Agent 007 (Daniel Craig) is a very mad man in Quantum of Solace, a cold and vengeful chapter in the James Bond saga with little interest in coherence, and even less in the kind of sensual pleasures and vicarious high-life thrills once anticipated from movies about Her Majesty’s best-dressed secret service agent. A virtuoso action sequence is de rigueur at the start of any Bond film, of course. But the bullet-spraying car chase in Siena, Italy, that opens the 22nd edition — the second foray starring Craig as a Bond as bleak as his eyes are blue — is a Sunday drive compared with the intensity of the fury coming off that complicated British secret agent.
Quantum picks up more or less where Casino Royale left off two years ago. Stinging from his presumed betrayal by the late (alas) Vesper Lynd, the one babe Bond truly loved (adieu, sultry Eva Green!), 007 is hell-bent on uncovering the truth about QUANTUM, the maxi-secret international organization that blackmailed her. Applying enhanced interrogation techniques to the Euro-creepy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who was reeled in at the end of the last picture, seems like a good place for Bond and his impeccable boss, M (divine Judi Dench, crisp and tart as a Granny Smith apple), to begin. But it’s not long — it’s instantly, actually, after the revelation of a mole in MI6 erupts into a gigantic glass-shattering, oof-and-wham, parkour-influenced action scramble — before we’re relying on screen titles to update us on Bond’s busy itinerary. First he’s in London, reporting for a less-than-satisfactory performance review (M, egged on by the CIA, wonders whether her man is even-keeled enough for his job). Then he’s in Haiti, crossing paths with a sleuthing beauty named Camille (Olga Kurylenko) while searching for a nefarious Monsieur Greene (Mathieu Amalric, both eyes wide open after The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), who’s a QUANTUM baddie with plans to mess with global natural resources. Next he’s in Austria, he’s in South America, he’s…well, with the biggest budget in Bond movie history, he’s wherever the producers and director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) want him to be.
The point is, wherever he is, this James Bond is pissed. And that ceaseless anger begins to curdle every sequence that might otherwise bring a little happiness. I mean happiness for us, the viewers — whether we’re watching a scene at an avant-garde opera, a seduction, or a showy action sequence shot in a smeary color palette of browns.
With his assumption of the role in 2006, Craig triumphantly announced that there’s a new 007 in town. Through his very physicality, and through his fresh interpretation of James Bond as a potent man with little interest in the silly stuff of shaken-not-stirred rituals, the actor scoured the iconic character of plaque and mannerisms. But having created such a tiger, this dark fellow needs a suitable jungle in which to prowl.
I mean it as a cockeyed compliment to the reborn Bond franchise, then, when I say that Quantum of Solace is an unnecessarily cramped arena for such an interesting cat. Bond chases Greene with grim determination (Amalric himself is a villain of mild physical proportions, with flourishes of evil limited to a glittering hardness in the eyes). But 007 turns that same ray-gun attitude of mirthlessness on practical conversations with Camille (the beauty doesn’t have time for bedroom thoughts since she’s plotting a vendetta against a South American baddie of her own); on office updates with M; and on intelligence gathered from the wily CIA agent Felix Leiter (as played by Jeffrey Wright, the coolest cat in the story). Working with a screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis, Forster (the German-Swiss director who titrated the chemistry between Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry in Monster's Ball) offers little cinematic distinction between scenes of rage, jet lag, and the drinking of those iconic cocktails.
I have a feeling, or at least a wish, that in the next Bond picture — Craig’s committed to two more — this 21st-century spy will gain greater access to his own character strengths; I hope the director will allow his star to play. For now, we can take solace that 007 is working on anger management. B
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