The second Daniel Craig Bond film is a good reminder that despite a new actor, new visual aesthetic, and new conception of a signature character, it’s tough in Hollywood to avoid falling back on hidebound old tropes — something the James Bond franchise has been guilty of once or twice. After the three steps forward of series reboot Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is two steps backward — steps so far backward that in some ways, Quantum actually resembles Die Another Day (a convincing catalyst for that reboot) more than it does Casino Royale.
Visually, of course, that’s not the case. Quantum mirrors the washed-out, gritty look of its predecessor far more than the candy colors and tacky opulence of the Brosnan films. But fundamentally, Quantum is a genetic match for Die Another Day. Both are action films at their core, helmed by directors not really up to the task. Quantum of Solace is operating on an updated action template — lots of shaky cam and jagged editing — but the DNA remains the same.
Casino Royale stripped away a lot of the Bond affectations — when Craig replied, “Do I look like I give a damn?” to a bartender’s proposition of “shaken or stirred?” it was a self-conscious but effective flouting of the formula.
But in Quantum of Solace, it’s mostly formula of a different kind. The marginally developed plot details — Bond attempts to track down the members of a mysterious organization, Quantum, and battles an environmentalist, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) — are mostly window dressing for the wall-to-wall action sequences, as Bond is obsessed with revenge over the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).
This might have worked better if director Marc Forster had ever made an action film in his life or at least had some kind of knack for it. The incoherent opening sequence confirms that, in fact, action is not his bag (neither is good filmmaking in general, but that’s another story) and the film doesn’t much improve from there.
So where does that leave us heading into Skyfall? Sam Mendes does share some of the same middlebrow, maudlin tendencies of Forster, although he’s unquestionably a superior visual stylist. Will it take us further into Bond as action star territory, or does Mendes have something more psychologically interesting up his sleeve? We’ll find out soon.
Operation: BOND will continue with Skyfall.