I can’t say that Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace is badly made. It’s not. In fact, it’s probably much better made than the screenplay by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade deserves. Unlike most Bond pictures, this one bears—at least in part—an actual directorial signature. Forster’s eye for striking visuals is often in evidence, and one sequence—set against and intercut with an avant-gardist staging of Puccini’s Tosca—is close to brilliant. The opera sequence served briefly to arouse my already flagging interest, but what followed plunged me into galloping ennui. Put bluntly, the movie bored the hell out of me.
That’s not to say that a lot doesn’t happen within the confines of Quantum of Solace. People run or drive or fly or helm watercraft all over the place. And punctuating this action overload, there are slugfests, explosions, Judi Dench looking worried and Daniel Craig looking glum. The problem was that I didn’t care about anyone or what happened to anyone. I suppose it’s meant to be—in popular parlance—a “reimagining” of James Bond. That mightn’t be a bad idea. After all, the series has been going on for 46 years. However, turning Bond into a vengeance-obsessed (not crazed, mind you; he’s too dull and dour for that) killer in a movie that plays too much like a Bourne wannabe mostly serves to rob Bond of any identity whatsoever.
I’m not a Bond scholar by any means. I didn’t even make it through the first Timothy Dalton entry. But I can’t think of a Bond picture that is so completely predicated on being a sequel as this one. It’s almost what you might have gotten had George Lazenby’s Bond stayed on after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and gone on a killing spree for the sole purpose of revenging Tracy Di Vicenzo’s (Diana Rigg) death. That, however, might have had some emotional resonance. This—for me at least—doesn’t. Maybe if I’d been more jazzed about the previous film, Casino Royale (2006), I’d feel differently. I liked Casino Royale, but not to excess. Bear in mind, however, that my personal favorite Bond picture is the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.
In fact, it probably was a mistake to have watched the ‘67 Royale the night before I saw Quantum of Solace—not because I like it better, but because it understands that James Bond is a larger-than-life iconic figure who inhabits a rarefied world, even while making fun of him. Compare Olga Kurylenko’s (Max Payne) Camille as the Bond girl in Solace (she doesn’t even have an interesting name) with the campy Vesper Lynd personified in 1967 by the original Bond girl from Dr. No (1962), Ursula Andress. Andress isn’t much of an actress, but part of her charm lies in her awkward dialogue delivery. Kurylenko gives a better performance in every respect, but has less presence, and isn’t likely to ever become one of the gallery of classic Bond girls. In essence, she and Bond and the whole tone of the series have been sacrificed on the altar of realism in Solace. It’s a bad trade off—not because it’s untraditional, but because it’s not much fun.
It’s also not very real realism. It’s just grubbier. The 2006 Casino Royale flirted with grubby. Solace embraces it. What happens is still pretty fantasticated. The chase scenes—which seem to comprise most of the film—owe little to realism and go on forever. In two instances—the opening and the speedboat scene—the sequences went on so long that my mind wandered away from the proceedings entirely. The plot is dull: The bad guy is stealing Bolivia’s water so he can sell it back at an inflated rate. And the bad guy himself, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), is so transparently creepy, sleazy and sketchy that scenes where people are buying his pose as a benefactor of humanity are laughable.
What we’re left with is a good-looking movie that sort of gets by on Daniel Craig’s screen presence and the goodwill generated by Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini and Jeffrey Wright—goodwill mostly generated by their previous performances, not by much that happens here. That may be enough for a lot of viewers. But it wasn’t enough for me. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.