Quantum of Solace (PG-13)
3 stars out of 4
In the mega-overrated "Casino Royale," Daniel Craig made his debut as the most well-known secret agent in movie history. Love it or loathe it, "Casino Royale" marked the end of James Bond as we knew and loved him and, for better or worse, gave 007 a 21st-century overhaul.
Lovers of "Casino Royale" will consider irregularly titled "Quantum of Solace" a slight backslide to its predecessor. The opposite will be the case for some of us old-timers. While not ideal for either camp, "QoS" is able to make an acceptable compromise and with a leaner, more efficient 106 minutes, it delivers a greater bang for your entertainment buck.
Picking off where "Casino Royale" left off, Bond is not on his typical mission of ferreting out bad guys, but rather exacting revenge for the death of his lover. Co-written by multiple Oscar-winner Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby," "Crash") and directed by the esteemed Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland"), "QoS" is making another bold, breakaway statement: prestige filmmakers are wholly capable of crafting an outstanding espionage action/thriller.
Forster, Haggis and company don't quite nail it, but get acceptably close. With settings that include Western Europe, some of the Caribbean and mostly South America, "QoS" frees itself from the usual shackles of North America and the former Soviet Bloc (although Russia makes a brief appearance in the final act).
In a nod to the 007 of old, Bond does have a fleeting romantic encounter, but principal female lead Camille (Olga Kurylenko, "Max Payne," "Hitman") provides more of a professional, co-back-scratching relationship. There is a certain attraction and sexual tension between Camille and Bond, but the filmmakers never bring it to the forefront. It was an admirable, yet commercially dicey decision. Given Kurylenko's solid performance and her character's nebulous position at the end of the film, it wouldn't be surprising to see her show up in the next installment.
Big kudos should also be doled out for the depiction of villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") and his initially sketchy motives. He's not an overwritten mad man with dreams of world domination by way of nuclear war or something of the like, but rather a shrewd, physically unimposing sort who is keenly aware of the current ecological/global mindset and he is dead-set in keeping his plans hidden.
While "QoS" is a slight improvement over its predecessor, it still begs the question why? Why did the producers of this most lucrative franchise choose to completely jettison the breezy personality and devil-may-care approach of its lead character? No offence to Craig who is certainly in possession of the requisite acting chops, but in both of his Bond outings, he comes across as overtly robotic and decidedly uncharming. His Bond is just another disposable, often cold-blooded action hero.
The movie is assembled well and is better than others of its ilk but it's not the James Bond most of us were weaned on and as much as the studio would like for us to believe, it's not an acceptable facsimile. We want our old Bond back. (MGM/Columbia)