The first warning sign came in the meandering car chase intro that’s edited far too haphazardly to tell what is happening, or who or what is where. It’s choppy to the point of looking unfinished. In Quantum of Solace, the latest Bond flick, director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Stranger Than Fiction) forgets all about the geography of an action scene. How does Bond get there from this shot to that shot? What caused this event to happen? Why am I not the least bit excited? At least in Paul Greengrass’ Bourne Ultimatum, which Quantum unabashedly apes in style and tone from rooftop chases to stark and brutal close quarters combat, you can tell what’s going on through the flurry of cuts and edits. Here it looks like shots are simply missing. The scene takes a dramatic turn when the camera lays still for once watching the cars just follow each other… and follow each other… and follow each other. Until Bond escapes his pursuers and I can’t remember how he does it. And I just saw this hours ago.
The much-maligned Jack White and Alicia Keys theme song, “Another Way to Die”, fares a little better when complemented with psychedelic opening credits, only they’re about as interesting as an outline of Bond walking around a desert can possibly be. Bizarre they went the blandest aesthetic choice (sand = orange) considering the multitude of locations Bond visits, bringing up another odd aesthetic choice. Each location is introduced by title cards, for lack of a better description, as opposed to simple subtitles. A scene opens in a new exotic locale and the place’s name shows up rendered in that culture’s style. So, “Siena, Italy” would look like it was typed in Word’s Signature font and “Russia” would have backwards 3’s and R’s. It was cute when this happened in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Final Fantasy X but kind of cheesy and distracting in a live-action movie.
Quantum is littered with other strange distractions, like cutting footage of a nearby horse race into what could’ve been a thrilling foot chase, and an opera-like contrivance completely takes over a shoot-out. This kind of dual action works great in Godfather‘s christening/assassination or even Fifth Element‘s opera/fistfight, and at least seven different times in Dark Knight, but then those are much better movies. In Quantum it comes off as annoying.
There’s more wrong with the movie. The villain is a twerp who talks a lot and I don’t care what he has to say or what his organization or whatever does. Also, it’s called Greene Planet. Either he chose that name because his name is Dominic Greene (most likely reason) or because Whole Foods was taken. The guy is such an ineffectual villain, his lame henchman’s hideous haircut is more menacing. And this guy doesn’t even qualify as a henchman. He’s like Greene’s personal towel guy. The movie starts out menacing, suggesting anyone could be a bad guy, even M’s bodyguard, but that possibility drops away without a thought. The only other quantum of villainy comes from a fat Spanish dictator guy who looks way more interested in napping than proper mustache-twirling evil. I would’ve balked at mustache-twirling before but the movie’s lack of menace made me yearn for past Bond movies’ familiar hokey henchman. Give me a razor-sharp bowler hat, give me killer thighs… hell, give me diamonds in a face.
The Bond girls also disappoint. They’re too young and too bland and inconsequential. Eye candy aside, they may as well not be in it at all. The girl from Hitman (who was much better and nakeder in Hitman) is completely unnecessary in the already wafer thin plot. She’s basically Chun-Li from Street Fighter: The Movie. Actually, she’s exactly Chun-Li. She’s in the margins the whole movie, gets a big monologue towards the climax about how her father was killed by the dictator, then gets her little action scene at the end. Poof, that’s it. The other girl could have been a knockout character based on looks and name alone but the movie inexplicably refuses to name her until the end credits. She introduces herself as “Fields.” Okay, Fields, that’s not very common. Bond asks her later what her real name is and she says “Fields. Just … Fields.” Whatever moment this is supposed to be, it falls flat on its face. SPOILER ALERT, but you don’t realize what the heck that was about until the movie’s over when, in the credits, you see … Strawberry Fields. Such momentous potential, wasted.
And that sums up the whole story. Greene attempts a Chinatown-like coup for a country’s water supply, though how this has anything to do with Vesper Lynd or whatever happened in Casino Royale is beyond me, the movie couldn’t be bothered to engage me enough to find out why. Jeffrey Wright, who played a cool and collected Jeffrey Wright in the previous film, looks like he can’t be bothered either. I was really looking forward to see how Felix Leiter and James Bond would work together. Rather, Wright plays a completely different character, looking angry and swilling booze for all of the three minutes he’s granted onscreen. Giancarlo Giannini returns as Mathis as an interesting addition – he’s the only person Bond can trust apparently – then he goes out like a punk with an unceremonious send-off that’s grimdark to the point of silliness. C’mon Bond, what kind of friend are you?
When the plot fails to limp along an action sequence starts up and it gets a little exciting again. The climax starts off promisingly until it devolves into, well, nothing noteworthy at all except for the ultra-flammable hotel it takes place in, complete with video game-style gas canisters to shoot and blow up. And there’s one or two fistfights that are genuinely brutal (thus, pleasing) despite their Jason Bourne Lite nature. There’s also an airplane chase sequence in the third act that is not as exciting as the soundtrack would want you to believe. Thing is, the score by modern Bond mainstay David Arnold is pretty fun and most likely the best thing about the movie. Guitars playing renditions of the main James Bond theme and the Jack White theme song are all over the place.
Earlier I said the first warning sign came in the first scene. On second thought, the first warning sign came years ago when it was announced the next Bond movie would take place hours after the end of Casino Royale and detail Bond’s hunt for the organization responsible for Vesper’s death. I remember thinking whoa, wait. I’m pretty sure Vesper was responsible for her own death – killing herself and all – and Casino Royale ties up really well. He shoots one of the guys who gave Vesper a hard time, looks awesome, says his line, cut to black. Bond is born again. Then they announced the guy was part of a shadowy organization blah blah blah. The story idea reeked of desperation, like they didn’t have anything else to work with. The idea well really ran dry, and the movie shows, acting like some sort of true finish to Casino Royale. Didn’t that movie already have, like, a dozen endings? Well, Quantum is the 106 minute version. It doesn’t push Bond, the character, in any new directions. It feels like a stopgap, a roadblock to much more interesting adventures in the future.
The main stars, Daniel Craig as Bond and Judi Dench as M, do great work with what they’re given. M just wants to see this poor guy get through everything okay and I’m glad the writers at least had the sense to end the movie with them coming to terms. I want to see them continue in the franchise. I want to see Felix in a better role. If QUANTUM’s going to be the new SPECTRE or SMERSH I want to see it be as diabolical as it could be in a grounded reality and I want to see Bond, M and Felix win and lose against it in a series of quality films. Bourne did it, Batman’s doing it, Bond did it longer than anyone else and he can do it again.
Bond will return. He just has to… do better next time.