What constitutes a bad James Bond movie for you?
Is it Sean Connery trudging through the cynically titled “Never Say Never Again”?
Pudgy, 57-year-old Roger Moore huffing and puffing through “A View to a Kill”?
Timothy Dalton chasing anybody at all? (I liked him, but few shared my feelings.)
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Pierce Brosnan in that absurd thing with Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist and some villain who could not feel pain? (“The World Is Not Enough.” Had to look up the title, it was so forgettable.)
Well, “Quantum of Solace” joins that pack. Though “Casino Royale” rejuvenated Bond's character in crisply entertaining style, the franchise has plunged downward again more steeply than the neckline of a Russian spy.
The film is nominally a sequel to “Royale,” in which Bond was left mourning Vesper Lynd, the love of his life and a victim to the machinations of an international organization. We were supposed to find out in this one what its aims were, how it operated, and how Bond might take it apart. Only we don't, and he doesn't.
Instead, we get a garbled plot about a supposedly green industrialist – even his name is Greene, which is the level of irony here – who wants to control water rights in Bolivia. That's a pressing concern for people of the Altiplano, but it doesn't provide thrilling fodder for international adventure. And at the end, we're precisely where we were at the completion of “Royale.”
Everything about the film is generic, from the latest non-acting Bond girl (Olga Kurylenko) to the mumbling villain (French actor Mathieu Amalric, who was more expressive in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” with a voice and one moving eyelid). Director Marc Forster, whose tender “Finding Neverland” and “The Kite Runner” indicated he'd be precisely the wrong man for this job, tries to whip up a frenzy with five incoherent chase scenes, including an introductory car sequence that instantly establishes Forster's unfitness.
“Solace” is especially frustrating when it moves down interesting paths, then stops.
An early assassination attempt on M (Judi Dench) suggests British intelligence is honeycombed with Quantum agents, some planted years ago. (Incompetent ones, though: The assassin can't deliver a killshot from six feet away.) Bond acquires the status of a rogue agent for too quickly slaying people who might have delivered valuable information, allegedly because he's vengeance-bound.
Members of the CIA support a Bolivian political coup, a brave stab at one of Britain's longtime allies. But all these ideas arise and fade away to unimportance, perhaps to be explored in an endless string of potential sequels about this faceless multinational corporation. (And one that teleconferences in the middle of an opera performance. Has Quantum no shame?)
Perhaps the team behind the Bond movies thinks it's updating the series by getting away from all-powerful individuals and attributing the world's problems to corporate greed and ruthlessness. These movies are fantasies, not documentaries! Who wants to see Bond tackle a steroidal conglomerate, especially when his battles must be reduced to one-on-one encounters to be cinematic?
Daniel Craig, who made such a promising beginning in “Royale,” now seems robotically impatient. He knocks enemies down like so many bowling pins and has perhaps four expressions.
At one point, his lip moves a quarter of an inch. “I see you're filled with inconsolable rage,” M tells him. That's the difference between a really keen intelligence analyst and me: I thought he was letting off an unobtrusive belch.