When I first saw this poster for the new 007 film, my thought was, “THIS is a James Bond movie?” The image — a handsome couple in tattered formal wear marching stoically as they escape a conflagration in the background — looks more like a Robert Rodriguez indie film. Though quite intriguing, it doesn’t scream action in the Bond manner. The original Ian Fleming short story, “Quantum of Solace,” takes place at a dinner party for dull guests, and this image seems to speak “James Bond’s drawing room drama.”
Of course, titles have little to do with actions in James Bond movies. In this case, Bond, played for the second time by the savagely efficient Daniel Craig, jets across the globe taking on an organization so mysterious that even MI-6 doesn’t know anything about it. The point man seems to be famed international environmentalist Dominic Greene, who is somehow tied up with a coup in Bolivia and mischief in Italy. Bond himself is still getting over that Vesper Lynd affair from CASINO ROYALE, and killing people left and right in an even more ruthless fashion than usual. It’s up to M (played wonderfully, as always by Judi Dench) to rein in Bond and keep his eyes on the intelligence prize.
There are problems with the title, however. In most James Bond films, you know what you’re in for. For instance, in a movie called CASINO ROYALE, you’re going to get a casino. In MOONRAKER, you’re going to get a moon. In THUNDERBALL you’re going to get thunder, and a ball or two.
So here we’re getting…what? A tiny molecule and some grief counseling?
Perhaps a larger problem is that new Bond director Marc Forster is one of many current action helmers who just doesn’t know how to helm action. (He does know how to shoot opera, however, as a terrific sequence set against the closing moments of Tosca shows.) From the opening scene it’s shaky cam chaos cut city, and if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a dozen times — the only times that worked was Paul Greengrass’s two Bourne movies. Much of SOLACE seems warmed-over Bourne, alas, from the teeth-jarring car crashes to an exotic rooftop chase complete with ample leaping from parapet to balcony. Dispensing with the luxury product placement set pieces that so often provide Bondian eye candy, SOLACE blasts from chase to chase on land, sea and air, as Bond keeps bumping off people he’s not supposed to be bumping off in search of something or other. Along the way he meets Camille, a shapely lass whose horrible burn scars don’t prevent her from wearing backless sun dresses. Sporting sexy bangs and a lithe presence, Camille, played by Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, is, in the modern Bond tradition, a girl with her own agenda and excellent skills at getaway driving and marksmanship — both big plusses for anyone who hangs around with a superspy.
Spurred on by his emotional emptiness and relentless quest to fill it with vengeance, Craig’s Bond is even more of a dick than he was in the last movie. He carelessly lets one of the few people he can trust fall into enemy hands, with tragic results, and blows another character’s shot at a long-planned vengeance by being a meddling busybody. (Also, while one doesn’t expect actual tradecraft in a Bond film, when you’re on the lam from your own country, using your real name all over the place seems pretty moronic.) The relationship between Bond and M is at the center of the film, as M gets called on the carpet by her superiors for Bond’s messes, but has to stand by him, even with all the heat. In the movie’s best line, someone asks if M is his mother. “She thinks she is,” Bond replies.
While there are the usual pleasures of a James Bond film here — some good action, exotic locales, beautiful women — the biggest problem with SOLACE (as in so many “updated” Bond movies) is that its faux-complex and worldly plot is just so much thin twine holding together a lot of explosions. During the film, since it was clear early on that nothing anyone said was going to have any consequences, I found myself pondering shot selection and wardrobe choices — when Bond sets out for the day in white canvas trousers, you know they will be badly soiled by noon, at the very latest. One example of the sloppy storytelling: Much is made of how MI-6 doesn’t even know what this sinister organization is and who is in it. However, that thread is just left lying there, with no gotcha moments that I could catch.
The villain, played by the busy, fish-eyed French actor Mathieu Amalric (also seen in MUNICH), is the kind of sophisticated modern baddie whose villainous plans involve global economics and water rights. Bruised Republicans will appreciate an ecological terrorist as villain, although scenes of water-starved Bolivians give some sop to conscientiousness. In the final battle, this desk jockey turns out to be adept at hand to hand combat, but apparently when you get the key to the executive evildoers’ washroom, it comes with a gym membership, as well.
In the end, the plot is a mere hodge podge of random bits with a MacGuffin so disposable that it doesn’t even have to be named. Overall, we’d rate this as a Dalton-level Bond movie. Craig’s dour, lethal hitman is fun to watch, but the setup is far too perfunctory.
Fun fact: The inventive opening credits were designed by MK12, the design studio co-founded by Matt Fraction. (Fraction left the firm in 2006.)
Unfunny fact: The song accompanying the credits, by Jack White and Alicia Keys, is by far the worst Bond song ever. Ever. I’d rather listen to Madonna than this. Please God and/or someone named Broccoli, just let Goldfrapp do it next time.