½/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C
starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench
screenplay by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
directed by Marc Forster
by Walter Chaw Sex without foreplay, Marc Forster's limp dick of a James Bond flick Quantum of Solace takes the kinetic, angry ugliness of Casino Royale and, together with Paul Haggis's Dances with Wolves screenplay of affected naivety and wide-eyed, late-blooming outrage, fashions a most-unwelcome return to the hoary Bond franchise of old. As if aware that all that stuff about Bolivian peasants pining for water might be connected, and queasily, to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a daring cargo-jet escape is similarly cribbed from that film), Quantum of Solace does its level best to strip entire set-pieces from the Bourne series (a knife fight, the close-quarters disarming of government agents, the roof-top flight), forgetting in the process to port over the coherence of Doug Liman or Paul Greengrass choreography. The picture's idea of an action sequence consists of extreme close-ups of two vehicles involved in some kind of ill-defined skirmish intercut with extreme close-ups of Bond and some bad guy who looks just like him intercut with flashes and body parts, ending in Bond walking away with a wry grimace on his face. What a real director could have done with the prologue on a winding mountain road in Italy that has a truck nudged off it by the baddies almost pancake 007 on the way down. And what a real screenwriter could have done with the concept of Bond as the remorseless liquid terminator from T2. Instead we get admittedly only the logical offspring of this ill-begotten union between the guy who directed The Kite Runner and Finding Neverland and the asshole who wrote Crash and a few episodes of "The Facts of Life". Whoever had the bright idea that this would be the magical, gritty duo to continue the resuscitation of Albert Broccoli's dusty old wet-dream of a crusading GOP avatar desperately needs to be shown the door.
Starting literally five minutes after the end of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace finds our James (Daniel Craig) doing his best to avenge lost ladylove Vesper Lynd and discovering in the process a massive conspiracy called Quantum that involves a shady philanthropist named Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who's buying up large swaths of Bolivian wasteland. Enter Bolivian Secret Service agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko, really bad), representing in Haggis/Forster's diseased collaboration a distaff mirror to Bond's mindless thirst for vengeance and serving in a bad film's worst scene as the budding of ol' double-nought-seven's native moral barometer. A shame, because despite what fuddy-duddies like Rogers Moore and Ebert think, the beauty of the Casino Royale-minted Bond was that rather than providing a preposterous backstory in its series reboot, it simply explained Bond as a mindless sociopath programmed like a murderous automaton to do her majesty's dirty duty. Suddenly the conceit that too much power given over to the executive branch to overthrow governments and initiate international incidents without anything in the way of oversight seemed a particularly dangerous idea. The perfect film for its time, Quantum of Solace is a throwback in every bad way to the stagnant Bond, from its "Soul Train" credit sequence to its field agent dubbed Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) to its deadly-dull conspiracy machinations, which try, clumsily, to tie global-warming concerns into a MacGuffin that no one, in either the film or the audience, gives a shit about.
All that's left once the smoke clears is the desire to say that Quantum of Solace has too much action and not enough plot. Closer to the truth is that the action is poorly-conceived and ineptly- shot and composed--and that there's so much plot that as soon as the lights come up, I'd challenge anyone to be able to tell me how the Tosca opera scene relates to a hotel made of fuel cells relates to a Canadian secret agent in a Russian apartment. For action, its distended speed-boat pursuit is the prime example of how a chase fails when there's no sense of space or perspective, enough so that Bond appears to win just by fiddling a few levers, his pursuers bursting into flames in seemingly-unrelated accidents somewhere behind or before him as a direct or indirect result of something he may or may not have done. When it's not loud and incomprehensible, it's rambling and incomprehensible, and more's the pity; none of it's worth figuring out if the only thing of interest, Craig, is left with nothing to do save hop from locale to locale. Even so, Craig is magnificent--the best thing about this film, it goes without saying. Should he continue as Bond, it'd be a real crime not to pair him with a smart action director (Liman? Jumper? All is forgiven) and a decent screenwriter who doesn't take every inappropriate moment to harangue on and on like a junior-high debate-team member. Grow up, Haggis. (I know I thought after Casino Royale that the Bond franchise had.) Here's an idea: Get Adam Shankman to do the next one, from a script by Akiva Goldsman--let's see Bond wriggle out of that one.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Poised to move a lot of Blu-ray players in the coming weeks, Quantum of Solace docks on the format in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer best described as immaculate. Because the film was edited in a meth lab, this is not necessarily the kind of HiDef image you can just sit back and drink in, but it passes with flying colours--oh yeah, the colours!--under the scrutiny of a freeze-frame. Honestly, I don't know what to write when I encounter something this beautiful; I want to mack on it and buy it a condo. (Have I used that one before?) It's slightly grainier than Sony's Barbie-smooth BD presentation of Casino Royale, which personally makes me prefer it (and even comparing the two films' computer-generated title sequences as rendered on Blu-ray, this one somehow isn't as synthetic), although it's ultimately no less crystalline--only more tactile. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio is also a thing of beauty, controlled chaos that facilitates an empathetic viewing and clears sinus cavities in the process. Dialogue? Lamentably clear. Surprisingly for a Fox disc, there's no D-BOX motion code: This is one title that would really take advantage of the technology, not that chairs won't rattle plenty without it. Opening with semi-forced pre-menu trailers for Valkyrie, The Day the Earth Stood Still '08, and Australia, the disc is actually rather light on supplements for something in the Bond line, with one semi-lengthy featurette subsequently cannibalized for a series of redundant mini-docs.
Rob Done's "Bond on Location" (24 mins.) betrays its British-ness off the bat in priggishly classifying Marc Forster as "the Swiss-German director" and from there is mostly travelogue punctuated by informal talking-heads featuring various cast and crew. I do find it ironic that Forster's quest for faces authentic to the Panama location resulted in Ana Endara, the person in charge of casting extras there, importing natives from somewhere else, though they sure photographed well in their McCabe & Mrs. Miller hats. Also, we're told that the footage of Siena's Palio Horse Race was shot as B-roll six months prior to principal photography, from which I think we're meant to infer that the filmmakers were forward-thinking but that I couldn't help but see as putting the cart before the horse, no pun intended. Decked out like an art-school T.A., Forster dominates the remaining segments: "Start of Shooting" (3 mins.), wherein we again see Craig performing his own stunts (wire-assisted but "Jackass"-worthy just the same); "On Location" (3 mins.), which touts the use of 1600mm lenses for the DC-3 crash; "Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase" (2 mins.), one of those "aren't we progressive?" pieces that nevertheless patronizingly refers to Bond's female "counterpart"--and the actress who plays her--as "feisty"; "Director Marc Forster" (3 mins.), a gratuitous love-in for the eponymous auteur in which Gemma Arterton turns out to be one of those English women who compulsively describes everything as "brilliant"; and "The Music" (3 mins.), a piece on composer David Arnold that gives way to an interview with Jack White, whose goth put-on clueless collaborator Alicia Keys describes as "his dark style." Rounding out the platter in addition to the video for White's/Keys's "Another Way to Die" as well as the teaser and theatrical trailers for Quantum of Solace is a 45-minute batch of video blogs ("Crew Files") from thirty-four typically-overlooked members of the production team. While it's a nice gesture, these webisodes are pretty negligible in length and content. The special features are all in 1080p, by the by. Originally published: March 23, 2009.