James Bond embraces the Jason Bourne model with Quantum of Solace, a rough-and-tough 007 adventure whose aspirations are admirable, even if the aesthetics are not. Back once again is Daniel Craig as the thuggish brute who pummels his way to solving the mystery continued from the previous installment. Stripped away of nearly every trait that the character has worn so well, this isn't the cinematic Bond of yore, rather a closer fit to the Ian Fleming mold of sophisticated brawler. Tonally, Quantum of Solace is a sobering hangover from the rousing experience of its predecessor. Where there was finely crafted action in the first, in its place are jarring action set pieces where disorienting camera moves and rapid editing rule the school. The days of the series' escapist entertainment are momentarily shelved, thanks to the unsteady hand of indie filmmaker Marc Forster, who seems far out of his league when painting on a canvas this large. What he brings to the table is a yearning to delve more into Bond's psyche -- it's just too bad that he felt the need to ape Mr. Bourne, Bond's cinematic cousin, when it came to crafting its action scenes, of which there are many. Dour, hyper-stylized, and completely gadget-less -- nobody does it better? Not in this case.
The film opens just where the last left off, with Bond bringing into custody a member of the secret society responsible for the death of his love, Vesper. But before any answers can be wrought, the criminal, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), escapes, with the 007 agent hot on his heels. Working with M (played by the returning Judi Dench), Bond globetrots until he finds himself in South America, where he encounters Camille (Olga Kurylenko), another soul yearning for vengeance. Their mutual connection is Dominic Greene (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's Mathieu Amalric), a businessman whose ties to the mysterious organization put him on the top of the suspect list. With the help of fellow agent Fields (Gemma Arterton) and returning CIA comrade Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), Bond and Camille make their last stand against the ones who have done them wrong, with the hope that this will close a chapter in both of their tortured existences.
Tortured is certainly one word for the film. While there are no rope-swinging knocks at Bond's manhood here, the entire film feels a bit too concerned with tying up the loose ends left over from Casino Royale. This newfound focus on dramatics is commendable -- and no doubt the reason that Forster was brought onto the project, but at what cost was this realized? For starters, the film was put in the hands of someone utterly clueless as to how to handle the intense storytelling. With little regard for pacing, the artsy director plops in action scenes seemingly whenever he feels like it, likening the picture to a bad musical where songs just appear out of nowhere. Relying on the current cinematic landscape forged by Bourne is another monumental mistake for the series, and the sooner they rectify this, the better. Moreover, the film needs at least some iota of fun injected into it. Escapist entertainment this is not. A valid continuation of the franchise's sensibilities this is not. Audience members who are cool with that could find the proceedings to be a further breath of fresh air, though purists may likely walk away wondering whatever happened to the Bond that they know and love.
Performance-wise, Craig wins with his take on the role. His bullish Bond is a force of nature, narrowly determined to stop at nothing until he gets what he wants. Though still a continuation from what came before, there's something different in his performance here that doesn't quite promise anything other than this character staying as severe as he is here, which is too bad. As far as the rest of the cast, Dench again scores as M. Given more screen time than ever before, she's the rock that has spanned two generations of the character and who will hopefully continue to add to the experience. Additionally, Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton both add their own flavor to the material, with Kurylenko pushing the Bond Girl mold into new dramatic territories. As the slimy bad guy, Mathieu Amalric excels, yet is missing a bit of over-the-top aplomb in his villainy. One interesting misstep is the wonderful Jeffrey Wright, who suddenly becomes a gruff Eastwood type under Forster's direction. Subtle he is not, but then again, neither is the film.
Clocking in at a brisk 105 minutes (the shortest in the series' history), this rare direct follow-up hopefully will put to rest the leftover emotional baggage of the character and leave Bond open to a bit more familiar interpretation in the future. While not the natural step after the end of Royale, it is its own animal -- and an unexpected one at that. The film will no doubt find its fans and lose just as many, but one thing is for sure -- this isn't the last we'll see of the daring agent. People need to believe that there is still one number that they can always count on -- it's time to stay true to that promise.