Remove all proper nouns from the equation and Quantum of Solace isn't a B+ action flick. It's brisk and shiny, partially smart and frequently flashy; it's got loads of chases, escapes, fights, and explosions, as well as a game cast and a leading man who really sells the physical stuff. The plot is nothing more than your standard "angry spy on a mission" hoo-hah, but it works well enough to support the sport and the spectacle ... so why is it that Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace also feels like a missed opportunity, kind of an also-ran, and sort of a day late and a dollar short? Oh that's right. Because this is supposed to be a James Bond movie.
The 22nd James Bond movie, to be precise, and if you haven't checked into the series since the days of Moore or Dalton -- and you happened to start here instead of with Casino Royale -- you'd be absolutely stunned to see how stripped-down the character has become. Call it a combined effort between three screenwriters, numerous producers, and a stern-looking lead -- but this particular version of 007 has become pretty one-note in rather short order: The guy's a lug. A bad-ass, quietly noble, and effortlessly believable movie hero ... but where's the charm? The ambiguity? The escapist fun in trotting along with a confidently capable super-spy? I know Bond isn't the deepest character in the annals of fiction, but in his latest flick he's been fitted into an acrobatic grump with a basic grudge. This time out the angered agent sets out to track down the killer of his beloved Vesper, only to realize that, yep, another egomaniacal super-tycoon has secret plans that are both greedy and evil.
This means we're picking up directly where Casino Royale left off, which makes Quantum of Solace the first James Bond entry that actually feels like a sequel. This is not a good thing. Worse than that, at 100 minutes total and a surplus of action at its disposal, QoS feels less like a sequel and more like a third act that got scrapped a few years back because Casino Royale couldn't possibly be four hours long. Which is not to say this film isn't entertaining. It certainly is, and powerfully so in a few spots. It's just that, on the Bond scale, this one ranks somewhere near Roger Moore's better offerings. And that's a pretty steep drop after the series re-ignited in such Royale fashion.
Technical assets are, of course, sterling across the board. Forster's longtime cinematographer Roberto Schafer does a fine job of capturing the (mostly Italian) landscapes, David Arnold's score is very solid, and the opening tune (a staple of the franchise that hasn't been monkeyed with) is a slick ditty indeed. The Bond girls (Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton) are little more than window dressing here, but again - that's pretty much par for the course in this series. As far as the villain goes: Mathieu Almaric has no problem conveying snide, hateful, and hiss-worthy -- but he's nowhere near intimidating. And while the performers are not to blame, it seems that Quantum of Solace mishandles two of its returning players: Judi Dench is given too much screen-time as M Q, and the return of Giancarlo Giannini (as Mathis) feels perfunctory at best. Conversely, aside from all the action bits -- which, I'll repeat, are pretty excellent -- the best moments of Solace come in a brief series of quiet exchanges between Bond and his old ally Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).
If Marc Forster seemed like an odd choice to direct a Bond entry, well, that's because he was. To the filmmaker's credit, his film's numerous action sequences are, as I like to say, hyper-kinetic and very exciting. Unfortunately they're also delivered in such a familiar fashion that most action fans will feel like they've wandered into a Bourne movie. And that's kind of ironic, Bond copying Bourne, when you think about it. I'm not sure if the franchise owners wanted this Bond entry to "play younger" or simply play more efficiently, but to me a Bond movie should go all over the planet, confuse me at least twice, and run longer than 132 minutes. This movie feels rushed, both in conception and result. Quick and brisk, which is good, but also in some sort of hurry to get out the door.
Craig continues to excel as a gruff hero worth watching -- and his knack in the action scenes simply can't be knocked -- and there's more than enough here to recommend Quantum of Solace as an above-average action film. But as a lifelong fan and ravenous re-watcher of this fine series of ficks, I can't help but feel a little let down here. And to be fair, Casino Royale was a pretty tough act to follow. But Connery followed Dr. No with From Russia With Love, don't forget.