The Movie Review: 'Quantum of Solace'

When the 16th James Bond film, Licence to Kill, was released in 1989, it was widely reported that its working title, Licence Revoked, had been altered thanks to a survey revealing that fewer than 50 percent of Americans knew the meaning of the word "revoked." How far we have come since then. Bond's last outing, Casino Royale, was not only his best in over three decades, it was also his smartest, and its franchise-record grosses evidently persuaded 007's custodians that we Yanks aren't quite such a load of morons after all. How else to explain Quantum of Solace, the year's most obscurely titled release not directed by Charlie Kaufman?

Like Licence to Kill, Quantum is a tale of vengeance; unlike it, the new film is also a sequel, in which the lethal debt to be paid off is held over from a previous picture. Specifically, Bond (Daniel Craig) goes off the grid to track down the shadowy villains responsible for the death of his Casino Royale lover, Vesper, who was in life a mouthwatering accountant and remains in death a mouthwatering martini. (Denied the consolations of the former in Quantum, Bond permits himself those of the latter.

The film opens with a breakneck car chase along the rocky Mediterranean coast in which British Aston outduels Italian Alfa, enabling 007 to arrive in Siena minus one car door but with the prisoner in his trunk--Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), whom we saw him shoot in the leg at the conclusion of Casino Royale--intact. Following an interrogation by M (Judi Dench), Mr. White ultimately leads Bond to one Mr. Slate, who in turn leads him to a Mr. Greene (Matthieu Amalric). That's right: The global conspiracy this time around isn't SPECTRE, but some rogue wing of the United Colors of Benetton.

Greene, it turns out, is an environmental activist whose company makes covert deals with corrupt governments and then strips their nations of natural resources. In this case, his group promises to return a deposed Bolivian strongman (Joaquin Cosio) to power ("We've already begun destabilizing the government," Greene informs him, as casually as he might report third-quarter earnings) in exchange for control of a remote desert which may contain oil or perhaps a still more precious resource. (It's not hard to guess which.) As Bond untangles Greene's plot, he crosses paths with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a comely Bolivian pursuing her own parallel, but unrelated, mission of vengeance. (If his narrative is loosely borrowed from Licence to Kill, hers comes from For Your Eyes Only.) Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini reprise their roles from Casino Royale as Bond allies legit and not-so, and Gemma Arterton makes a brief appearance as the Officious MI6 Handler Whom 007 Will Quickly Cajole Into Bed.

Quantum's plot is strictly second-rate, the kind of generic evil-tycoon-hatching-a-diabolical-plan story that the franchise rolled out with such depressing regularity in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Kurylenko is a distinctly subpar heroine, her performance flat and her storyline shoehorned in awkwardly. (Spray-on tan notwithstanding, she also has about as much Bolivian blood in her as I do.) And Amalric, who demonstrated his gifts in last year's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, disappointingly makes a less memorable impression as a Franco-corporatist monster than Michael Lonsdale did in Moonraker.

Moreover, there is evidence of backsliding toward a few of the more tired franchise tropes that Casino Royale had so sharply repudiated. Where that film made fun of the sex-pun sobriquets doled out to female characters (Bond teased Vesper that her cover identity was "Miss Stephanie Broadchest"), this one saddles Arterton's agent--herself a bit of a throwback to the 007-as-incorrigible-gigolo years--with the name Strawberry Fields. Even the title sequence brings back a hint of the PG prurience that was so pleasantly absent from Casino Royale's stylish opener.

Yet despite such disappointments, there is solace in Quantum, and its name is Daniel Craig. Ever since Sean Connery first brought Bond to life onscreen, his successors had been imitators. Yes, Roger Moore was a little softer, Timothy Dalton a little harder, and Pierce Brosnan a little more dapper. But despite the variation, Bond had remained pretty much the same character, periodically changing faces. Craig is the first inheritor who has worn the role rather than let it wear him.

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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