For the second straight Saturday, I reach back for a review of a modern Bond film not previously loaded up to this particular site. This was written for my former online home.
Quantum of Solace is the twenty-fifth film to feature British superspy James Bond, and the twenty-second in the “official” franchise which launched some forty-five years ago with Dr. No. Really, though, all those antecedents have about as much connection to this new film as Joel Schumacher’s Gotham City drenched in melted Jolly Ranchers has to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. What is onscreen now is less Bond 22 and more Casino Royale 2. Bringing in Daniel Craig to play Bond wasn’t a mere casting change. It was an impetus to completely revise the franchise, jettisoning the familiar trappings. Whatever familiar notes held in Craig’s first outing are completely gone now. It’s a whole new era of filmmaking and James Bond has been Bourne again.
It’s not just the tone and style that are notable holdovers from Royale. The plot is built on a tendril of that film, with Bond seemingly shaken (not stirred) by the betrayal and death of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Her demise is tied into the megalomaniacal plotting of some global corporate overlords that call themselves Quantum, providing the film’s strained title and an attempt to create a massive, sustained adversary in a geopolitical environment where something like SMERSH no longer seems credible. The screenplay, credited to the same trio that wrote Casino Royale, achieves a strangely simplistic convolution. The villainous machinations are easy to suss out and yet nearly indecipherable, complex, and inexplicably dull.
The screenplay, however, could be overcome with right directing. Bond films, with their silly, schoolboy puns and paper thin motivations, have never been cinema with especially literary, erudite charms. The verve of the staging and directing (and, of course, in Sean Connery’s finest moments, the acting) went a long way towards forgiving the words on the page that may have been lacking. There’s no rescue providing by director Mark Forster here. Forster’s career highlights been marked by adequate direction of good material. Quantum of Solace requires something more. Forster apparently doesn’t have it in him.
The directing is clumsy all around. The digital hash of the editing is a familiar shortfall of modern action movies, but Foster’s technique has more significant problems. During the action sequences, his camera is usually in too close, occasionally too far away, and is rarely in the right place. A fight staged amongst scaffolding inside an opera house appears to be spectacularly choreographed, but it would take major editing room reconstructive surgery to know for certain. Plane battles, boat chases, exotic locales, seductive women — it all gets dragged on to the screen, feeling obligatory and lifeless. The movie churns and grinds, to little effect.
Casino Royale, imperfect itself, managed to raise some vital signs in the Bond franchise. It moved from being an occasional curiosity, tinged by nostalgia and even a touch of camp, to something that deserved some attention as filmmaking with high potential. There’s no doubt it was a change for the better, but it’s harder to see it that way the the follow-up has used that transformation for little more than finding a whole new way to fail.