A bold retooling of the franchise, Quantum of Solace is the first of the Bourne films not to feature Matt Damon. Daniel Craig takes over the role of the globe-trotting superagent with a chip on his shoulder. As in the first three installments — what, this isn’t a Bourne movie? It’s a Bond film, you say? Gee, someone really should have told the folks who made this thing.
And are you quite certain? Because it sure looked like a Bourne movie to me. I’d read that 2006’s Casino Royale was a bold retooling of the 007 franchise but never got around to seeing it. The last thing I expected from its follow-up, therefore, was a work of cinema that seems less about retooling than recycling.
But all right, I’ll take your word for it. That would make this the 22nd film in the series produced over the past 46 years and the first Bond sequel. In Quantum of Solace, the M16 operative supplements his license to kill with a prerogative to mope. The agent doesn’t so much have a mission this time around as a personal agenda. At the end of the last film, the woman he loved, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) apparently died under mysterious circumstances.
Accordingly, Bond is bummed for two reasons: She’s been killed. And he has reason to believe she may have betrayed him. He embarks on a one-man quest for vengeance and the truth that takes him to no fewer than six countries, evidently a franchise record. Unfortunately, almost nothing that happens in any of them is original, terribly interesting or even completely comprehensible.
In one country, for example, he winds up in an extended car chase. The picture’s director, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction) has very little experience staging car chases, so he goes for the look of a Bourne chase. The problem is that he and his editing team overdo the whole quick-cut business to the point where it’s sometimes literally impossible to make out what’s happening on the screen. I know machine guns were involved. And shattered glass. Anything more would be guesswork.
In another sequence, Craig chases a bad guy from rooftop to rooftop just as Damon famously did in The Bourne Ultimatum. The savage hand-to-hand confrontation that follows quotes elements of that film’s post-chase smackdown nearly verbatim. Again, it also goes overboard with the quick cuts.
At a certain point, the body count — both bad guys and good — climbs so high that 007’s superior, M (Judi Dench), determines Bond’s gone rogue and orders underlings to bring him in. Hmm. An undercover killing machine running around the world looking for answers to troubling personal questions while being tracked by a secret intelligence agency — where have I seen something like that before?
Like Jason Bourne, Bond here displays a sixth sense that enables him to stay a step ahead of pursuers who are equipped with the world’s most sophisticated surveillance technology. Also like Bourne at times, he finds himself on the run in the company of a comely female companion with whom he has a completely platonic relationship. Olga Kurylenko fills the role of Bond girl, but is too filled with her own thoughts of revenge to log any time under the covers with the agent. She wants to take out a corrupt South American general (Joaquin Cosio) who slaughtered her family when she was a toddler. Coincidentally, he just happens to be in league with the evil mastermind Bond believes holds the key to the mystery surrounding Vesper’s death.
The marvelous French actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is squandered in the role of a character who isn’t so much a villain as an international con artist. He runs an eco-friendly company as a cover for the shady deals he makes with dictatorships to plunder their natural resources. His latest involves an arrangement with the general to take control of Bolivia’s water supply and manipulate it for personal gain. Since when does James Bond work for the Better Business Bureau?
There are car chases, boat chases and airplane chases. There are shoot-outs in which armies of goons with automatic weapons just can’t seem to get Bond in their cross-hairs. The production notes boast that there are 54 controlled explosions in the finale alone. What there isn’t is much of anything to distinguish Craig’s second outing from a hundred other big-budget action thrillers — much less put it in the same league with the best of the Bourne films.
If there’s solace for Bond fans, it’s in the fact that the new 007 is contracted for two more installments. And, despite the box-office revenue Quantum is generating based on expectations raised by its predecessor, MGM and Sony are sure to recognize the need for big-time retooling between this outing and Bond’s next. This one’s a letdown — and, unlike spies, ticket buyers don’t keep secrets.