At this point, the most dangerous threat James Bond faces does not shoot from the barrel of a gun or glimmer from the lens of a laser but instead springs from the tightly-coiled engine of the audience's expectations. Any new Bond film has to not only compete with the films that have come before but also the other high-end entries in the action genre; any political or moral ideas in the film have to compete with the political and moral landscape of the world we live in. Quantum of Solace, the 22nd Bond film, is Daniel Craig's second outing as James Bond, and the blunt, brutal and brisk Casino Royale set the bar very high; if Casino Royale marked a return to greatness for the Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace represents a return to adequacy.
Directed by Mark Forster, Quantum of Solace has the basic bones of a Bond film -- globe-trotting settings, cars and chases, hair's-breadth escapes, nefarious plots. It does not, fortunately, have much of the fat that the worst Bond films have larded onto the series -- there's a minimum of high-tech gadgetry, no skiing sequences, no invisible cars, no henchmen with metal teeth. While Casino Royale brought Judi Dench's gruff spymaster M back to the series from the Brosnan era, it also brought Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion back to the franchise; in the new Bond era, cars crash and buildings break with thundering, shuddering force as Daniel Craig's Bond smashes, crashes and grunts his way through a hard, painful world. In the film's opening car chase, on the winding coastal roads of Italy, there are a number of moments where the crunch and thud of the action catches you up in a two-fisted grip of exhilaration and terror. Part of that's the stunt work, but a big part of it is Craig's Bond -- who you believe as being capable of executing a perfect shift-and-skid turn while firing an automatic weapon out of what used to be his car window with shards of glass lacerating his face.
And Quantum of Solace is as enjoyable as it is thanks to Craig's work. Craig will never have the sociopathic savoir-faire of Connery; times have changed in the world. Craig will never have the lazy, smooth phoniness of Moore; times have changed at the movies. But Craig can, and gets the chance, to portray the essential contradiction of Bond in a way Connery and Moore did not and Dalton and Brosnan barely had the chance to. Craig's Bond is a civilized man who's capable of pretending he's a beast and a beast capable of pretending he's a civilized man. Craig's best moments come when he's playing the part of a man playing a part, fighting someone to the death and then applying makeshift bandages and wiping the blood off his face before shrugging on fresh clothes and setting his face to go out in the world.
As satisfying as it is to watch Craig, though, that can't quite get Quantum of Solace through some of the more obvious weak points in the film -- namely, the too-close, too-quick, too-cluttered action sequences. Forster, on two occasions, cuts action sequences with other events -- a horse race, an opera -- but there's no thematic link between the action and the external event, no parallels between the two separate happenings. You do not make an action sequence more interesting by intercutting it with some unrelated event; you make an action sequence interesting by making it interesting, and while second-unit director Dan Bradley (who served as stunt director for The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy) clearly has the skill to do that, Forster doesn't have the skill -- or the capacity -- to recognize that activity is not action.
The plot in Quantum of Solace is a little thin as well, with Bond chasing down the secret organization behind the events that left Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) dead in Casino Royale. Soon Bond's on the trail of a prominent environmentalist, Mr. Greene (Mathieu Amalric), unraveling Greene's plot to control Bolivia's water supply alongside Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who's chasing the general Green's working with to foster a coup. The "environmentalist-with-a-secret-agenda" through-line for villainy is a little tired, though, and while Amalric may have glassy, nut-job eyes, he doesn't have a hint of physical menace or threat to him; since the Bond directors know that, at some point, their villain will go toe-to-toe with Bond, it would be nice if they started casting actors who made that look like an exciting prospect instead of a foregone conclusion. Kurylenko is not a great actress -- it's as if there's a switch inside her head she can flick from 'pout' to 'brood' -- and the script's need to go from place to place in pursuit of the next plot point means that she and Craig don't have the time, let alone the chemistry, for sparks to fly between them.
A mock-theme for Quantum of Solace performed by British radio comedian Joe Cornish made a joke about how sometimes it might be nice to have back the Roger Moore, jet-packed, raised-eyebrow Bond, but that's not going to happen in our current era " ... Because the world is a terrible place." And it's a joke, but jokes are funny because they're true; Casino Royale at least tried to make a jump to the age of terror from the Cold War, but Amalric's plan -- and the stakes of the film -- in Quantum of Solace feel a little too low, a little bargain-basement Blofeld. And while the Casino Royale formula of having Paul Haggis write over Robert Wade and Neal Purvis repeats here, there are some big-time, Haggis-style flaws; At one point, Bond throws a simpering, beaten bad guy out of a car; the villain whimpers "Please ... I've told you everything you wanted to know about Quantum. ..." I thought Wow, you did? I might have liked to hear that conversation. ... And some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, as a beautiful woman says to Bond "I wish I could set you free ..." Caressing his cheek, she delivers her big finish: " ... But your prison is in there." I have no interest in James Bond's inner child; I want more of Bond's external grown-up, drinking, punching and killing his way through the tangled thickets to expose the iniquities of evil men. If Quantum of Solace weren't a Bond film -- if you could do some pop-culture version of a blind taste test -- it would be well above average; but, Quantum of Solace is a Bond film, and a fairly okay one when all is said and done and exploded. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig brought Bond back to the big screen; in Quantum of Solace, everyone around Craig brings bland back to Bond.