Quantum of Solace is a schizoid movie. There’s a definite tension between the material and the intentions of the filmmakers—should the hero be Bond or badass? The question is never resolved, but one needn’t care; the movie was thoroughly enjoyable. Quantum is saved by its odd combination of professionalism and incompetence.
This is the first actual Bond sequel in the 46 years of the film franchise’s existence. In Casino Royale, the promiscuous James Bond (Daniel Craig) found a special someone, Vesper (Eva Green), who turned out to be a double-agent. She defected, but her organization of ne’er-do-wells—the eponymous Quantum—tracked her down and led to her demise. In this movie, Quantum is an octopus with tentacles strong enough to put a squeeze on both governments and counterintelligence agencies. Bond’s superior, M (Judi Dench), is nearly killed by her seemingly trustworthy bodyguard; and, after he’s disposed of, MI6 can still find no paper trail linking him to Quantum. The shadowy organization’s representative, Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric), works hand-in-hand with a guerilla South American dictatorship—which he intends to scam—but Quantum money is lining both American and British pockets, so MI6 is called off. But Bond knows better. Along with Green’s girlfriend, Camille (Olga Kurylenko)—who has her own vendetta against the dictator, General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), who incidentally happened to kill her parents—Bond goes rogue, and takes matters into his own hands.
The “social consciousness” of the movie likely derives from Paul Haggis (Crash), who wrote Quantum (as well as Casino Royale) with Robert Wade and Neal Purvis (who also penned the pre-Craig Bond movies The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day). Haggis’ conception of the hero is anti-Bond: a super-sensitive super-spy. And, here, his conception of the world is a left-wing conspiracy theorists’: the U.S. is too stretched out, and too corrupt, to stave off an omnipresent consortium of Hawaiian-shirt-wearing power-brokers. Green is a manipulative worm (and phony environmentalist)—a shrimpy businessman who’s no match for Bond physically. He resembles Peter Lorre and Roman Polanski, and perhaps the latter evocation is not coincidental: Green’s dastardly plan (privatizing public water and causing a drought) borrows from Noah Cross’ in Polanski’s Chinatown.
With a Bond that has to buck the system and fight for justice, Quantum is an attempt at being a Dark Knight of the left—James Bond and Bruce Wayne both attended the same Ayn Rand fantasy-camp for budding übermenschen. But, thankfully, the makers of this film hadn’t the heart to match their form with their content. I can’t really buy the notion of suave super-spy Bond as a “complex” character, but Craig embodies that ideal in such a perfect way that it seems credible. Unlike his predecessors, this Aryan rock-formation doesn’t look like the kind of guy who got his job because of his good looks or who his daddy knows; Craig’s is a scrappy Bond—a man who isn’t really sensitive, but neither is he aloof (though he may pretend to be). He’s worked hard to get where he is, but he suffers from an arrested development—exactly what we in the audience are seeking to experience when we go to see a Bond picture. (If we really expected “realistic” or “adult” entertainment, we’d complain that the hero was still alive after the first act.) Craig’s contribution to his character really sparkles when this troubled-teen secret agent is teamed with his school-marm superior, M. Dench’s punctilious Britishness helps make up for the loss of that testy old tech-guru Q—although nothing here makes up for the loss of his trinkets.