Quantum of Solace (2008) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sexual content
Running time: 106 min.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo GIannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour
Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Review published April 5, 2009
Superspy James Bond (Craig, The Golden Compass) goes on another globe hopping mission, this time personal, to get revenge for events which happened in the previous entry, Casino Royale. He ends up finding out that the forces behind the betrayal are larger than they previously appeared, potentially including people right in his very organization, MI6. His trail leads him to Haiti, where he ends up teaming up with a gorgeous beauty named Camille (Kurylenko, Hitman), who is on a mission of vengeance of her own. She has become friends with a ruthless businessman, Dominic Greene (Amalric, Munich), in order to get close enough to get revenge on the man responsible for the death of her family, an iron-fisted former general named Medrano (Cosio, Tear This Heart Out). Bond happens to be wanting to take Greene down, as his roots go far beyond a mere money-making venture -- he's making a play to grab a large share of the world's water supply. Bond must do it mostly on his own, as events that have been occurring make it look as though he has gone rogue, as the events have led him to (at least temporarily) not be able to put his trust in anyone back home.
Playing a little more like an entry in the Bourne series than the Bond series, not only with its "rogue agent who can't trust his organization" story, but also its hyperkinetic way of editing the sometimes brutal action sequences, Quantum of Solace falls a bit from star Daniel Craig's debut due to the fact that impressively choreographed hand-to-hand combat fails to impress when the action and stunts are this grandiose. It's a barebones, forgettable plot, and barely hinged together, though that doesn't exactly make this entry differ much from any other in the Bond series. Whereas Casino Royale took risks, Quantum of Solace runs mostly on the engine created from its predecessor, including being one of the only entries in the entire Bond run to continue a storyline left over from a previous film.
Although not without its entertainment value, Quantum of Solace will go down as one of the weaker Bond efforts, mostly due to the imbalance between action and story being shifted much more toward the former. The screenwriters make the assumption that audiences will already have a vested interest in Bond's plight from the very first frame due to the events of Casino Royale, though the shift in the tone of this film to emphasize brutal action and CGI-laden stunt work makes tying the two films together a bit of a chore. The action itself is a bit of a let down, as the special effects tend to look very obvious during many of the key moments, and the fast-paced editing often leaves us wondering just what's going on during many of the physical confrontations. It begs the question as to why such an inordinate amount of time would go to action sequences when the makers, including (mystifyingly) somber drama director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland), don't know how to put them together in an exciting fashion.
What's left is a fairly uninteresting plot for a nefarious grab for natural resources, which is timely in terms of relevance to today's issues of global warming and unsustainable populations, but really isn't introduced as being of major world importance compared to Bond's more personal vendetta.
There certainly was the time to do more. A bit of trivia: Quantum of Solace follows the longest entry in the James Bond series as the shortest. However, shorter doesn't necessarily equate to better when you are still trying to outdo the predecessor in terms of over-the-top action, stunts, and effects. What this film needs, as with most action films, is something meaty to hold it together. Bond fighting some nameless thug for five minutes doesn't really inspire much in terms of true excitement other than the aesthetics when it doesn't really push the story along, and we know that 007 is not going to be harmed in any major way by some two-bit hit man. Yet, these fight scenes are explored far more than any of the conversations. Trimming out anything that doesn't push the plot along would leave the film running about a half hour.
I'm not averse to action when used in the proper context. I enjoy nearly all films in the James Bond franchise because they are entertaining, usually giving a heavy dose of quality stunts, bits of humor, and fun confrontations between hero and villain. Quantum of Solace delivers on the action, mostly. If that's all you really want, you will probably find this to your liking. However, the humor aspect is virtually nonexistent (James Bond comes across as a skillful thug without any discernable charisma, though Craig does imbue him with a certain gravitas), and Dominic Greene goes down as one of the least colorful villains in the James Bond arc, not aided much by the choice of Mathieu Amalric, a fine actor but not nearly weighty enough to serve as Daniel Craig's foil, to portray him. The Bond girls, played by Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton (RocknRolla, A Deal is a Deal), are attractive yet thinly defined. One never gets the sense that Camille is anything outside of a revenge plot device and requisite eye candy. Arterton's Strawberry Fields is gone soon after she is introduced, and feels more like a superfluous addition to make sure Bond isn't shown as being celibate.
Quantum of Solace fails primarily because the makers have decided to go all in when it comes to action, and then fail to make that action the least bit riveting or even well choreographed. One gets the sense from the quick-cut editing that Bond's prowess at hand-to-hand combat is breathtaking, but we don't really get to see it performed in a way that shows us for sure. The plot to many Jackie Chan or Jet Li flicks aren't much better than this, but I still will recommend them because they do deliver on very well handled action sequences featuring some truly amazing footage of very agile, talented performers at their best. We get the sense watching them that they are only but two of a handful of people in the world who could have performed the feats as depicted. From the way Quantum utilizes fast-moving montages, extreme close-ups, and odd angles that don't really show us what's really happening, it feels as though anyone could have been shown as skilled in fighting as James Bond, despite Craig's strong physique.
Lest I forget to mention, I highly recommend watching Casino Royale prior to watching this film, as it is essentially a sequel -- the only one in the Bond franchise that might be called such. If it's just barely passable material for a long-time Bond fan like myself, I can't imagine it being worth sitting through without having at least the weight of Bond's tormented motivation behind his actions in this film. There are no flashbacks or recaps -- the screenwriters assume you're up to speed from the get-go. Besides, Casino Royale is well worth watching on its own regardless, so if you haven't seen it and love Bond action, do so. Perhaps the excitement might even carry over just enough to make you enjoy this film a little bit more if you watch it right after.
I feel I'm risking going overboard with my criticism and not matching the star rating of "passable" that I feel it deserves. Quantum of Solace delivers just enough entertainment value to satisfy James Bond fans, so it's not without merit. However, unlike Casino Royale, this one definitely doesn't gain any new fans, and probably has greatly eroded those it had gained. It's hard not to be disappointed in a major way when the follow-up to the reboot that has redefined the long-running series for a new generation now relies on old clichés and cribbing its style from other franchises. There's no need to emulate Bourne; it's not a new direction if someone else has already beat you to it.
Quantum of Solace is more a remix than a reboot. After such a fresh start, things shouldn't already feel stale just one movie later. If you want some escapism and modest intrigue, Quantum delivers the goods. Anything more than that and you're better off re-watching an older Bond instead.
©2009 Vince Leo