The office where M does her spymastering has a lot to say about the new James Bond film. The boss of MI6 (Judi Dench) used to occupy an oak-panelled, leather-and-brass drawing room on Whitehall, a place where you might lounge by the open fire and listen to the soft bongs of Big Ben as you pondered Blofeld's next move. Not in Quantum of Solace.
For the series' 22nd instalment, M has relocated to a clinical executive suite, all brushed steel and glass walls and severe grey furniture. Miss Moneypenny and Q have been left behind at her old premises, to be replaced by a gaggle of middle managers who buzz around as if they're on the floor of the stock market. I'd hesitate to ascribe this brisk atmosphere to the film's Swiss director, Marc Forster, but the watchwords in Quantum of Solace are ruthless, spartan efficiency.
It opens by literally cutting to the chase – a car chase that's set an hour after the close of Casino Royale. Bond's one true love, Vesper Lynd, has committed suicide because she was being blackmailed by some mysterious baddies, so 007 (Daniel Craig) pursues those baddies from Italy to Haiti to Austria to Bolivia at breakneck speed, pausing only to break a few necks before dashing to the next continent on his itinerary. There's no doubt that the influence of the Bourne franchise is behind this frantic pacing, particularly in the way that the action has been edited into quantum-sized, blink-and-you'll-miss-it snippets. What seems to happen during every car, boat and plane chase is that Bond gets cornered, and then there's a close-up of Craig scowling, and then the villain's vehicle explodes. Either 007 has acquired psychic powers, or I missed something each time. Cinemas may have to give out amphetamines at the door so the audience can keep up.
Still, it wouldn't be fair to say that Quantum of Solace is simply Bourne again. It has all the traditional Bond movie ingredients; the difference is that every one of these ingredients has had the fun pared away. The exotic locations are dusty backwaters; the Bond girl (Olga Kurylenko) keeps her clothes on, and the gadgets are just souped-up mobile phones. Even the Spectre-like league of evil-doers has had a 21st-century makeover. Rebranded as Quantum, it's a global cartel of corporate fat cats who go around toppling South American governments. (We're never told whether their name is an acronym for Quasi-Autonomous Network for Terror, Unpleasantness and Murder, but I hope it is.) Their head honcho isn't called Scaramanga or Goldfinger, either; he's called Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), which gives you some idea of the film's no-nonsense tone.
The main ingredient of Quantum of Solace which is less fun than you'd want from a James Bond movie is James Bond himself. Craig has Sean Connery's feline elegance, and he looks as if he could beat up all the other Bonds simultaneously, Connery included. But the character has always been about being smooth as well as getting rough, and Craig has to be the most charmless incarnation ever, a bullying lunk who views women and martinis as distractions from the business of seriously vicious violence. The film was lucky to get a 12A certificate.
You could argue that this cold, brutal Bond is true to Ian Fleming's books – the title comes from a Fleming short story – and there's certainly something admirable about Quantum of Solace's shark-like sense of purpose. Casino Royale might have been knocked off course by its cringe-worthy banter about watches, and by its equally cringe-worthy dashboard defibrillator, but the new film, like its hero, is tough and taut, and it gets on with the job. In the end, though, all work and no play make James a dull boy. I was impressed by Quantum's propulsive energy while it was zipping before my eyes, but afterwards I couldn't recall a single classic sequence. It's hard to be fond of a Bond film that doesn't pass the ultimate 007 test: I'm not sure I'd want to watch it on TV after my Christmas dinner.
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