The 21st James Bond film, “Casino Royale”, was more than a successful re-imagining of the character and the series. It was also one of the most generous entertainments in years – a superbly-crafted big-budget movie, an exercise in glamour and high style, the rejuvenation of a great character, an affecting love story.
It’s taken an entire second film just to get out from under “Casino’s” shadow. “Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd Bond film, switches gears; that is what it must do. But it is powerfully encumbered by unresolved feelings from the earlier film, to which it is a direct sequel (beginning an hour after the first film ends). Bond is still licking his wounds. It all plays like a coda – or, more uncharitably, an afterthought.
What we remember most about “Casino” is Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, the best Bond “girl” (hard to believe that Vesper doesn’t even enter the film until the midpoint). She “stripped Bond of his armor” because her intelligence, aloofness, and mysterious past made her a veritable Everest to scale.
Green’s enigmatic eyes and plunging curves are quite a contrast to Olga Kurylenko, the actress who plays against Bond in “Quantum,” as Camille. Camille is petite and small-breasted, drives a car as tiny as her frame, and has a pretty-but-plain tom-boy quality that arouses Bond’s protective instincts rather than his ardor. In fact, their relationship is positively asexual; both agents are too fixated on their own, private revenge to think about getting it on.
(Bond does manage to reassure us he’s still in the game by making it with “Fields” – just “Fields” – an MI6 operative whose oceans of milky, freckly skin float a trench coat that leaves everything to the imagination. Fields comes to an end that makes a nice bookend to “Goldfinger”: what’s the bullion of our day?)
Camille and Bond survive endless peril, from a machine-gunning boat chase to a cargo plane plunging between mountains into the cratered floor of a desert. These action scenes are a far cry from the elegantly-shot and -staged set-pieces in “Casino”. They are, in fact, a bloody mess. You can’t tell what’s where, or, sometimes, even what’s supposed to be happening (the opening car chase is a joke).
That’s a function of two factors. The first is the influence of the “Bourne” films, which typify the action strategy of the 2000s, whose aim is to slam you with a jagged sequence of kinetic jolts. A sense of space, and even momentum, are not important – just the thud of a hammer on meat. It’s an ugly strategy, one that worked okay for “Bourne,” but is unwelcome in the more thoughtful and stylish world of Bond.
The second culprit responsible for the sub-par action sequences is the director, Marc Forster. Perhaps taking a page out of the casting of “Harry Potter” directors, most of whom have had no experience staging action or managing a special effects pipeline, the Bond producers have chosen a director based solely on his dramatic track record (“Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”). Fine; so give the man a drama!
Forster – and an actor as gifted as Daniel Craig – could have run the distance with the ball, if they had a ball to run with. But the screenplay, again headed by the thoughtful Paul Haggis, feels almost unfinished (a function of the writers’ strike?), without the rest notes and careful dialog that peel back emotions and character depths. Bond is left virtually wordless; his returning friend Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is, quite literally, discarded. At least Forester brings to the table an interesting artistic sense, a modernism, an awareness of shape and a design. The film looks good.
Forster and Craig work in the margins, squeezing in what they can between gunshots. They’ve got glances; they’ve got body language. They kill themselves. And thus, there’s a movie here. It’s just a shame we have to go looking for it. In fact — though this is a bit harsh for a movie that does add up, despite everything — for both the filmmakers and audience, the most accurate summation of “Quantum of Solace” is that it’s out of the way.