The 2006 James Bond reboot Casino Royale was greeted with near-universal acclaim. But only two films into this new Bond era, the conception is showing some of its flaws.
In casting muscular, blond Daniel Craig as Bond, the keepers of the franchise were distancing themselves from the martini-swilling dandy inhabited by the likes of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. This change mirrored similar franchise restarts such as Batman Begins in taking a pop-culture fixture and rooting it in a more realistic world. But the real inspiration was unmistakable: The Bourne films, which starred Matt Damon as an amnesiac CIA agent.
The commercial and artistic success of the Bourne films marginalized the Bond series on the global action-flick turf. Winking, shaken-not-stirred espionage eye candy seemed stale by comparison. The trick for the Craig-era Bond films is in replicating the strengths of the Bourne films — more serious, more brooding, at least somewhat more realistic — without totally abandoning the guy-movie catnip (guns, girls, gadgets) that essentially defines the arrested-adolescence Bond universe.
Casino Royale walked this tightrope pretty well. It introduced Craig as a Bond who wasn't the suavest secret agent at MI6 but was instead the agency brute and outlaw hero. As befitting the physicality and depth of the lead, Casino Royale imagined a Bond more prone to both physical brutality (this Bond is a believer in enhanced interrogation techniques) and messy personal motivations.
Quantum of Solace — the unwieldy title apparently a mash-up of the new worldwide criminal organization Bond confronts and the emotion he seeks in response to the murder of his first-film romantic interest, Vesper Lind (Eva Green) — is a far wobblier affair. The film opens with the de rigueur action set-piece: an Aston Martin and Alpha Romeo jockeying through the streets of Siena, Italy, as one driver, Bond, seems totally nonchalant in the face of a hail fire of bullets.
In concept, this sequence is made-to-order, but it's oddly unsatisfying and sets a tone for the whole film. The action scenes in Quantum of Solace are not only unbelievable — especially an acrobatic rooftop-to-rooftop, balcony-to-balcony foot chase that strains physical credibility as it careens through a glass ceiling and then up and down scaffolding. They're something far worse: dull, noisey, over-edited, with too many shaky, blurry close-ups. Why are American directors (Monster's Ball's Marc Forster here) so bad at shooting gonzo action scenes when so many Asian and French filmmakers have figured it out?
Glum, brutal, and incoherent, Quantum of Solace fails at the Bourne game, lacking that series' emotional gravity despite striving so hard for it. Frankly, it would have been better off indulging in more of the vicarious thrills that have defined the Bond franchise. Instead, violence is dialed up, sex is dialed down, and there's little lightness on display.
There's a noticeable downgrade in all the crucial elements surrounding Craig's still-commanding Bond: The first film's casino/hotel location is replaced by a confusing mix of Europe, Haiti, and Bolivia; Green's enticing, intriguing Vesper is jettisoned for more generic eye candy (Olga Kurylenko) too focused on her own drive for revenge to serve as romantic foil; and villain Monsieur Greene (ace French actor Mathieu Amalric, given little to work with) is a cipher in his pursuit of global oil and water supplies, or something like that.
Worst of all, there's no joy in spectacle here, whether that spectacle is a breathless action sequence or, better yet, supporting player Gemma Arterton in a little black dress.
Quantum of Solace
Opening Friday, November 14th