CUT TO THE CHASE: Daniel Craig is still not James Bond. Uh-oh.
BOND, JAMES BOND: As I’d expected, the filmmakers do show Bond picking up some of the character traits that define him as Bond – they’re sticking with the Bond and How He Got That Way idea. It’s nice to see him obsessing over his newly-discovered favorite drink, for example, and insisting on staying in the nicest hotel in La Paz.
But they’ve elected to present Bond as still something of a work in progress here. No surprise, since this movie picks up right where the last one left off: the character hasn’t had more than about ten minutes to grow. But it means that yet again we’re stuck watching a Bond film about a guy who’s only intermittently Bondian. That could be almost forgiven for one film; two and we begin to suspect the producers simply don’t like James Bond anymore.
Craig hasn’t grown on me. He still makes suits look good, but he still looks too tough-guy for the role. And we begin to suspect, in this film, that the reason this Bond gets so little action is because Craig has so little sexual magnetism. His one sack scene here (see below) is quite forced. Rupert Everett once said he wanted to be the first gay James Bond; I’d be fine with that. But a sexless one?
On the other hand, Craig’s good at the darkness and seriousness this script demands of him. It requires that he play the bereaved lover on a tear of vengeance – recall Sean Connery doing this in the beginning of Diamonds Are Forever. But there it was a five-minute montage meant to transition into the new story, and when it was done Bond regained his old poise, not to mention his libido. Here Craig’s asked to keep up the brooding for the whole film. And it gets a bit old.
The main problem is that Quantum of Solace really wants to be The Bourne Supremacy. Now, I rather enjoyed The Bourne Supremacy, but in a way it was the antithesis of Bond. For the Bond franchise to want to be the Bourne franchise is for the Bond franchise to forget why people fell in love with Bond in the first place. We want Bond to be poised, not clenched; sardonic, not grim. Quantum’s Bond is Jason Bourne with a better wardrobe.
In fact, we’re back in License to Kill territory here. Bond seeks revenge; Bond goes rogue; Bond gets far too serious for anybody’s good.
VILLAIN AND VILLAINY: Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene. He works for a group called Quantum, about which little has yet been revealed, although they essentially seem to be an updating of SPECTRE. A welcome development, but like everything else here they’re pretty colorless. Greene’s plot is basically to corner the market on water in Bolivia. We’re in Syriana territory here, striving for a realistic take on contemporary geo-ecopolitics. Might have even worked, except…it’s in Bolivia.
Amalric is serviceable, although the script doesn’t give him much of a character to play – just another generic Eurotrash villain. A little too handsome and breezy, but no menace. And he doesn’t have any memorable henchmen.
GRATUITOUS SEX: Two Bond girls here. Our Girl in Bolivia, Fields (supposedly her first name is Strawberry, which is cool, except it never happens in the actual film), has antecedents in Tomorrow Never Dies and The Man with the Golden Gun: MI6 agent sent to control Bond, ends up succumbing to his charms. Gemma Atherton is attractive, wicked cute in that flasher coat, and Bond dutifully beds her. Dutifully is the word: clearly he’s seducing her so she’ll go along with his plans. Fair enough: but he doesn't seem to enjoy it.
The other Bond girl here is Olga Kurylenko as Camille. Kurylenko is sexy enough, but she’s underutilized, so to speak. We could have used a bit of Prince’s Camille here, but instead we get a Bond girl who’s just as focused on her revenge as Bond is on his. Result: they’re basically just fellow-travelers. No sparks, no moves put on anybody by anybody – not even after the deeds are all done. Doesn’t have to be that way: Tilly Masterson, anyone? But it is.
Another dismal outing in the Bond babe department.
AND VIOLENCE: The action sequences were the best part of Casino Royale. They’re the worst part of Quantum of Solace. They’re overedited. Too much shaky handheld camera work taking too many tight shots which are sliced up into too many one-second cuts. You simply can’t figure out what the hell’s going on most of the time.
Again, this technique has its place, and that place, recently, has been in the Bourne films. It works there because it serves the theme: that spy work is ugly, chaotic, and dangerous. If we can’t quite follow what’s going on, that’s okay: the characters can’t, either. That’s the kind of world it is.
That’s never been the way of it with Bond. And lest we conclude I’m just too much of a conservative to accept any innovation, let me say that I could go for a Bond that elected to show a realistic view of espionage. But the action sequences in this film, if you watch closely, involve a very Bondian level of design: just as many elaborate jumps and falls and dodges as ever, over just as wide an array of improbable obstacles as ever. If the goal was to give us down-and-dirty fights, nobody let the stunt designers in on it. But if the goal was to give us classic Bond action, the editors destroyed it in the cutting room.
BOYS WITH TOYS: No Q. No gadgets at all. Nifty computers don’t count anymore, now do they?
JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD: Austria, yes. Bolivia…
ETC.: How in the holy name of Shirley Bassey did they manage to make Alicia Keys sound unsexy? …The title sequence, however, is once again brilliant, with a stoner seventies Hipgnosis vibe. Like, cool, man. …Who’s idea was it to announce each new location with a different jokey typeface? It’s like me in 1994 playing with fonts in WordPerfect… I’ve been pretty harsh on Quantum, I know, but let me say there are things I like. Chief among them is the whole Austria sequence. This is what Bond should be: it’s stylish and tense, with Bond in control, just the right amount of violence, and it’s all presented in an innovative way, against a performance of Tosca. The camera work here is brilliant, bordering on abstract in places – it transcends the genre, in a good way. …All told, though, I miss Q. I miss Moneypenny. And I miss Bond, dammit.