Quantum of Solace (Columbia Pictures), the 22nd James Bond film since 1962 and the second starring Daniel Craig, occupies an uneasy place in the 007 canon. The novelty of Craig’s decidedly unsuave take on the British superspy has worn off, though we’re still eager to see where he’ll take the character. And now that the audience has adjusted to the notion of Bond as a tormented brute, we’re starting to remember what drew us to this series in the first place: exotic locations, nifty surveillance technology, creative villains, and babes with ridiculous names. In short, we’re drawn by fantasy, pleasure, and fun, none of which figures on the to-do list of the new James Bond nor of the movie’s director, Marc Forster.
Daniel Craig plays the first Bond who seems uncomfortable with his own Bond-ness. Where the previous incarnations were life-loving, skirt-chasing bon vivants, he’s a study in glum anhedonia. To be sure, his dejection is not without cause: This movie begins only minutes after where the last, Casino Royale, left off, with Bond still seeking the leader of Quantum, the sinister multinational organization responsible for killing his one true love, Vesper Lynd. (Bond also believes that, before she died, Vesper tried to double-cross him, which would seem to obviate the need to avenge her death. But never mind; he’s complex, OK?)
At first, Bond’s personal vendetta against Quantum dovetails with the agenda of his boss, M (Judi Dench). The problem is, he keeps killing off agents who could have provided her with useful information about the supersecret crime ring. Answers to questions like: Why is French eco-entrepreneur Dominic Greene (a delectably amoral Mathieu Amalric) angling for control of huge tracts of land in Bolivia? (Even though the answer is based on a horrifying true story, it doesn’t juice up this dull plot line—there’s only so much suspense you can wring from the signing of a land lease.) And why does Greene’s leggy consort, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), seem so eager to get close to a deposed dictator (Joaquin Cosio)? M begs Bond to rethink his kill-everyone-in-sight strategy. But when he realizes that the CIA may be in on Quantum’s murky geopolitical tomfoolery, Agent 007’s only choice is to go rogue, evading even his own MI6 superiors.
Forster, a director of upscale tearjerkers (Finding Neverland, Monsters’ Ball, The Kite Runner), has no feel for action sequences. The big chases, of which there are several (in planes, in cars, through the streets of La Paz, and over the rooftops of Siena) could all be replaced with a title card reading, “Insert action here.” Jolting a hand-held camera around while your lead actor throws punches and scowls doesn’t make you Paul Greengrass—and really, why should the Bond franchise need a Paul Greengrass? Hollywood has no shortage of inexpressive gunslingers and jittery mayhem. I love the idea of starting the series from scratch with a young and introspective Bond, but when he’s done looking deep into himself, I want him to find … James Bond, the irrepressible enjoyer of wine, women, and the hospitality industry. (There’s a touch of that scoundrel on view here in the scenes with Gemma Arterton, as a Diana Rigg-esque British agent who helps Bond, er, settle into his luxury hotel room in Bolivia.)
Quantum of Solace, the first bona fide sequel in the Bond series, has the poky pace and expository padding of the middle chapter of a trilogy. Some characters, like Jeffrey Wright’s wry Felix Leiter, seem to be doing little more than holding their places for future installments. The movie’s final image suggests that Bond has finally begun to move on from the death of Vesper Lynd. (To be fair, the divine Eva Green is a hard person to forget.) Perhaps in the next Bond film, Craig’s troubled but magnetic spy will be allowed not just his quantum of solace but also his modicum of fun.
Slate V: The critics’ take on Quantum of Solace, Slumdog Millionaire, and A Christmas Tale: