The shortest and certainly the most action-dense Bond ever, “Quantum of Solace” plays like an extended footnote to “Casino Royale” rather than a fully realized stand-alone movie. Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, possibly knowing they couldn’t immediately top the previous pic’s sheer stylishness, have radically reshuffled the series’ traditional elements, but also allowed incoming helmer Marc Forster to almost throw the baby out with the bathwater. Played with a cold, mechanical efficiency that recalls the “Bourne” movies, with almost no downtime or emotional hooks, “Quantum” will find some solace in beefy initial returns but looks unlikely to find a royale spot in Bond history or fans’ hearts. Unusually, pic opens in the U.K. and other territories Oct. 31, two weeks ahead of its Stateside bow.
Though pic is the first in the series in which the action follows directly from the previous film, the differences in tone, look and tempo are instantly apparent. As the camera zooms across northern Italy’s Lake Garda to pick out Bond (Daniel Craig) being chased in his Aston Martin by armed villains, it’s clear that the elegance of the franchise that “Royale” director Martin Campbell resuscitated is already a thing of the past. Even David Arnold’s music seems to punch the clock rather than elevating the visuals.
Thanks to his sheer physical prowess, Craig — less muscular this time around, and more panther-like — still manages to make the character look as if he’s in control, even when he’s being hunted by various villains and at least two major spook agencies, and even though seems to have suffered a personality bypass. However, the plot is unengaging: basically a grim series of near-escapes as Bond hunts (but is mostly hunted) between Latin America and Europe.
From the grittier lensing by Forster regular Roberto Schaefer, through the distractingly antsy editing by Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson, to the close-up second-unit work by Dan Bradley, “Quantum” has a generic, in-your-face functionality and a restlessness that just wants to push the movie on to the next chase/shootout/slugfest, rather than — in the traditional Bond way — relishing the spaces in between.
Part of this different feel is simply due to the pic’s brevity: At 105 minutes, it’s the shortest Bond of all, four minutes shorter than even “Dr. No” and “Goldfinger” and 39 minutes shorter than its immediate predecessor. However, it’s a also a direct product of Forster’s staffing: Both Pearson and Bradley worked on the “Bourne” films, while the former was Oscar-nommed for “United 93.”
Still, none of this matters in the early reels, as the opening 15 minutes sweep the viewer along in a genuine adrenaline rush. Bond arrives, bloody but unbowed, in Siena, Tuscany (during the famous Palio horse race, natch); attends the interrogation, with M (Judi Dench), of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), his captive from the end of “Royale”; and pursues an assassin across the city’s tiled rooftops. So far, so good, if a little different.
Bond and M realise they’ve stumbled onto a seriously nasty organization that, per Mr. White, “is everywhere, but you haven’t even heard of it.” Via clues on a tagged dollar bill, the trail leads to Port-au-Prince, Haiti (repped by Colon, Panama City), where Bond bumps into feisty Camille (Ukrainian model-actress Olga Kurylenko). She unwittingly leads him to her untrusting, and seriously untrustworthy, lover, Dominic Greene (France’s Mathieu Amalric, oozing bug-eyed villainy).
Greene, head of eco-bizzery Greene Planet, is negotiating with a Bolivian general, Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), to finance his coup in exchange for rights to a strip of desert. Camille, whose parents were killed by Medrano, is canoodling with Greene only to get access to the general.
At the 40-minute mark, as Bond follows Greene to Austria for what turns out to be a high-tech conference call by highups of the mysterious org, Quantum, the film’s relentless, plot-driven momentum is already threatening to turn 007 into just a cipher in his own franchise. “The Bond Identity,” anyone? He’s even hunted by his own MI6, as well as the CIA, which is in cahoots with Greene.
Between the action sequences (well staged, but claustrophobic and undifferentiated) and brief moments of reflection — Bond with M, Bond with ontime colleague Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini, returning from “Royale”), Bond with Camille — there’s a big, black hole at the center of “Quantum.” For starters, there’s little to distinguish Ian Fleming’s agent here from any other action franchise hero, apart from his taste for fine hotels and drink. But mostly, it’s the growing realization that the reason for the whole sequel is actually spurious.
Though references to Bond’s late love, Vesper Lynd, pepper the script, and his desire for revenge provides an explanation for the plot whizzing around the world every few reels, the script by “Royale” writers Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (with Haggis taking a more senior role this time) never tackles Bond’s grief head-on or gives him any meaningful dialogue as he aims for closure.
Stripped of “Royale’s” humor, elegance and reinvented old-school stylishness, “Quantum” has little left except its plot, which is rudimentary and slightly barmy, in the line of the Roger Moore pics of the ’70s and ’80s.
Craig, physically fine as a human killing machine but stripped here of any humor or warmth, doesn’t generate any onscreen heat with his putative femme lead, Kurylenko, who most of the time looks as if she’s wandered onto the set of the wrong film. The distaff side briefly livens up with an extended cameo by Gemma Arterton, as an MI6 agent in Bolivia, who recalls perky Bond women of the ”60s.
However, the real female lead in “Quantum” is Dench, whose M this time plays a much fuller role, popping up in the most unlikely places and engaging Bond in badinage. Dench’s style is always welcome, but the sheer frequency of her appearances actually diminishes what should be a remote, deus ex machina role.
Other roles, including Jeffrey Wright’s encoring CIA agent, Felix Leiter, aren’t much more than bits. Giannini comes off best, sharing at least a few precious moments of character development with Craig’s Bond.
Title is lifted from a Fleming short story (in the 1960 collection “For Your Eyes Only”) in which Bond and the Governor of Nassau have a postprandial chat about the amount of comfort/love (“Quantum of Solace”) needed to keep any relationship alive, and how when the quantum stands at zero, it’s time to bail out. Hopefully, that’s exactly what Wilson and Broccoli will do in Bond 23 — and return to the mischievous elegance of “Royale.”