Call it truth in advertising. The new James Bond movie Quantum Of Solace has a title that's vaguely science fiction-y and obscure. And the movie itself is sorta science fiction-y and really confusing. The science, in this case, being geo-engineering, the practice of making massive changes to the planet to affect our environment. The movie has something grand to say about natural resources and the obsolescence of the New World Order, but it swallows its tongue. Spoiler alert!
So it's really hard to talk about Quantum Of Solace as having any kind of a story, because it's so choppily edited that stuff just sort of happens most of the time. Someone obviously told director Mark Forster that a good action movie should be so choppy that adrenaline trumps logic or even being able to tell what's happening. But you can sort of glean that there's a story buried in all the jump cuts.
The giant irony in Quantum Of Solace is that all of the governments, and their spooks, are still thinking of oil as the world's most valuable resource. They're still in their 1990s mindset, going to war over oil and trying to control countries that have untapped petroleum deposits. There are a bunch of conversations about who controls Russia's oil, what's happening in the Middle East, etc. So when James Bond overhears our new villain Dominic Greene (who's sort of a smarmy Al Gore-type environmentalist) talking about pipelines and controlling the most precious resource in Bolivia, he assumes Greene means oil. So do his bosses. This is what Greene and his shadowy organization Quantum are counting on. He makes a deal with the CIA: Greene will organize a coup in Bolivia, and the U.S. gets all of the country's oil deposits. But the natural resource that Greene really means to control is water, which is going to be much more valuable than oil soon. He's been damming all of the underground water flows and creating a massive underground reservoir underneath an apparently barren patch of land that he'll own after the coup.
The giant reveal of Greene's underground damming system could not be less dramatic. Bond and his sidekick Camille crash in the desert and stumble underground, then they find some kind of underground lake and mumble about damming. Meanwhile, we see shots of poor Bolivian people lining up to get water from a well or cistern and finding no water there. The poor Bolivian babies must go thirsty because of Greene, that shady pseudo-environmentalist. This is our new new world order, apparently. Instead of fighting brutal wars over oil, we'll fight them over water. And instead of blowing the poor up, we'll parch them.
The movie makes a stab at driving this home in various ways, by having Greene give a speech about the world's aerable land that's being irreversibly destroyed every year, and by having the CIA agents debate over whether it's safe to drink the bottled water in Bolivia. But it's way too abstract an idea for an action movie.
Actually, here's how old-school Bond would have done it. You would have had a bombastic villain in a crazy tunic, and he would have built a massive facility stocked with tons of armed guards and maybe some robots. And a big guy with weird teeth. The facility would have been some kind of huge pumping station that siphons off the world's water and stores it in massive tanks, so Bomberg can blackmail the world. And Bond would have discovered this base and then led a crack assault team there, blowing shit up good in a giant fight scene. Instead, the movie ends with Greene's pet dictator becoming the new leader of Bolivia, and Greene then demands to become the new water utility for the country, at an exorbitant rate. Then Bond shows up and blows up the hotel where they're meeting, which is conveniently built on top of a huge stash of super-flammable fuel cells.
That's the thing about Quantum — it's not afraid to be cartoony. It includes one CIA guy who's literally a cartoon of the callous American imperialist, with our old pal Felix Leiter playing the role of the good CIA guy by contrast. The Latin American general dictator guy is a total cartoon character. The scenes of everybody saying Bond has gone rogue for no particular reason are super cheesy. But when it comes to having a larger than life main villain, the movie just sort of craps out. At the end, when Bond is having his final battle with Greene, it felt like it should be the end of the second act, before Bond goes on to fight the real bad guy. (Which actually is probably the third movie in the Daniel Craig Bond trilogy.) Bottom line: At some point during the screenwriting and editing process, Quantum Of Solace had something to say about geopolitics and the mad science of the new environmental dystopia. But you're hard-pressed to get that out of the actual movie as it stands. Meanwhile, this is nowhere near as ground-breaking a film as Casino Royale, which really felt like a massive reinvention of the Bond franchise. Quantum is more like a standard-issue action movie — with a few really great set pieces — which you'll forget the details of five minutes after you leave the theater.