James Bond is back, and oh man is he pissed off. “Quantum of Solace”, the 22nd Bond film opens with a fast and furious car chase that leaves behind a trail of bodies. You know, the usual James Bond Sunday morning drive in the countryside. We rent a DVD and order in some chicken (or maybe a McRib or two if we’re feeling adventurous), but Bond, he trashes half the Italian countryside with a kidnapped victim in the trunk of his car, then caps the day off by torturing said kidnapped victim for information. When that doesn’t work, Bond grabs a gun and starts shooting. But first – much running, punching, and jumping across rooftops ensue. Man, I’m exhausted, and we’re not even ten minutes into “Quantum of Solace” yet!
So, the plot. As “Quantum” begins, we are just a few hours removed from the events of “Casino Royale”, with Bond and M. (Judi Dench) attempting to uncover the nefarious faces behind a mysterious organization that was pulling the strings of La Chiffre, the poker playing villain from “Royale”. M. is quite rightly puzzled and more than a little unnerved (especially after a near-fatal betrayal by someone close to her) that she hasn’t heard of this organization before. For Bond, the organization hits closer to home: they are responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green in “Royale”), his true love for whom he continues to mourn, albeit in silence. Needless to say, things don’t quite go as planned, and before you know it, Bond is once again globe-trotting. After all, there are only so many people you can shoot in Italy before you find the need to shoot people in other countries
Bond ends up in Haiti, where he runs into the strong-willed Camille (Olga Kurylenko), the girl toy of the vicious Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an evil Frenchman who claims to be an environmentalist, but we know better because A) He’s French, so he has to be up to no good; and B) he has a bad toupee wearing henchman leering about in the background at all times. In fact, Green is currently working to facilitate the overthrow of a country on behalf of the organization that Bond is searching for. For you see, this is what the organization (called Quantum, as we come to learn) does: it provides favors for wannabe dictators in exchange for achieving small, seemingly innocuous goals that, inevitably, will lead to a higher, ultimate goal. And what’s that, you ask? Haven’t a clue. I’m assuming the screenwriters are saving that for the 23rd Bond film because, and I don’t want to spoil it for you, but “Quantum” is clearly just the middle section of what is a planned trilogy.
Along the way, Bond runs into some familiar faces and new ones. Giancarlo Giannini returns as Mathis, who comes out of retirement to lend a helping hand when M. cuts off Bond’s resources after a fatal confrontation with another British agent. The CIA brother from Langley Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) also figures into things, with the CIA agreeing to look the other way as Greene goes about his shady business as the frontman for Quantum. For those still waiting for the Daniel Craig Bond Universe to re-introduce Q., the man who makes Bond’s gadgets, or Moneypenny, M.’s secretary, they will have to keep on waiting. New Bond girls are introduced in the form of Gemma Artherton, playing a field agent named Fields (she refuses to tell Bond her first name, although according to the IMDB.com credits, it’s Strawberry. Get it? Strawberry Fields?), while Russian model turned actress Olga Kurylenko (“Hitman”) fills the Tough Bond Girl role, which has become a must since the ‘90s, as previously played by Michelle Yeoh and more recently, Halle Berry.
As with “Casino Royale”, “Quantum of Solace” has remained true to its goal of presenting a minimalist approach to the new and (depending on your perspective) improved Bond universe. That means the only real “out there” gadget that Bond gets to use is a cellphone, the result of a multi-million dollar product placement deal, no doubt. And while M.’s office utilizes technology that could come straight from the set of Spielberg’s “Minority Report”, Bond himself is devoid of such geeky assistance, relying mostly on his fists, steely determination, and the amazing ability to punch, kick, shoot, and dogfight his way out of pretty much every tight spot he finds himself. And of course, the aforementioned cellphone, which like Jack Bauer’s handy PDA on 24, seems capable of doing just about everything except cook you dinner, although I’m sure it could do that too if you just ask nicely.
I don’t claim to be a Bond expert, but I’m reasonably certain that “Quantum of Solace’s” surprising 90-something running time has to make it the shortest Bond movie in the franchise’s history. This is actually a very good thing, as one of my biggest gripes about the Bond movies have always been their length. At times, sitting through a Bond movie and their many elaborate action set pieces have been an endurance test for me. That isn’t a problem with “Quantum of Solace”, which features very short spurts of action that manages to entertainment, but never overstays their welcome. Even the final shoot-out seems incredibly short by comparison to the sometimes 30-minute long sequences of the other Bond movies. It’s been said that the minimalist approach in “Casino Royale” was a direct result of the success of the “Bourne” films. If that’s the case, then “Quantum” not only continues the trend, but takes it even further. Personally, I’m not one of those people who went ga-ga over the overly frenetic and chaotic action of the “Bourne” films, which tend to rely so much on ridiculously choppy editing as to be cheating. But if you happen to like that stuff, “Quantum” has more of it, so enjoy.
In his second outing as Bond, Daniel Craig is certainly filling out the role nicely. That is, if you like your Bond cold, hardened, and gritty. This Bond is as comfortable strolling through a black tie tuxedo party drinking champagne as he is chasing bad guys through sewers. And keeping to the more grounded tone of “Casino Royale”, Craig’s super agent is not especially quick with the quip after killing a man, but then again, once you’ve thrown someone through a window and made sure he bled to death before making your next move, maybe a quip isn’t all that appropriate. (Of course, that’s never stopped all the other Bonds, but I digress.) But if the motivation for Craig’s performance was to separate his version of the secret agent from Connery’s, Moore’s, and more recently, Brosnan’s, then he’s certainly achieved his goal. So yes: no Q., no gadgets, no Moneypenny, and no shaken, not stirred martinis are to be found anywhere in “Quantum of Solace”.
It should be relatively easy to find reviewers who know more about Bond than I. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying that I don’t know all that much about the character, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve seen all of the 22 Bond movies. Every now and then SpikeTV will do one of their James Bond marathons (usually when a new Bond movie is coming out; funny how that works), and I’ll be able to fill in some missing spots that way. Honestly, I am not in any position to judge Craig’s Bond against all the others that have come before him. In that respect, I think this Bond will appeal more to moviegoers who didn’t grow up with Bond, which should certainly bode well for the franchise’s continued commercial success. I suppose in one regard the producers should be commended for having the vision and courage to change their very profitable character to better fit in with the new world order. Then again, I suspect many old school Bond fans may feel slighted by the general lack of “Bondness” in “Quantum of Solace”, which has to be, even more so than “Casino Royale”, so un-Bond as to be, well, more Bourne than Bond. And depending on your history with Bond, James Bond, that may be either a good thing or a bad thing.
Marc Forster (director) / Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (screenplay)
CAST: Daniel Craig … James Bond
Olga Kurylenko … Camille
Mathieu Amalric … Dominic Greene
Judi Dench … M
Giancarlo Giannini … Mathis
Gemma Arterton … Strawberry Fields
Jeffrey Wright … Felix Leiter