“Quantum of Solace”
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of Columbia

3.5 out of 5 stars

“007” fans tend to have an idea of what the perfect Bond film is supposed to look like. Every new edition requires the same broadly defined characters — the super-suave secret agent playboy who musn’t display any signs of emotional weakness; the femme fatale who at some point must have sex with said playboy; and the larger-than-life villain with an otherworldly scheme who must be allowed to capture the playboy so he can utter, “We meet again, Mr. Bond.” In other words, every successive James Bond film must be exactly the same as the one that preceded it.

And so we meet Mr. Bond again in “Quantum of Solace,” but he’s not the same. Sure, the character on screen is named James Bond, and he’s played for the second time by the superb (and freakishly muscular) Daniel Craig (“Munich”), yet he exhibits traits that are completely alien to the character. He doesn’t deploy any cool gadgets or especially large guns, contrary to the film’s advertising. He doesn’t even spend more than a few minutes face-to-face with the villain (Mathieu Amalric, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). He does have sex, but it’s with a peripheral character, not with this film’s designated “Bond girl” (Olga Kurylenko, “Max Payne”). Most distressingly, he spends the majority of the film in a state of perpetual moodiness over the loss of his one true love, the double-double-crossing Vesper Lynd (who died in “Casino Royale”). A Bond with emotions and who can’t get over a girl? Someone alert the message boards.

The action picks up right where “Casino” left off. With the help of M (Judi Dench, “Shakespeare in Love”), Bond discovers the existence of an ultra-secret evil organization named QUANTUM. The group was responsible for many of the backdoor shenanigans in “Casino,” and Bond goes globe-hopping as he follows their trail. Eventually, he winds up in Bolivia confronting sadistic environmentalist Dominic Greene (Almaric), who plots to control the country’s water supply. Yes, the villain is an environmentalist. Between this and “The Dark Knight” ’s war-on-terror politics, it seems this year’s most daring blockbusters also have the most political agendas.

“Quantum” is better made than most current action-movie junk on the market, with a quick pace that always keeps viewers guessing. Director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) demonstrates he can successfully anchor a thoughtful thriller. The film comes alive during an opera-house sequence and scenes in which M finds herself questioning her loyalty to Bond. Additionally, Kurylenko plays the most well-rounded Bond girl in recent memory; she’s clever and cunning, and her emotional arc during the story rivals Bond’s in sheer gut-wrenching impact.

But people going to see a Bond movie deserve to have some of their expectations met. While “Quantum of Solace” is a solid, enjoyable action film, several elements feel a bit off, preventing it from working effectively within the “007” canon.

The slow-tempo theme song from Jack White and Alicia Keyes is only part of the problem. The switch in editing styles to a quick-cut jitter cam — which makes the confusing action scenes pale in comparison to “Casino” ’s elegant steady hand — doesn’t help either. In the opening car chase, images are only shown on screen for a fraction of a second, making it impossible to tell which vehicle is Bond’s and which is the bad guy’s.

Even the villains aren’t quite as sinister. When Greene’s evil plans finally come to fruition, he boasts that he now controls 60 percent of Bolivia’s water supply. Sixty percent? That’s not a Bond villain, that’s Donald Trump. Ninety-nine percent — now that would be acceptable villainy.

It seems silly to keep comparing “Quantum” to “Casino,” but it’s important to understand why “Casino” was so loved. The film hit all the Bond checkpoints while also functioning as an expertly crafted thriller (which was especially welcome after the pure cartoons of the Pierce Brosnan era). “Quantum” keeps with the neo-realist theme and takes itself seriously, refusing to devolve into camp. This is a wise choice on the part of the filmmakers. Where “Quantum” comes up short — and where, unfortunately, it will ultimately be judged — is in its adherence to the “007” blueprint. It’s a good action movie, but for better or for worse, it’s not the perfect James Bond film.

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