The first sequel in the James Bond canon of films, "Quantum of Solace", the second Bond film to star Daniel Craig, picks up pretty much where "Casino Royale" left off.
Bond is set on revenge for the death of Vespa, his love. He braves the windy mountain roads in Italy, trying to outrun another car filled with gun wielding villains. When he arrives at a secret headquarters in Sienna, he pops the trunk and removes Mr. Whyte (Jasper Christensen), who was captured at the end of "Royale". M (Judi Dench) and a few other agents are on hand to interrogate Whyte who simply laughs at them. "You really have no idea who we are." Bond is soon chasing a mole through the crowded streets and across the shingle rooftops of Sienna. Then, before you can say, "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die," Bond is off to Haiti to follow a lead. He spots Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who wants to get close to her former lover, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "A Christmas Tale") so she can get even closer to General Medrano, the deposed Bolivian dictator who is eager for Greene's help in reinstating him. Camille wants revenge and Bond soon thwarts her plan. But they quickly realize they have similar goals and should work together. Bond soon follows Greene to Austria where he spies on a very secret meeting between Greene and the rest of his group. M begins to lose patience and tries to stop Bond, but he turns to Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) who is eager to help for a little adventure. In the background, it looks like the CIA is trying to establish a relationship with Greene, despite Felix Leiter's (Jeffrey Wright) misgivings. Then the action moves to Bolivia for an explosive climax in the Bolivian desert.
With each stop, Bond learns a little more about Greene and his highly secretive organization. But director Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland") working from a script by Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby", "Crash"), Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (co-writers of "Die Another Day", "Johnny English" and "Casino Royale") has created a very lean, mean Bond vehicle for Craig to glower his way through.
Most Bond films run over two hours and I was shocked to learn "Quantum" would run about 105 minutes. Interesting. Now, after watching the film, this makes sense. There is a great 'economy' at work in "Quantum". No, it isn't a cheap film. In fact, it has the largest budget of any Bond film ever. No, the director and writers have created, at times, an almost impressionistic piece of filmmaking. In one scene, we might see Bond arguing with M about the course of action they should take. In the next, we see a quick shot of a new locale, with the city's name superimposed on the screen. Bond is already driving to his next locale. It almost seems like a couple of shots were cut out of most scenes, shots the filmmakers didn't think were necessary. But the absence of some of these moments helps to create a less than smooth story; the flow is off. We need to see Bond and M talk more, we need to see him reveal some of his plan to us, and we need to feel we are a part of the story, too. When we are simply watching Bond travel through a new location, we feel more like a voyeur than a participant in the journey. And this isn't such a great thing. Most people will tell you they love James Bond films because they are exotic and we feel like we are taking the journey with Bond. This
The locations are exotic, as always, and the action is fast-paced. In "Quantum", the action continues to take a harder edge, presenting even more brutal fistfights and car chases. The film opens with Bond trying to outrun a car of gun toting villains following him through the windy roads of the Italian countryside. This is an intense sequence, but it ends too abruptly and doesn't deliver the sort of ah-ha moment we used to get. Remember when Bond skied off a cliff in "The Spy Who Loved Me" and his parachute revealed the British flag? Don't get me wrong. I like most of the changes they made to Bond's character for the relaunch in "Casino Royale", but in "Quantum" they take these changes to an extreme. They want to make Craig a grittier Bond but does that mean he has to get cut, bruised and scraped in every altercation? Director Forster seems to think so.
Forster, best known for the films "Monster's Ball" starring Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry and "Finding Neverland" starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet seems an odd choice to helm a Bond film. From small, intimate films to a big budget movie filled with extensive, complicated action sequences. It seems a big jump and I'm not sure about the logic of the choice. There are some nice moments of character development between Bond and M and Bond and Camille. But do these happen because of the director or because of the writers?
There is another significant shift in this new Bond film. Bond always tries to stay current, even if he sometimes seems a few years out of sync (given the production time for one of these films, that seems understandable) so in "Casino Royale", Bond chased a suspect who leaped onto balconies, grabbed walls, bounced off concrete in a technique known as Parkour. This was a major step in bringing the type of action in a Bond film into the current century as well. And it was thrilling to watch. It made the hunt and the fight seem more immediate, more visceral. In "Quantum", they take that a step further. Clearly recognizing the success of the "Bourne" trilogy, the filmmakers have adopted a very similar style; a lot of hand held camera work thrusts us into the middle of the fights, giving us larger images of fists connecting with flesh, of teeth getting knocked out. This technique puts us right in the middle of the action. As Bond chases a suspect through the streets of Sienna, they eventually make it to the roof and continue the chase. At one point, Bond and his suspect fall through a glass ceiling and crash through scaffolding erected to restore the interior. As they fall, the camera falls with them, following their trajectory, taking us with Bond. This is a highly successful trick and it was also used in "The Bourne Ultimatum" when Bourne follows his suspect through the window of a Moroccan building. As Bond falls through the scaffolding erected at the worksite, we fall with him, making us a part of the journey.
But this technique is very different from what we are used to in a James Bond film. Bond films take a lot of time and money and much of the fun of watching the newest installment is to see the beautiful, exotic locales or the mind-numbing action choreography. When the action is filmed so close, we aren't able to appreciate the choreography, the skill it takes to make these scenes work. With the exception of the climatic fight between Greene and Bond, all action seems to have been filmed with handheld cameras. It thrusts you into the action, but it would have been nice to see a little variety.
There also seems to be an economy of action. "Quantum" has the largest budget of any James Bond film so you would think they would go over board and make it very over the top. But director Forster seems to take a page from his independent filmmaking background and keeps many scenes small in scale, cutting extraneous bits of dialogue and exposition here and there. For instance, we might see a brief scene between M and Bond and the next scene shows him in a new city, with a title card telling us where he is. What is missing is the bit of dialogue where M tells him to go there and follow the suspect. This is just a general example to give you an idea of what I am talking about. Because we are literally not seeing Bond get into a car, or enter a hotel, or walk someplace, the film seems choppy. And the title cards are necessary because we would be lost with out them.
I know it seems strange I am pondering the loss of extraneous bits of dialogue and exposition, but they add a fluidity to the film which makes the Bond films seem more lush, more exciting somehow.
In "Quantum", Bond is out for revenge. Because of this, he is also working 'off the grid' for a significant portion of the film. And because of this, Craig amps the intensity of his portrayal to a new degree. In "Casino Royale", Craig shows us a grittier Bond, a less refined Bond than we are used to. In "Quantum", Craig very nearly glowers his way through the entire film. When he falls in bed with a girl, it isn't so much that he is attracted to her, it is that he needs some information and needs some release. From the moment he sets eyes on Greene, we learn a new definition of the term "If looks could kill". Surely, Greene can't mistake the animosity in Bond's eyes and knows something must be up so why does he even bother having any interaction with him? Bond forces himself upon Greene and his organization. And because Bond seems so hell bent upon revenge, he seems less refined and less dignified. But I guess we probably all would in the same situation.
What all of this points to, in my opinion, is a Bond film that almost seems like a Cliff Notes version of another Bond film. I like the changes they have made in the franchise, but in "Quantum", they take these changes too far.