by HELEN GEIB
Quantum of Solace is the solidly entertaining new entry in the venerable Bond movie franchise and a satisfying conclusion to the 007 “origin” story begun in 2006’s Casino Royale.
Casino Royale opened with a self-contained pre-credits sequence showing MI6 agent James Bond (played by Daniel Craig in his first film in the Bond role) executing the kill that marked his promotion to 007 status. In its staging, black and white cinematography, and spare, hard-bitten dialogue, the opening sequence evoked the spy thrillers of the early Cold War-era. The credit sequence that followed– prefaced by the franchise’s trademark iris shot of Bond in silhouette framed in the opening of a gun barrel– was thoroughly of the moment in its graphic design, bright colors, and soundtrack, a pop anthem performed by rock balladeer Chris Cornell. In tandem, the two sequences established the film’s dual purpose. The opening declared a return to the gritty hardness of Ian Fleming’s novels while the modernity of the credit sequence signaled the film’s contemporary updating of the Bond character and the espionage milieu he inhabits.
Quantum of Solace continues the story of Casino Royale, picking up very nearly immediately from where the prior film left off and effectively treating the two year gap between the films as a lengthy intermission. Although both films are built from the same fundamental story components, the proportions have changed. Casino Royale was a dynamic action film with a strong dramatic core, the whole leavened with considerable humor. Quantum of Solace is a revenge drama punctuated by action set-pieces and brightened by a few welcome moments of levity.
Along with the plot, Quantum also continues the first film’s rebuilding of the Bond character and the Bond movie franchise. Casino stripped away the familiar attributes, both substantive and superficial, of the Bond character in order to reintroduce them gradually through the film. The narrative focus this time around is more squarely on the character’s psychological development, a small, but significant shift appropriate to the more somber tone demanded by the emotional arc of the revenge story.
The action in Quantum is competently staged and filmed and sometimes exciting, but as a whole it lacks the inventiveness and kinetic energy of the action in Casino Royale. The back to basics mission of Casino Royale had Bond giving chase on foot. The action set-pieces in Quantum deliberately, frequently put him back behind the wheel starting with the opening sequence. A splendid (and very Bond movie-ish) car chase featuring European luxury cars navigating narrow mountain roads in Italy, it is my pick for the film’s action highlight.
In a reversal of order from Casino Royale, the opening sequence takes a step forward in the Bond movie updating project while the credits sequence that follows is decidedly retro; sand dunes morph into the curvaceous outlines of naked women and the music, performed by Alicia Keys and Jack White, is reminiscent of the theme songs from the Moore films. The juxtaposition of looking forward with looking back seems designed to signal that Quantum of Solace is a revitalization of the franchise, not a break with its conventions.
Craig continues to impress as Bond, leaving one hoping for many more franchise outings. Judi Dench returns as Bond’s superior, M. Casino Royale was Dench’s fifth film as M, but the first to make good use of her talents. M’s continued prominence in the supporting cast of Quantum is most welcome. CIA agent Felix Leiter also makes a welcome return in Quantum, well played as in Casino Royale by Jeffrey Wright. Mathieu Amalric takes the role of principal villain and Olga Kurylenko gives a pleasing performance as a Bolivian agent living out her own revenge story.