Soon after Die Another Day, the 20th installment in the James Bond series, was released in 2002, it was widely ridiculed for crossing the line into self-parody. The villain created an orbiting ice palace to harness solar energy. 007 drove around in an invisible car, and sailed down a raging river standing on an ice block. Quantum of Solace, the second Bond film starring Daniel Craig as 007, faces almost the opposite problem. The movie tries to be so grim, gritty, and realistic that it just comes across as dull and lifeless.
The story picks up almost immediately after the great Casino Royale, with Bond driving an injured Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) to headquarters for interrogation. Before escaping, Mr. White reveals something about a nefarious organization that "has people everywhere." Further investigation leads to the discovery of a group called QUANTUM, which is employing Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) in an evil plot to overthrow Bolivia's government and drain its oil reserves. Or something like that.
But enough about the plot! This is a James Bond movie! How are the action scenes, you wonder. Fine, if you are a fan of the mile-a-minute, quick-cut, shaky camera action scenes that dominate the Bourne series. For those of us who do not enjoy nausea, however, Quantum's action scenes are quite irritating. Perhaps I am being unfair, though. In the Bourne films, the quick editing and shaky camera techniques contribute to the suspense, and the viewer at least has some idea of what is going on. The same cannot be said for the car chase that opens this film. Rather than getting my blood pumping, it left me sitting there waiting for the damn thing to end.
Yet when we are not being hammered by incomprehensible action scenes, the movie bores us with unnecessary exposition. The plot was really not interesting enough to hold my attention, and after a certain point I found myself tuning out. The main villain, Dominic Greene, is played by the terrific French actor Mathieu Amalric, but his character is bland and uninteresting. And yes, M (Judi Dench) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) were likable enough characters in Casino Royale, but they are given far too much screen time here.
The Bond girls fare slightly better. There are two - one a well-developed main character and the other one of Bond's quick flings. Olga Kurylenko plays Camille, the main female sidekick. Like Bond, she too is out for revenge for the death of a loved one. Kurylenko does well with the material given to her, but I can't pretend that her character is very memorable. Agent Fields (Gemma Arteron) is an entirely different beast. Her character's fashion and hairstyle are clearly throwbacks to the Bond girls of the 60s era. Although she does not have very much screen time, Arteron injects some humor and spirit into a movie that is desperately lacking in those departments.
But the main problem with Quantum of Solace is that there is nothing memorable about it. I struggle to think of a single sequence that is a standout. Director Marc Forster has said that his favorite scene comes during an opera performance, when the action cuts back and forth between the violence on stage and the violence that Bond is wreaking. But the scene struck me as a failed attempt at artsiness. The parallels that are being drawn are unclear, and the whole sequence feels out of place - like a pedestrian attempt at the montages that close the Godfather films.
So what impression does Quantum of Solace make? Not much of one, I'm afraid. I found it instantly forgettable, an endless string of uninspired action scenes. Casino Royale is the superior film in every way - its action sequences are at once more memorable, more exciting, and more comprehensible. And its story actually had a heart, and took time to develop characters. The same cannot be said for the sequel. Forgive the obvious pun, but Quantum of Solace left me feeling more shaken than stirred.