By some tortured, objective filmmaking standard it might be possible to make the case that Quantum of Solace isn’t the worst James Bond film of all time, but I defy anyone to argue that it isn’t the least satisfying. After all, a bad James Bond film is still a James Bond film. There is that going for it. Invisible cars and Grace Jones have done no small amount of damage but in the smoking, campy wreckage there still lies a James Bond film. Unfortunately, in the smoking, plodding wreckage of Quantum of Solace that scrap of comfort is nowhere to be found. Quantum isn’t Bond #22, it’s Bourne #4, and the worst of the four but, you know, starring an adult this time.
After Daniel Craig’s knock-out debut in the superb Casino Royale (2006), two fatal mistakes were made. Direction was handed over to Marc Forster, a talented helmer of small, intimate dramas but a newbie in the action department, and with regard to the script, obviously good enough was the phrase of the day when those woefully undercooked pages were passed around.
Nothing works. The action scenes can’t even save it because like the Bourne films they’re all choreographed in a blender, edited on puree, and shot in maddening, shaky-cam close-ups. In the history of film this is without a doubt the worst trend to hit the action genre. It is both the product of laziness and a lack of imagination. Rather than go through the damned hard work of deciding the what, when, and where of setting up and shooting a satisfying kick ass set piece, these hacks have decided on quick hits of the visceral and their apologists have labelled it art.
Well it’s not art — it’s crap. And it’s not storytelling — it’s crap flung against a wall. It takes zero talent to strap a camera to a monkey, let it run around while stunt drivers drive, guns blaze and actors run, and then edit it into incomprehensible bits boasted with sound and score. Casino Royale’s breathtaking foot chase only got better with each viewing and was a promised standard for the reboot. Quantum’s foot chase has not a moment you can comprehend or link to another.
The story is nearly as incomprehensible. As Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric is a superb casting choice for a Bond villain. An actor comfortable with extremes and who – better yet — always telegraphs the unpredictable quality which makes that possible. But never once is that quality utilized. Greene’s about as menacing as Blofeld’s cat, only with less personality. I’ve never once seen Amalric not own the screen, but here he’s nearly invisible.
The grand evil scheme is anything but and right out Haggisville with a wide anti-American streak crafted with hamfists and the mind of a simpleton. Our eeeevil government, through the CIA, is working with Greene to upend third world governments, replace them with the corrupt willing to do business, all in the name of, you guessed it, oil. But because that isn’t lame enough, the lame twist is that Greene isn’t after oil, he’s after water. What exactly that’s all about I can’t begin to explain, but it is lame.
The idea of an outright Bond sequel that gives the character an emotional life which isn’t crafted solely out of events in the first act was a good one. The idea of Craig’s robot thug of a Bond out for revenge on those who killed his beloved Vesper from Casino Royale is a real hook. After all, who doesn’t want to see that? But it doesn’t work. Time and again the script loses track of character’s emotional beats and nothing’s scripted or directed in a way that opens Bond up and allows us to feel for him or join in the vengeance. Honestly, I felt more for Roger Moore when he stood in front of his wife’s graveside at the opening of For Your Eyes Only (1981).
Craig’s a marvel as Bond. He proved that in his debut. But lackluster dialogue and the script’s inability to craft an interesting relationship gives him little more to do than look grimly determined. Our Bond girl is Olga Kurylenko. A feast for the eyes but a pouter on a pouty mission to avenge the death of her family — something that’s somewhat explained in one of those cliched downtime-between-the-action monologues.
There’s another Bond girl but other than a hackneyed, liberal re-imagining of 1964’s Goldfinger (Gawd, I hate Paul Haggis), she’s as bland and forgettable as… well, uhm, I forgot.
The only actors who come off reasonably well are Giancarlo Gianni, who exudes effortless warmth as a former rival of Bond’s acting here as a plot device with the answers necessary to move the story, and Judi Dench as “M,” who I hated in the Brosnan films for being nothing more than a feminist messenger girl, but she’s really come along in the these last two films and puts across a believable authority over events.
No actor is more ill used, however, than Jeffrey Wright as CIA agent Felix Leiter. It’s a zero role and watching his character ooze disapproval as his CIA superior cuts mercenary Bushit Oil Deals reeks as Exhibit A in how political correctness has ruined character nuance. Heaven forbid a sympathetic character believe in the dirty work. That might actually be interesting. No, it’s much more realistic to have him assigned a delicate mission he so obviously loathes. Yeah, that would happen.
Not even the film score rises to pull us out of the doldrums. The iconic Bond theme’s barely in use but with such confusing action scenes there’s really nothing to set it to. Then there’s the opening song which answers in the affirmative the age old question of whether or not anything can suck harder than Madonna.
Because it’s hard to screw up, some of the locations are nice, but this time the land of reboot where no gadgets or memorable cars are allowed is very much felt. When the script didn’t rock, the toys were the flash. Now we got neither. For the shortest film of the series it sure doesn’t feel that way.