Story last updated at 11/25/2008 - 4:36 pm
"Quantum of Solace" turns out to be almost as bad as its title.
Imagine a James Bond film with no gadgets. No humor. No swagger.
Little sex appeal and even less witty repartee. Cramped, confused action scenes. An awful title song. And a Bond who looks as if he'd rather be anywhere than whatever exotic location in which he's been dropped.
That's "Quantum of Solace," a serious letdown after the fine and necessary retooling of Bond in "Casino Royale."
What a drag. Bond fans everywhere should feel cheated.
To be sure, the franchise needed to get tougher, darker, and "Casino Royale" did just that, helped along by an Actual Performance by the rugged and swoon-worthy Daniel Craig.
The follow-up, though? It's as dark and parched as a collapsed star, seeming to work overtime to squelch the sizzle and sass that has kept Bond movies - well, most of them - vital for 46 years.
Indeed, it seems so eager to ditch the Bond legacy in favor of a new model that I wouldn't have been surprised to have heard Craig say, "My name's Bourne, Jason Bourne."
The plot is a muddled affair; to make sense of it, you'll need to watch "Casino Royale" again, and even then you might be lost.
It picks up right after the first movie, with Bond, brutal and humorless, out for revenge after the death of Vesper Lynd. That takes him around the world - Italy! Haiti! Bolivia! Austria! London! - on the trail of some bland bad guys.
They're part of Quantum, a super-mysterious organization that remains as shadowy as its motivations, which are meant to drive the plot but instead send it deeper into the mud. It might have something to do with eco-terrorism and hoarding water supplies and regime change so they can ... well, you try to figure it out.
Bond being Bond, does get mixed up with a couple of leggy women. One, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), is mixed up with the chief bad guy in Quantum and has a disappointingly chaste relationship with Bond that gives off no sparks, despite the fireballs going off around them.
The other, Miss Fields (first name Strawberry, apparently), is more promising and sexy. As played by Gemma Arterton, she does make one wonder what's under her hideous trenchcoat. But Bond's seduction of her is perfunctory and mostly off-screen; if a Bond movie can't even revel in this kind of stuff, it surely is in trouble.
Craig's 007 is intense and driven, and stays that way throughout. At times, it's effective - never more so than in a scene where he has to callously dispose of the body of an associate. It's disturbing, and gets to you.
But for the most part, he's a one-note killing machine with little flair and absolutely no sense of fun. And for those keeping track - you know who you are - he takes his shirt off just one time, and that's for just a couple of seconds.
Director Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Monster's Ball") comes up with one effective action scene involving an old junker airplane and a satisfying parachute drop. But for the most part, he relies on Bourne-like, over-caffeinated, jumbled-up action nuggets that render the scenes nonsensical, annoying and tension-free.
Watching them, I couldn't help but think of the clean, cool skiing scenes in several of the old James Bond movies - and how effective they were when you could actually tell what was going on.
1 ½ out of 4 stars. Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Marc Forster. 1 hour, 46 minutes. Rated PG-13 for strong action sequences and some sexual content.
Matt Soergel may be reached at email@example.com.