James Bond movies are supposed to be fun, escapist and entertaining fare that pass in one ear and out the other without a great deal of consequence and with a great deal of snappy one-liners, smoking hot women, cars that gearheads get tumescent over and plenty of shaken-not-stirred martinis.
“Quantum of Solace” picks up literally an hour after “Casino Royale” left off and assumes that the viewer remembers at least bits and pieces of key character information from a movie that came out two years ago. Mr. White escapes from MI6 after one of the agents helping to interrogate him turns rogue, shoots someone and leads James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a chase that culminates in the rogue agent getting shot. Tracking the agent’s bank account leads Bond to Haiti, where he meets the beautiful Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who leads him to Mr. Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a prominent businessman and the driving force behind the “Quantum.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Greene organizes a coup in Bolivia with the help of the CIA to install General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) as the dictator of the drought-ridden country. Oh, and the whole time, MI6 assumes that Bond has gone rogue and M (Judi Dench) does everything she can to capture the erstwhile superagent. From there, it gets too complicated to describe.
The problem with “Quantum of Solace” isn’t that it’s not escapist — Bond escapes from plenty of situations most of us would never dream of finding ourselves in while jetting around the globe to a variety of unbelievably expensive sets and seducing anything he comes into contact with. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be all that much fun. Taking a page out of “The Dark Knight” playbook, director Marc Forster sucks every ounce of humor out of Bond until he is drier than the country he is trying to rescue.
Unlike “The Dark Knight,” which pulled off ridiculous nihilism because every single face of the film was pitch-perfect, “Quantum of Solace” aims for gritty realism and misses by a mile. It’s hard to take a bleak worldview seriously when every scene is shot on a multimillion dollar set in a different exotic location. Bond barely cracks a smile the entire time, a far cry from the classic Sean Connery era Bond, who had a quip for every situation, from a supervillain capturing his love interest to throwing a lowly minion through a window.
The effect is that of watching a very high-powered executive have the worst possible day at the office, if the office was punching, kicking and shooting people in a plot so convoluted that it would take a Mensa-level genius to make heads or tails of.
Another area “Quantum of Solace” sees mixed results is with the action; it’s all spectacular and impeccably choreographed — I think. The problem is that in any given fight scene, it’s almost impossible to figure out what is really going on. The cuts and focus are kept so rapid that while we can be pretty sure than Bond is kicking ass and taking names, it’s not really apparent how much ass he has been kicking until the dust settles and we can see what happened during the five minute sequence that left us scratching our heads.
The things that “Quantum of Solace” does get right are many — Bond is unquestionably a bad dude who is not to be messed with, and every single set is so unbelievably gorgeous that it seems like some kind of crime every time the camera takes us somewhere else, until we see the next place, and then we realize that it was more beautiful than the last.
The plot is sufficiently complicated (although not really evil enough in a direct way; I’d like to have seen a nuclear weapon or two pointed at the moon) to keep the viewer guessing, and the villains are even helpfully color-coded (Mr. Greene, in the conservatory, with the nefarious business plot that involves every world government) to avoid excess confusion. I would recommend going, paying a minimum amount of attention, sitting back and watching some pretty great chase scenes that don’t really need any sort of plot as an excuse for their existence.