Burly, surly and with the pugnacious approach of a scent-tracking dog, Daniel Craig re-built the perfect James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale. His newbie Bond was walking blunt-force trauma – a violent spy who gradually appreciated side benefits of spirits and sex in the way an animal would treats during obedience training.
And yet, with a more trigger-happy Bond, Royale carried the flag for the film series’ glamour and grandeur — luxurious Montenegro locations, attitudinal combat of the poker games, nifty heart paddles craftily hidden within a luxury-car compartment.
Craig is still dazzling, but Quantum of Solace is all go-go-go — an efficient, mostly entertaining action-packed revenge coda to the Royale plot that nevertheless feels like tossed-off transition than tactile Bond.
Jittery is the last thing Bond movies should be, but director Marc Forster — better known for Oscar-nominated dramas like Monster’s Ball or Finding Neverland — confusingly conceives and cuts too much of the action and character beats.
With the help of second-unit director / stuntman god Dan Bradley and Craig’s incendiary conflict of duty and emotion, Forster finds his way. But Quantum lacks the suavity of Royale and is about as much a journeyman-action film as Bond can be.
Those quick cuts ruin what could have been a timelessly thrilling car-chase opening — one with hellacious vehicular stunts and a wicked kicker tying the film directly to Royale. (Those who’ve forgotten much of Royale would do well to watch it again.)
At Royale’s end, Bond had been betrayed, but also saved, by Vesper Lynd — the agent with whom he’d worked to bring down the villainous Le Chiffre. In Quantum, he’s tracking her killers on a trail that leads him to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric).
Greene operates Greene Planet, an environmental-betterment charity. But Greene’s championing of natural resources is just a rope-a-dope for environmental terrorism — renewing his finances’ energy through sizable deals with shady dictators.
No stranger to physical characterization after The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Amalric plays Greene with a quasi-slumped body and fascist-dictator bangs. Neither Greene nor his lackeys are particularly menacing, but Greene has one heckuva girlish scream.
Teamed up with Camille (Olga Kurylenko) — a tanned, toned kewpie-doll lookalike of Catherine Zeta-Jones scorned by Greene — Bond hunts his prey. But when he’s disobedient one time too many to orders from his superior, M (Judi Dench), Bond is disavowed and must gain intel from recurrent Royale characters Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) — both potentially duplicitous.
An early rooftop chase and a hotel brawl are shameless derivatives of the latter-two Jason Bourne films. “Another Way to Die,” the film’s theme, has a great groove, but horrid, screechy vocals from Alicia Keys and Jack White. And in a construction-rigging grapple, it’s impossible to tell who’s twisting where or why.
Just when you’re not sure how much of a Bond movie it is, Quantum begins to open up with relaxed humor (a joke about teachers on sabbatical is perfectly, droll), snazzy setpieces (a surveillance sting set during Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca surprises with its striking stylishness) and only-in-a-Bond-movie locales (a hotel run on fuel cells in the middle of the desert).
While Quantum redeems itself — and explains its silly title as something more than having a smidge of comfort — it’s time for this rebooted Bond to get mission-based. Craig has done a fine job of molding Bond to his acting strengths. With more confident direction, he’s capable of providing more than a quantum of excitement in this franchise.