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Directed by Marc Forster
Seeking revenge for the death of his love, secret agent James Bond sets out to stop an environmentalist from taking control of a country's water supply.
Daniel Craig's sophomore Bond venture, Quantum of Solace, is a solid addition to the newest incarnation of Ian Fleming's classic character.
His "don't call me Jim" Bond is as steely as Sean Connery's, as suave as Roger Moore's, combined with the more ruthless aspects of Timothy Dalton's short-lived interpretation.
The first of the new Bond films, Casino Royale, told the story of a Bond we'd never seen before, a fresh and untried agent still rough around the edges, finding both his feet and his trademarks. This was a Bond before he became a serial Casanova, before he'd even developed his catchphrase or a taste for his own special martini.
Quantum finds him still smarting from the loss of the love of his life, Vesper Lynd, and from her betrayal of him. He's primed for a fight, and looking for revenge. Just how out of control he is neither we nor M (Dame Judi Dench) know for certain.
Because it's Bond, you know to expect spectacular chases, explosions, exotic locales, and beautiful, potentially deadly women. And this film delivers in spades, while still making it clear that both the deadly British agent and the filmmakers are just getting their grammar together.
This is a film that is essentially smart enough to please viewers who look for the cloak-and-dagger element of their spy thriller. At the center of the intrigue is a preening, amoral villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric – Munich) who may be able to lead Bond to the man responsible for Lynd's death. It's almost inadvertent that he is also deeply connected to a mysterious worldwide organization whose existence MI6 hasn't even suspected.
The cast of characters is so rich and varied it's almost embarrassing, including repeat appearances from Jeffery Wright (Basquiat, W.) as the CIA's Felix Lester and Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis, and with whom Craig shares the most intimate and soulful moments.
But that's only right in the world of Bond, that the greatest connections form between the men who wield the guns and with it most of the power.
That's not to say that the Bond women aren't a pretty spectacular lot themselves. First among them is the lovely Olga Kurylenko, most recently seen as an ill-fated drug addict in Max Payne who proves herself Bond's equal in both stamina and desire for revenge.
There's also the obligatory bright bimbo in "Miss Fields," who beds Bond after refusing to give him her first name – although true fans will know that it's "Strawberry."
It's a moment where the easy joke isn't take, and that's a relief. The low point of the previous years of 007 for me at least were the cheesiness that crept into the series, not so much in the double entendre sexuality but in the kind of jokey-hokiness that seemed to undermine Bond's dignity.
There's a little bit of that here – Field's initial appearance comes so far out of left field, so to speak, that you're left wondering if perhaps a plot point got left on the cutting room floor.
The cheesiness of Bond I thrill to comes between the opening action sequence and the first real scene in the form of the brilliantly sexist/sexy credits. That's a guilty pleasure I can totally love, although it wasn't completely love at first sound for the new theme featuring Alicia Keys.
Otherwise, the humor in the film – and there is a lot of it – is far smarter and savvier. The pacing in the dramatic scenes is terrific, and they are full of both visual sumptuousness and tons of important developments.
The action sequences are less successful; you don't have to do more than compare the opening sequences of this and the previous Craig film to see that Casino's director had a better handle on how to tell a story when the shots are coming at a fast and furious rate. Forster is a good director for the drama, but leaves the audience a little disoriented when he amps up the adrenalin. The only times I felt at all bored, ironically enough, were during the sequences when my heart should have been racing fastest.
It is, at its base, a smart film and a complex film, but one that plays on what is becoming as common a theme in the last year as demonizing Russians was a few decades ago. Yes, we hate big corporations. Yes, money is bad. Yes, the environment is good. But please, give us something new!
But for my money, Quantum is appealing enough on every level to justify the cost of admission, and probably a re-watching in advance of whatever Bond adventure comes next. Daniel Craig has not exhausted his great charm on the road to full license to kill status. I hope he'll be around for a good number more.