QUANTUM OF SOLACE does a tidy job of building on its predecessor, CASINO ROYALE, while introducing a sinister cabal that fills the void left by the collapse of the Cold War. Yet, there is still room in this brave new Bond world for wacko villains who so entertainingly populate the Bond universe, and who are more or less contracting with that cabal.
This one is named Green (Mathieu Amalric), and it’s an obvious pseudonym, considering the accent. He’s a businessman who has built his reputation on Green being more than his name. Touting his passion for saving the planet is, of course, just a cover story, but one that clicks with the public. His ability to topple regimes, in this case Bolivia, also clicks, but with the ex-military and current persona non grata who would like to take over that country. All Green wants in return is a vast expanse of empty desert, which, he coyly reveals, holds the most precious commodity in the world. No, it’s not oil, but oil will come into play later.
Bond (Daniel Craig), meanwhile, still smarting from the death of Vesper, his lady love in the last film, has picked up the pieces and as the film opens is doing what he does best. That would be taking hairpin curves on a mountain road in Italy while being beset by oncoming traffic and a string of fellow motorists who are trying to kill him. Bond is armed with only his wits, his gun, and his Aston-Martin. Naturally, it’s not a fair fight, but the bad guys don’t know that yet. What Bond doesn’t know, and neither does the redoubtable M (Judi Dench starchy, smart, and superb as Bond’s foil), is that these bad guys are just the tip of the iceberg. There are nefarious doings going one of a highly organized nature and world domination is, of course, the goal.
The plot is all about revenge. Bond is keen on payback for Vesper. His ally for this outing, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), has an old score to settle of her own, and when their interests collide with that toppling of Bolivia scheme that Green has set in motion, it brings on the sort of peril that is the raison d’etre of the Bond franchise. Complications ensue when the Americans, in the person of Doogie-spy Gregg Beam (David Harbour), gets in bed with Green and with Downing Street, the latter facing up to the realpolitik of a world running out of oil and needing to make nice with those who have it. Bond is ordered off the case.
Bond, being Bond, will have none of it and though he may have gone rogue, he’s still right this eco-Bond fighting to keep the monopoly of precious natural resources from falling into the wrong hands. The result is a smart updating of GOLDFINGER unsullied by cartoonish excess. Mostly. The locales, particularly a hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert that does double duty as the not-so-secret lair of the supervillain, hearken back nicely to the 1960s incarnation of Bond. As does the secondary Bond girl of the piece, Fields (Gemma Arterton) who succumbs to Bond with a minimum of fuss on the part of either party. New to the formula is the more nuanced, more deliciously complicated, even intimate in a non-sexual way, relationship between this Bond and his M, the latter playing a larger part in the action both back in London and in the field.
Equally ravishing in a tux or in a state of battered disarray, Craig, as in his last outing as Bond, is the cold killer with an unswerving sense both of mission and of honor, which is why he can patiently wait for his latest victim to bleed out while never batting a steel-blue eye. This is a Bond with gadgets but rather than the outlandish ones of yore the fancy stuff is back at headquarters and consists of such things as a cool translucent wall that become an equally cool translucent computer display screen. Bond himself needs nothing more than a GPS device and a cell phone that never seems to be out of calling range, the latter being more science fiction than science, if you want to get technical. The action in this action flick is of a particularly pure variety, not tarted up with excessive explosions (though things blow up) or spectacular car crashes (though many get crumpled, as do boats and planes for that matter). The focus is on Bond as the niftiest gadget of them all, mordant wit doled out sparingly, making its appearances all the better. Cool, quick and decisive under pressure with the preternatural reflexes and agility that never quite find themselves outside the realm of human possibility, albeit the furthest edge of that realm. The effect is dynamic even as Bond never seems to break a metaphorical sweat and barely a literal one.
The quantum of QUANTUM OF SOLACE has a deliberately pitched double meaning, as in a miniscule amount, as in the amount of peace that revenge brings, as well as in the mysterious Q that pops up during the Austrian sequence of the film and is a clue as to what the cabal calls itself. It deftly advances Bond’s personal story while propelling him along for his next adventure, an adventure that can’t get to theaters soon enough.