“You don’t have to worry about me,” James Bond (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale) tells his boss, M (Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal). But indeed she does. For in Quantum of Solace, Agent 007 is determined that nothing will stop him from getting revenge for the death of the only woman he ever loved, double agent Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.
The new movie picks up where the previous one left off. Bond has just shot and kidnapped Mr. White, who knows who betrayed Vesper. After a heart-thumping, white knuckle chase through the winding roads around Lake Garda and the marble quarries of Carrara in Tuscany, Bond delivers Mr. White to M. A traitor attacks, letting White escape and catapulting Bond on another chase, this time over the tiled rooftops of Sienna and up and down its ancient cisterns.
Quantum, Bond discovers, is a sinister international uber-conspiracy, so secret that neither MI6 nor the CIA know about it. Its specialty is arranging coup d’états. A phony French environmentalist, suitably named Dominic Greene, played with slimy Gallic charm by Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), is in cahoots with a sleazy Bolivian general–in exchange for making him dictator, Greene will control all the water in the country. Getting in the way of Greene’s nefarious plot is a luscious Bolivian secret service agent, Camille Montes (Ukrainian fashion model Olga Kurylenko, Max Payne), who has her own vendetta agenda. Bond and Camille eventually stop trying to trip one another up and join forces.
After the car and foot chases in Italy, Solace ups the ante in Haiti and Bolivia with chases by motorbike, speed boat and vintage propeller cargo planes. Then there are a death-defying parachute jump into a sinkhole, discovery of underground caverns, a trek through the driest desert on earth, mind-boggling explosions at an eco-hotel fueled by hydrogen cells, and several thousand rounds of ammunition–Bond has a noisy week. Also a fancy one–at an eye-popping surreal performance of Puccini’s Tosca in Austria, he ferrets out bad guys without mussing his tuxedo.
One of the distinct pleasures of Bond movies is the sheer number of exotic locations, both natural and man-made, and Solace is duly extravagant in the travelogue department. Another treat is the spontaneity with which Bond responds to life’s unpredictabilities, especially the appearance of beautiful women–unfortunately, this pleasure is non-existent in Solace. Bond is so focused on vengeance that he has no other expression but grim determination. Except for one fleeting interlude with a British consulate lovely named Strawberry Fields (Gemma Atherton, Three and Out, Bond seems to have left his libido on ice back in gloomy London.
The effect of Bond’s unwavering single-mindedness is that Solace is not fun. Marc Forster is a fine director (Kite Runner, Neverland, Stranger than Fiction), but action is not his forte–the movie’s numerous action scenes are so frenetic that they don’t make any sense. Solace ends up being a second class Bourne-clone instead of the latest entry in the tried and true Bond legacy. I waited in vain to hear “Bond. James Bond.” And there were no futuristic techno-geek gadgets, no banter with Miss Money Penny, no vodka martinis “shaken not stirred,” and worst of all, not one shot of Daniel Craig dripping wet.
In other words, this is a serious Bond for serious times. Now that I know how sad James Bond the man can be–and I’ve been told, how similar he is to real-life author Ian Fleming–I’m better for the hero’s fleshing out. As an artist, I applaud the filmmakers’ attempts to try something different. As a Bond fan, though, I’m really eager for James to cheer up, get that mischievous twinkle back in his eye, and when a leggy new hottie throws him that look, waste no time undoing his tie.