In "Goldfinger," a female body lies dead in James Bond's hotel room, memorably covered head-to-toe in gold paint. (Cause of death: "skin suffocation.") In "Quantum of Solace," another female body lies dead in his hotel room, this time doused in pitch-black oil. While it's an obvious, wink-wink reference to one of 007's most beloved cinematic adventures, it also carries a blatantly metaphorical aspect: Bond's world is a lot darker these days.
Yes, Bond is back and more brooding than ever in "Solace," a movie I know one of my friends isn't going to dig, because apart from a couple of snazzy cell phones, it is basically gadget-free.
But Bond in the new millennium isn't about fancy gadgetry. As "Casino Royale" showed, the 21st-century Bond could care less about shaken-not-stirred martinis or spouting witty quips to future female conquests. No, this Bond would sooner kill you than charm you, which happens almost all the time in "Solace." In his rabid mission for retribution, both personal and professional, dead bodies, either done in by him or somebody else, just keep falling in his wake. As one friend astutely put it, this is 007's "Get Carter."
Uncharacteristically picking up where the last Bond installment left off, "Solace" has Daniel Craig returning in the lead role. With his blue eyes both dreamy and scary, he goes on a mission to infiltrate the supersecret organization Quantum, while silently hunting down whoever is responsible for the murder of his "Royale" squeeze, Vesper Lynd.
It's all about vendettas in "Solace," with Bond hooking up with a scorned Russian-Bolivian dame (Olga Kurylenko) looking to get close to an exiled Latin American general (Joaquin Cosío) to settle a family score. She initially gets cozy with Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric, adding a deranged gleam to the blinking eye he used in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), a Quantum member and environmentalist businessman who can't seem to stop trying to kill her.
Director Marc Forster holds the reins this time around, continuing to make Bond less lovable and more deadly. But Forster doesn't add anything new to the Bond franchise, which Martin Campbell did throughout "Royale." What made "Royale" great was that not only was it a thrilling, engrossing popcorn flick, but also it had the nerve to take James Bond seriously as a protagonist. The movie stripped away all the icon status of the character and took us back to the caddish killing machine Ian Fleming introduced to readers so long ago.
But whereas "Royale" took Bond seriously, "Solace" perhaps takes Bond too seriously. Working from a script by "Royale" writers Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Forster stays on a more bleak path than Bond does. With the way the movie refuses to give its hero even a moment of comfort or relief (also known as -- that's right! -- solace), it's almost like Forster is punishing Bond (and maybe audiences who enjoy Bond films) for all those years of frivolous spy work. Keep in mind, Forster directed those Oscar-baiting wrist-slitters "Monster's Ball" and "The Kite Runner."
Fortunately, it's not completely a dreary ride, as Forster manages to give us action sequences and chase scenes to offset all the internal, unforgiving misery and blind, stubborn vengeance he makes Craig's Bond project. Yes, "Quantum of Solace" reminds us that James Bond may be one cold cat, but he had to sacrifice a lot to get that cold.