As of 2009, James Bond has been shooting and shagging his way through villains and femme fatales for 47 years. Although Pierce Brosnan made his final appearance as Agent 007 in 2002's "Die Another Day," Bond was effectively reborn into the 21st century in 2006's "Casino Royale," an adaptation of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel. It is only fitting, then, that Daniel Craig is the first actor to take on the role who is actually younger than the franchise itself, born six years after "Dr. No" appeared in 1962. With this rebirth appears to have come a change in the overall tone and approach to the series, one that is less playful than the Sean Connery and Roger Moore outings and more in tune with current political and social tensions. As a result, however, the suave, wisecracking Bond of yore seems to have faded away as a grittier - and ultimately generic - action hero takes his place.
This is no fault of Craig's, who physically embodies the gruff but cool and ever stylish agent with little effort. He and Judi Dench (as M) trade deadpan quips with the best of them, but the screenplay for "Quantum of Solace," the 22nd official Bond feature (written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade), stifles the campy charm in favor of heavy drama, explosive action, and shallow political references. Picking up where "Casino Royale" left off, the new film finds Bond uncovering a secret organization headed by a man appropriately known as Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who poses as an environmentalist and developer of green technology. That corruption lies at the heart of global environmental discussions is about as far as the film takes its political commentary, and the references to global warming and the shortage of oil do more to date the film than to convincingly draw Bond into the contemporary political atmosphere.
Bond's loyalty to MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, is called into question by M as she suspects he is motivated more by personal issues than by a sense of duty, continuing the depiction of Bond as a morally ambiguous character that began in "Casino Royale." The only problem here is that there is so little emphasis on Bond as a character that his morality hardly makes a difference. Although M keeps reminding Bond (and the audience) that he must not allow his desire to avenge the death of his true love from the previous film to cloud his judgment, that very judgment seems secondary to increasingly convoluted exposition and clumsily mounted action sequences. In forgoing Bond's usual wit and carefree attitude, the screenwriters have reduced him to an understated and rather glum lead who too easily disappears into the spectacle around him.
Director Marc Forster, who is best known for more emotionally driven films like "Monster's Ball" (2001), "Finding Neverland" (2004), and "The Kite Runner" (2007), seems handicapped by the frequent action sequences in this film. While still as over-the-top as ever, they have none of the thrills or true enjoyment of previous Bond films. Forster seems content to follow the Michael Bay school of directing and simply allow rapid-fire cuts and parallel editing to take control at the expense of making the onscreen action confusing. Even as Bond and female partner Camille (Olga Kurylenko) plummet thousands of feet to the ground after jumping from an exploding plane with no parachute, the whole situation is treated with such extreme somberness that it fails to truly grip or engage viewers.
This seriousness extends to the depictions of Camille and Dominic Greene as well. More realistic, to say the least, than the franchise's most famous Bond Girls and villains and certainly more psychologically complex, these characters are just never that interesting. Camille, as played by Kurylenko, is intelligent and strong-willed, but the character is limited by a decidedly trite backstory involving her family's murder and her urge to seek vengeance on the criminal mastermind responsible. Mathieu Amalric is sufficiently nasty as Greene, but his squirrely demeanor makes him an odd paring with Bond. As with the central character, Greene's less cartoonish persona is no match for the action and spectacle surrounding him, and he fails to rise above the over-the-top violence to make a lasting impression.
The one major throwback to classic Bond is the appearance of Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), a tamely named Bond Girl sent to retrieve 007 from his mission. This leads to the movie's funniest line as Bond explains to a receptionist at a luxury hotel how they are able to afford it when they are supposed to be teachers on sabbatical. Strawberry Fields provides the only brief moment of sex appeal, but while fun in her right, she is a weak and incongruous element in this darkest of entries. In a truly bizarre twist, her fate is a direct quotation from 1964's "Goldfinger," but it only succeeds in making one long for the more carefree escapades of Connery, or even Timothy Dalton.
As a generic action movie, "Quantum of Solace" is passable, but it fails as a Bond movie on one important level: it has stripped the main character of his unique personality. In this film, James Bond could easily be replaced by any other hero and it would make little difference. The objective to develop Bond into a more complex and morally ambiguous character is an admirable idea in theory, but not at the expense of completely erasing the mythos that generations of fans have come to love. It is always a challenge to take a character in a new direction, but with this film the writers and director show little understanding of who this character is. The darker hero may have more gravity than past incarnations, but that does not inherently make him more relevant to present-day sensibilities. If only he had a villain as self-reflective as Heath Ledger's Joker to ask "Why so serious?"
MGM Home Entertainment's Blu-ray presentation of "Quantum of Solace" is certainly a top-notch job. The 1080p high-definition transfer is presented in the original 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio and looks fantastic. The image is sharp and clear, with great depth of field throughout. Colors are bold and well saturated, with rich black levels and excellent contrast. Fine film grain is visible. Skin tones look natural throughout. Of course, the detail is well served, and the entire presentation looks visually flawless.
Audio is also presented nicely in a DTS 5.1 Master Audio track. The action sequences benefit the most from this mix, with the sounds of explosions, guns firing, music and voices enveloping the viewer with great power. The effects are balanced well throughout and come through clearly. The range of this track is also remarkable, as a scene may begin quietly before giving way to intense, ferocious sound. Viewers will be able to feel as well as here the intensity. Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are offered in Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin.
The bonus features on this disc, it must be said, are pretty light, leading me to believe that a special edition will be released at some point in the future. First up is a music video for the film's theme song, "Another Way to Die," featuring Jack White and Alicia Keys. Next is the 25-minute featurette "Bond on Location," highlighting the location shooting around Europe and South America. This is followed by a series of very brief and self-explanatory featurettes: "Start of Shooting" (3 min.), "On Location" (3 min.), "Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase" (2 min.), "Director Marc Forster" (3 min.), and "The Music" (3 min.). A "Crew Files" section lasts 46 minutes in total and highlights 34 crew members, from first assistant director to makeup artists to visual effects designers. Two theatrical trailers round out the disc.
"Quantum of Solace" is not the strongest Bond feature, and it may be a great disappointment for longtime fans of the more lighthearted franchise entries. Still, Daniel Craig continues to prove that he is capable in the lead role. Let's just hope that future entries will give him more to do. MGM's Blu-ray release is technically sound, but it is severely lacking interesting bonus features. The inevitable special edition will likely have much more to offer.