s not particularly strong but there is something good to be said for Quantum of Solace’s production design, which harkens back to the early days when Bond was still Sean Connery. The film contains a great deal of homage to previous, classic 007 installments and it gives the entire thing a somewhat retro feel in spite of sporting a lead character with recently refitted warp nacelles. Where am I going with this? Now that I’ve spent four paragraphs slagging the movie, this is the part where I repent and tell you that even though it is filled with major missteps, it’s also still a lot of fun.
With the help of director Mark Forster, Bond has never looked better. This is a slick looking picture, one packed with plenty of action, guns and explosion. Maybe some of the action isn’t exactly original, but it’s well staged, the film moves fast, and things blow up. Mix in a few romantic encounters with beautiful women and in the end isn’t that all a decent James Bond movie is about? It’s at least as good as your average Michael Bay endeavor and we guys eat that stuff up. Anyone expecting more than the ordinary will be disappointed. Despite many reservations, beautifully shot fireballs and frequently bedded babes is enough for me to recommend this particular spy adventure at least as entertaining as any other empty shoot-em-up blockbuster. If you have to watch someone get shot, why not watch him get shot by James Bond?