Depending on your overall position regarding James Bond, the announcement of blond, buff British theater thesp Daniel Craig as the latest incarnation of 007 was either an anticlimactic bit of Tinsel Town casting hype, or the latest sign of the series' cinematic apocalypse. After everyone's definitive choice - Pierce Brosnan - said "no mas" to more forays into the world of international espionage, the Broccoli trust had to come up with a new face to carry forward the four-decades-and-thriving cash cow. In one of those rare celluloid convergences where everything comes together - script, director, star, current cultural setting - the resulting retake of Casino Royale was a massive hit, both commercially and critically. It established Craig as a viable, nay some may say exceptional addition to the litany of actors who've played the character, and the grounded feel to the action played perfectly into the expectations of a post-millennial audience. So what did producers do when it came time to double down on such success? They made the mistake of hiring a director who couldn't handle the material. Thus, the uninspired Quantum of Solace was born.
When we last left James Bond, he was desperate to discover who killed his current gal pal Vesper. His quest has now led him to a plot by energy tycoon Dominic Greene to corner the planet's market on its most valuable natural resource - and no, it's not oil. Turns out, it's just one facet of a much larger plan by criminal syndicate Quantum to control events worldwide. Their first foray into evil international fiddling? The overthrow of the current Bolivian government and the reinstallation of former military dictator General Medrano. With M watching over him with a very suspicious eye, and time slowly ticking away, Bond needs help to infiltrate the organization and discover its directives. Aide comes in the form of Russian babe Camille, who has her own personal motives for wanting Greene revealed and Medrano destroyed.
Talk about a sophomore slump. Daniel Craig's second outing as the famed 007 pisses on everything that made Casino Royale so amazing and returns to the days over overblown spectacle and stilted stuntwork with little or no presence in reality. Sure, no one expects Ian Fleming's seminal Cold warrior to be totally true to the tasks at hand, but when the best thing about your Bond film is the stunning sexpot Olga Kurylenko and little else, you've got issues. Blame needs to be placed directly at the feet of 'out of his element' filmmaker Marc Forster. How someone whose resume includes Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland, and The Kite Runner earned the right to take on one of the genre's greatest heroes will probably always remain a mystery. At least previous helmer Martin Campbell had a previous Bond (Goldeneye) and a couple of swashbuckling efforts (Zorro 1 & 2) to hang his action film hat on. But Forster is so beyond his abilities here, so lost in a preproduction preamble that mandated he do things he couldn't handle or had the vision to realize that Quantum of Solace quickly evaporates into incomprehensible farce. Bond is running here. Bond is crashing cars. Bond is beating up bad guys. Bond is macking on the babes. Bond's unquestionable loyalty is questioned. Oh, and then SPECTRE is replaced by Quantum, with the opera being the main place the villains decide to meet. Huh?
Of course, some of the blame has to be delivered to the door of the 'too many cooks' scriptwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. While the latter two are old Bond hats, the former found his fame ruining the Best Picture category forever with his lame-ass Crash crap (unless you count his stint writing for The Facts of Life as more definitive). They mix things into the Bond mythos that don't need to be there. Making our hero a possible double agent? Setting up a situation where main bad guy Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, cashing a paycheck) hangs out in an isolated desert luxury hotel? Being given Ms. Kurylenko and giving her less to do than May Payne or Hitman? Huh? Somewhere between the page and actual production, the motive behind this movie got sidetracked. Instead of keeping Craig a mean and lean Bond, Quantum of Solace sticks him right back in a scenario that Roger Moore would have found familiar. There's no energy, no immediacy, no urgency to what 007 has to do. Instead, it's a matter of waiting until clues literally land in his lap, and then our 'shaken, not stirred' super agent puts two and two together and goes off to kick butt.
Alas, it's in the action where Quantum of Solace really stumbles. The opening car chase is so confused, so edited by an insane rabid ape that you can't tell what's happened when, or why. Memo to Mr. Forster - if you're going to steal from Paul Greengrass and his handheld mastery of the shaky-cam POV sequence, at least pilfer properly. Taking your set-ups and shots, tossing them into the air, and randomly reassembling them into a linear bit of celluloid patchwork is not the way to go. It gets worse come the finale, when Bond is battling Greene within said surreal desert backdrop. As fireballs blaze and glass windows shatter (in pure Verhoven mayhem), the conflict literally gets lost. Oh, we know who 007 is supposed to snuff and why, but the tenure of the sequence is all scattered and unsure. The best thrills come from a necessary narrative flow - even when you're discussing explosion and fisticuffs. And since Quantum of Solace is almost nothing but battles (this Bond can't do anything - check into a hotel, eat a meal, contemplate his navel) without drawing a combatant and getting down to knuckle sandwiches - it's all too much. Perhaps the producers were hoping that a wealth of confrontations would keep fans happy. Instead, we miss the one element that makes Bond the best - a true sense of purpose.
As with many recent titles, Quantum of Solace was mastered with the DVD market in mind, and it shows. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen image is marvelous - crisp, detailed, and literally vibrating with visual clarity. On the small screen, the ADD-inspired editing works a little better and all the leads look supermodel stunning. In fact, this is one of the best looking movies of last year, especially on the latest home video format.
There are two main options for the sonic situation here - Dolby Digital 5.1 DTS or standard 5.1 Surround. Both are good, with the DTS winning out by the narrowest of channel challenging action scene margins. The music here is excellent, and the dialogue is well recorded and easily understandable.
Surprise! Surprise! Marc Forster didn't get a commentary track on this Two Disc Special Edition of Quantum of Solace. Sure, the second DVD offers a featurette on the filmmaker, but his chance to explain himself scene by scene is nowhere to be found here. In fact, everything on the additional disc is EPK level fluff. Sure, the crew gets a chance to chat up their part in the production, but everything else ("On Location", "Bond on Location", "Start of Shooting", "Music", "Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase") feels superfluous and lightweight. Perhaps when the final installment of this apparent trilogy finally hits DVD (yep - the narrative is so open ended that a third film centering on this storyline is more or less mandatory) we'll get a few definitive supplements. Until then, fans will have to make do with the underwhelming extras offered here.
While it may seem unfair to pinpoint Forster as the main flaw here, it's a situation not unusual to current Hollywood hamstringing. Mamma Mia! was more or less destroyed by theater ace turned disastrous first time filmmaker Phyllida Lloyd, and the recent tween hit Twilight was so underwhelmingly helmed by Catherine Hardwicke that she was booted from the mandatory sequel. While fans wait nervously for the announcement of the particulars surrounding the next Bond title (number 23, due in 2011), they can settle for the subpar thrills offered by this lame lesser 007. Earning an easy Rent It, it will be up to those outside the cult, viewers not quaffing the franchise Kool-Aid to decide just how successful this second serving of Craig actually was. Without a doubt, he's a wonderful action star and has brought a new level of form and physicality to the character. But if producers keep putting him in disposable displays like Quantum of Solace, Bond's days as the definitive spy may be numbered.