Movie Review: Quantum of Solace
By Matthew Huntley
November 17, 2008
Casino Royale (2006) had the luxury of being the first James Bond movie to take the main character in a new direction. It stripped Bond of his usual romantic and debonair qualities and made the British secret agent meaner, stronger and darker. He was still larger than life, but he became more believable and less silly. This new direction, many agreed, was also the right direction.
Its follow-up, Quantum of Solace, bears the burden of having to live up to its refreshing predecessor, and while this new movie ranks high in the action and energy departments, it loses out in story, character and depth. Those expecting something as good as Casino Royale won't find it here, but they won't necessarily feel betrayed or offended, either.
Quantum picks up immediately where Casino Royale left off, with Bond (Daniel Craig) being chased on the streets of Siena, Italy, while driving a sharp-looking Aston Martin. This is the first of several chase scenes, but the only one in which Bond gets chased; in all others, he's doing the chasing. Henchmen are after him because he's holding Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) captive in his trunk. White, you'll recall, works for the terrorist organization known as Quantum, whose schemes led Bond's girlfriend, Vesper (Eva Green), to kill herself.
Now Bond wants answers and revenge. He and his maternal boss from MI6, M (Judi Dench), interrogate White underneath a race track, but an undercover Quantum agent harbors White's escape, leading Bond to a rooftop chase over Siena and a scaffold fight that ends in his favor.
Back in London, Bond traces the traitor agent to a contact in Haiti, where he discovers that another member of Quantum, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), and the corrupt General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), are planning a coup d'etat in Bolivia. Greene will help Medrano seize control of the Bolivian government in exchange for the country's natural resources. Posing as the Haitian contact, Bond meets the beautiful Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who has her own agenda to take down Medrano.
The plot is more convoluted than I'm leading you to believe, at least upon a first viewing, but let's face it, Quantum of Solace isn't about its plot. It's not even about the characters or their motivations. What it's really about is the action, which is exciting and entertaining enough, but also incredibly disorienting at times. I'm not sure how much of a hand director Marc Forster had in the film since two-thirds of the production seemed like second-unit work. Forster, who's used to directing personal dramas like Monster's Ball and Stranger Than Fiction, only seemed utilized during the dramatic scenes, and there are few of them.
Whoever called the shots during the action scenes, they overlooked most of them being in extreme close-ups. Everything was film so tightly and the editors, Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson, make so many cuts that it was hard to tell what was happening. This is a key difference between Quantum and Casino Royale, which contained grandiose wide and long shots to keep us on top of the action, and when so much of the movie depends on that, the audience should be able to follow it. It's more thrilling that way.
The action also overshadows the characters, who are not allowed to be overly complex in such a thin story. All the dialogue feels objectified to merely bridge the action scenes. There's no weight or dimension behind it, not even when Camille explains why she wants to kill Medrano. I never felt attached to her or Bond's motivations for vengeance, perhaps because everything is explained in words and there are no pure character-driven moments that show us how these characters feel. Everything is told to us in scenes that are too brief, as if the movie couldn't wait to get back to the chases, explosions and stunts, all of which take place on sets that seemed designed specifically for them. A big hotel in the middle of the desert, powered by energy cells, with glass ceilings? C'mon.
Quantum of Solace succeeds in being a loud, zippy and action-packed romp for 102 minutes. Unlike Casino Royale, though, I have no reason to ever see it again. There was nothing in it, action or otherwise, that jumped out as something I wanted to re-experience. I'd recommend seeing it because it's fast and slick, never boring. If you're an action junkie, it will feed your addiction, even if the action isn't terribly clever or inventive. Still, the acting is strong and I still love how Craig plays Bond as a stubborn man willing to take a beating, unafraid to get rough. But with a minimal story and somewhat shallow characters, Quantum only went so far. I was into it the whole time, yes, but I was never involved in it, if you know what I mean.