(WARNING: A few plot points are discussed in the review below.)
It is with a heavy, disheartened 007-loving sense of propriety concerning the cinema's most resilient series to report that the latest entry squanders the goodwill of its immediate predecessor. It sheds its responsibilities as a Bond entry in its nettlesome disregard for the more important pieces in shining a light on its protagonist—something Casino Royale seemed to invite henceforth, but such is clearly not the case. Daniel Craig proved with the 2006 “re-boot” that he had a glowingly glowering ferocity and darkness that made all of his Bond's actions altogether more resonant than the more tenderly unflappable Pierce Brosnan. Here, however, he is given little to do but punish his body and frown. It is lucky for director Marc Forster that his lead actor's piercing blue eyes convey a considerable repressed despair, melancholy and hatred, because the screenplay provides but one scene during which Craig is allowed to display much of any humanity.
That one scene is, however, so horribly written and clichéd that it makes one wonder if the screenwriters (Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) believed they were transported to 1930s Hollywood and charged with writing a rote scene for a below-average melodrama. Quantum of Solace is such an aggravating missed opportunity on the larger matters at hand that the small nitpick-worthy items only stick out more, perhaps left to distract the viewer from greater concerns. An innocent Bolivian servant is nearly raped by an evil man in the film's closing stretch, and after the scene disintegrates into sheer mayhem, the character is lost, presumably left for dead. There is a mean-spiritedness and wastefulness to the proceedings that never quite gets out of the film's way. It would be one thing for the writers and producers to commit to their “fresh” take on Bond and succeed, as Casino Royale conclusively triumphed in its forming of a bitingly brutal new Bond. Quantum of Solace's Bond succumbs to the Bourne-ification of 007, as he becomes an aggressive automaton with practically no personality.
And that describes the film itself. Despite the many beautiful locations, there is little if any personality to be found here. The movie carelessly careens from one action sequence to another, all choppily shot and edited so as to confuse the viewer and further alienate the audience from the narrative's incredulous proceedings. Craig's presence in the film—it cannot be called a performance so much as being positioned before the cameras as he's disallowed from portraying the heartache and repressed vengefulness other characters tell the audience he must be experiencing, none more repetitiously than Judi Dench's M. Indeed, M may have as much dialogue as Bond himself, so perpetually attendant she is to almost all of Bond's actions, with the help of that most convenient of screenwriting tools of today, the cellular phone, and so limited in expression Craig's Bond is in this picture. The frustratingly hyper-edited action scenes more reminiscent of Michael Bay than the more classically, stately and sweeping compositions Casino Royale helmer Martin Campbell offered the viewer's appreciative retinas are ugly microcosms unto themselves of the unsuccessful blending of various components to the film as a whole. Forster's handling of the violence is an incoherent, jumbled mess of nanosecond-long shots, rarely ever describing the logical geography of Bond, his adversaries or anyone else. This most certainly is the Bourne-identification of James Bond.
Mathieu Amalric plays the film's villain, a physically meek but financially powerful man, an ostensible philanthropist named Dominic Greene, reuniting the French actor with Craig from Munich. Amalric is a wonderful actor but unlike Mads Mikkelsen as La Chiffre, for instance, he is handicapped by an underdeveloped character birthed by an underwritten screenplay. Amalric does what he can, relishing his own viciousness and remorselessness but he is never given the opportunity to truly impress. The actor's contrasting smallness makes a climactic struggle with Bond—who earlier incapacitated three elite MI6 agents in an elevator in no more than 0.8 seconds—seem more laughable than thrilling. This is especially true as it serves as the forefront for the jarring return of formula in the way of an exploding Villainous Hideout in the final reel, a most unwelcome formulaic staple of the series to which this confused, muddled film bizarrely retreats.
Olga Kurylenko is quite fetching but entirely unmemorable as the film's leading lady. The screenplay's tepid efforts to draw a note of comparison between her Camille and Bond—both are out for revenge against someone who took a loved one away—cannot dissuade the achingly disposable reality of the character. Jeffrey Wright is given nothing to do but literally glower and make faces as Bond's cagey CIA contact and friend, Felix Leiter. Dench is the only performer given an emotional arc with which she can work, making M more comprehensible and well-rounded than any other character, including Bond himself. Some of her scenes with Craig sizzle, but at a certain juncture they become tired and repetitive. Nevertheless, she remains one engaging constant and grounding force against the ridiculously pell-mell, under-baked storyline, giving Bond a vicarious mother figure of sorts that reveals more about Bond than anything with which Craig's character is endowed by this skeletal screenplay.
Lacking in depth, most conspicuously in the wake of the more nuanced and meticulously mounted Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is nothing less than a cinematic surrender, a waving of the white flag rather than the Union Jack, as in the last shot of the pre-credits sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me. Consuming the trendiest conventions usually means the trendiest conventions have consumed the film at hand. Quantum of Solace takes its cue from the latter two Jason Bourne movies. It's infuriating, but primarily saddening. It is telling that the most harmoniously composed and intelligently handled scene is that of a blatant homage to Goldfinger, this time back in black. The Bond series, commencing in 1962, has already undergone so many revisions and recreations that for many, the Bond legacy had already been diluted to an extent. However, that Bond legacy always burned, more brightly and subduedly depending on the film and time period in question, yes, but Bond as a franchise was always fairly recognizable. With this, the newest and most outrageously self-sequestered and arrogantly recreant feature, Jason Bond seems to have been... Bourne.
Stitched out of endless, occasionally seizure-inducing action setpieces (one with a plane is particularly disorienting, ironically fitting for this most disjointed and discombobulated franchise entry) with almost nothing in the way of heart or wit, the film is plagued by uninteresting and almost immediately stale paradigms. Even Bond's quest for vengeance, at first promising in its singular savagery, if nothing else, finds a flummoxing destination. The film ends and beyond one final scene that feels almost obscenely tacked on to make something resembling a definitive statement about the character who has been followed for over twenty movies in the timespan of forty-six years, nothing seems especially accomplished. The entire picture plays like an intermittently stimulating second act of an unwieldy action movie that cares little for its characters. This is not the fault of Craig, but of the people behind the camera who have sabotaged their own enterprise and somehow fumbled what should have been a sure thing after their last film. The movie is as inconsequential as its immediate predecessor was vital to the “re-booting” of 007. For a film so apparently desperate to bathe in its supposed aqueous humorless inhumanity, the lasting sensory response of the viewer is astonishment at the frivolity of this most dissatisfying and halfhearted exertion. And, finally, it is that most scandalously awful kind of movie, that which seems, perhaps consciously, to mock appraisal, to dismiss its own oncoming critique with its bland shallowness. Quantum of Solace is finally a taunting motion picture, seemingly sneering through the celluloid towards anyone naïve enough to actually take it seriously.