You know when a James Bond movie is on the wrong footing when the expected heavily stylized opening credits feature much lip gloss and scantily-clad beauties who gyrate to a forgettable tune. Or in the case of “Quantum of Solace,” the latest and twenty-second installment in the EON Productions franchise, an uninspired track called “Another Way to Die.” The first duet in the spy series and sung by Jack White and Alicia Keys, their contribution lacks punch, soul and life as they lament like cats who meow on a hot tin roof.
Thankfully, things get better. Continuing immediately after Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” – a not so perfect Bond that derailed considerably in its final twenty minutes – “Quantum of Solace” sees Bond evolve from the suave and sophisticated womanizer of yesteryear into a ruthless bruiser with a taste of slamming the booze and killing overkill. As he plays his game of cat-and-mouse, cloak-and-dagger and butcher-and-bolt, full praise must go to actor Daniel Craig who sinks his teeth into the role; indeed, Craig performed many of his own stunts and appears suitably bruised and battered as he gives a performance of a lifetime. As Craig dishes out fat lips and pulverizes marble and stone with his fists, it‘s Craig’s dedication to the role that ultimately saves the film in what otherwise would have been an explosive and thrilling ride, but one that lacked a decent script and questions Marc Forster’s suitability in the directorial chair.
When it came to reinventing the wheel after “Die Another Day,” one of the worst Bond movies, “Casino Royale” painted the charismatic antihero as a thug who boozed and fought for Queen and country. However, it was not all fists and bullets despite its narrative being thin as a waffle. The screenplay sparkled with wit and character, the premise shone in that we were seeing something new – a revolution in the Bond series where after “Die Another Day,” Britain’s spy had dug himself an early grave. In other words, hope and the latest installment has been hugely anticipated. And to be fair, “Quantum of Solace” does not disappoint in terms of action as a number of setpieces are to be rated amongst the best in the series. Things blow up, stuntmen are thrown into walls and out of windows, badmen are shot to bits and hurtle through the sky like ragdolls, even if a scene – admittedly thrilling – where Bond jumps from a plane without a parachute stretches credibility somewhat. And there’s many other scenes of mayhem and destruction as Bond, the suave cocker with a preference for super strength lager, does his thing with extreme prejudice. And that’s what we like in a Bond movie: big on a big scale with a very British flavour. It’s all about stiff upper lip and the Queen, innit?
However, “Quantum of Solace” may be explosive with images of fiery infernos, but it’s convoluted and confusing, the plot playing second fiddle to its set pieces. The basic setup sees Bond on a new mission for MI6 after being betrayed by Vesper, the woman he loved in “Casino Royale,” who prematurely ended her days in a pine box six-foot under. A MI6 traitor links Vesper’s involvement to a far more dangerous organization called Quantum. It is believed that nasty Frenchman Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric), who disturbingly looks like Roman Polanski, may have links to Quantum so Bond investigates. Polanski would appear not to be the director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” but a slimy businessman who has his eyes set on overthrowing a Latin American government as well as a patch of desert land with a huge underground reservoir of water. But as the story is smothered underneath a veil of action and thrills, it becomes hard to keep focused as the plot unravels a fistful of red herrings, one after another, and plot avenues go nowhere. But one thing is surely certain: Bond is good, and if he picks a fight, it’s for a reason in our best interests as well as for the defense of the realm. It’s then that M (Judi Dench) and the British Government suggest that Bond may have lost the plot and is a loose cannon; needless to say, all narrative cohesion had fizzled away like a Alka-Seltzer for a bad hangover on an early Monday morning. Throw in another love interest and people who come and go for no reason and I was on my own. And I still had another reel or two of complicated espionage that would have made John le Carré reach for a bottle of the hard stuff.
With such focus on high-octane action footage , Forster – who received critical acclaim with “Monster’s Ball” and “The Kite Runner” – shoots and edits his material in a fast and furious manner, so much so that fight scenes are confusing, disorientating and unpleasant on the eye. Resembling a video game in terms of structure and approach – and interestingly, the first movie to be released on the same day as its gaming adaptation – “Quantum of Solace” is a loud and noisy film that is ultimately let down by a messy script. It’s a curiously unengaging Bondian flick, one that fans of “Casino Royale” may revel in, but will leave hardcore patriots cold.
That said, the film leaves two questions unanswered. It is assumed that British Intelligence uses cutting-edge technology for office use such as interactive plasma screens with flashing digits and what not, ala “Minority Report,” but has a worrying tendency to leave laptops complete with top secret files on public transport. Therefore, the former is doubtful. Also, the connection between Roman Polanski and Quantum is never satisfactorily explained; it is presumed that he is an ambitious but harmless businessman in search of large deposits of mineral water to sell for high profit. Or it could be oil. Needless to say, Polanski wants to be in the fat cat club with Evian, Perrier and Volvic and get rich on the back of capitalism at the expense of the working class. But James Bond is having none of it and gives Polanski his expected good kicking in the finale. A none so subtle approach for the socialist Bond perhaps?