Quantum of Solace

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With their acrobatic and daringly shot action sequences, the Bourne series stole some of the thunder from the Bond franchise as it stumbled and skidded through the Pierce Brosnan era. Then Paul Greengrass’s formidable work in The Bourne Ultimatum seemed to pound the last nail in the Bond coffin, in a sense, rendering the British superspy a tuxedoed dinosaur. Luckily for Bond, we got Daniel Craig and Casino Royale, a jolt to the spinal cord of a franchise fast slipping away on the wheels of invisible cars and cartoonish plotlines. Craig was the bad-ass answer to Bourne. Craig’s Bond is a thinking-man’s killer, a thug with brains. And courtesy of Casino Royale’s Martin Campbell, we got brilliantly shot, vertiginous set pieces (the opener of Casino ranks with the rooftop chase in The Bourne Ultimatum as among the best ever staged and filmed). And, most of all, we got a class-act of a screenplay by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade — paced deliberately, like the 60’s era Bond flicks, and featuring a terrific build-up of suspenseful, richly realized scenes.

Haggis, Purvis and Wade return for another stab at Bond, but this time — perhaps smug and punch-drunk from the success of Casino Royale — they approach their project clumsily, sloppily, with little regard for dramatic and narrative coherence (not unlike, say, how the makers of the first Pirates of the Caribbean went about botching the subsequent entries in their bloated series).

Craig is the sole reason Quantum of Solace passes muster. The writing, directing and story structure are all varyingly inept and ludicrous. The villain is a charmless bore. The “Bond Girl” has got spunk, but she’s given short shrift in the plotting. But, most of all, we simply don’t care how the story turns out, so long as it ends sooner rather than later (mercifully, at 105 minutes, Quantum is one of the shorter Bond films).

Quantum’s screenwriters have cooked up a forgettable flapdoodle about Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), the venal head of a nefarious title conglomerate, in the business of commandeering a country’s water supply and then extorting vast sums from its government before releasing access to it. Greene is in cahoots with the corrupt South American General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio), and planning to choke the water supply in Bolivia.

Looking to exact payback for the death of his girlfriend Vesper in Casino Royale, Bond follows the trail straight up the Quantum food chain, and quickly sets his sights on Greene. Bond soon crosses paths with the sultry Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman on her own mission of revenge — hers is against Medrano for murdering her family when she was a child.

Together, they track Greene and Medrano down at a massive Quantum facility in the midst of the Bolivian desert. It’s an edifice that supposed to hark back to the bizarre Ken Adam sets from the 60’s era Bonds, but this one feels arbitrary and chintzy, existing for no other purpose than to give Bond a backdrop for his fight scenes. It’s but a glorified matchbox for the setting off of the film’s climactic explosions.

While director Forster manages to helm one riveting sequence in which Bond and Camille, at the cockpit of a battered transport plane equipped with only one parachute, must fend off fighter jets, the remainder of Quantum’s action scenes are indistinguishable, inferior riffs of similar ones from the Bourne films. Three of them assault the audience in the first 30 minutes alone; indeed, the script is bafflingly top-heavy with action, with the result that the set-up to the story never gets a chance to breathe and develop. Bond simply caroms from one chase and fisticuffs to another with some breathless expository dialogue in between, and we feel as dazed and pummelled as Bond’s victims.

Forster is out of his element here as director. He seems determined to pile on the gritty violence, and prove his mettle in the testosterone genre, but he falls flat with his incoherent action scenes and the uninvolving interpersonal filler. Jeffrey Wright as Bond’s CIA liason Felix Leither and Giancarlo Giannini, always a pleasure to watch, as undercover Bond ally, Mathis, are both altogether wasted.

What we’re left with, then, are the sterling Craig and Judi Dench, returning as M. These two actors have real chemistry together on screen, and bring class and gravity to their roles and to this franchise. Forster, his screenwriters and the Bond producers benefit from them by default; these actors already came with the package. For their part, they squander an ace Bond and a handful of able and talented actors, and give us a Bond entry as weak as they come.
Grade: C

Directed by: Marc Forster
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Jesper Christensen, Gemma Arterton, Joaquin Cosio
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 106 min.

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