'Quantum': Plenty Of Action, Just Not Bond's Kind

Daniel Craig as James Bond and Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields

Still Suave? James Bond (Daniel Craig, with Gemma Arterton's Strawberry Fields) spends less time in the bedroom and more in the doghouse. Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures

Quantum of Solace

  • Director: Marc Forster
  • Genre: Action, Adventure
  • Running Time: 106 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.

Daniel Criag and Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene battle it out i i

If it's short on romance, Quantum serves up plenty of violence: Craig's stoic Bond goes on such a bloody rampage that M revokes his license to kill. Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures
Daniel Criag and Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene battle it out

If it's short on romance, Quantum serves up plenty of violence: Craig's stoic Bond goes on such a bloody rampage that M revokes his license to kill.

Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures

Quantum of Solace opens in mid-car chase, which wouldn't be so bad if at any given instant you could tell whose car was on what side of the winding road.

Director Marc Forster, an art-house refugee, doesn't edit together the jolting close-ups with any fluidity. You know the chase is over only because something blows up.

This is followed by the credit sequence and a song called "Another Way to Die" — a nonfusion of Jack White's caterwauls and Alicia Keys' breathy soul stylings that's the worst Bond theme ever. After a start like that, it's a tribute to the film that it's pretty exciting.

In part, that's because Daniel Craig is a great, edgy Bond, with blue eyes so cold they chill and burn at once. His first Bond film, Casino Royale, was a romantic tragedy. This one is darker.

It's about the impossibility of accomplishing anything noble if you have to work within the system — stopping short of The Dark Knight, the biggest popcorn-movie downer of all time, but not by much.

Our next president might instill in us the audacity of hope and end the age of pessimistic superhero movies. But for now we must rely on the hope of our heroes' audacity.

In Quantum of Solace, 007 is an outsider who can trust no one; the British government and the CIA look the other way while a shadowy, multi-tentacled criminal enterprise installs a murderous general as Bolivia's president in return for rights to the country's natural resources. That the slippery baddie (Mathieu Amalric) works under the guise of an environmentalist is the ultimate insult: The plunderers have appropriated the vocabulary of the saviors.

Against this, Bond is icily single-minded. To hell with protocol, and with Judi Dench's M, who insists he's motivated by revenge over the death of his Casino Royale love, Vesper.

I love Dench's exquisite deadpan — her scowl contains multitudes. But I'm not sure how I feel about M as a scolding mother who dispatches agents to waylay her prodigal son and is quietly pleased when he eludes them.

What a cynical message! M has become another in a line of movie and TV authority figures who tacitly say, "Do what we both know is right, but I won't back you up. I'll put obstacles in your path."

Well, at least they're thrilling obstacles. Quantum of Solace is deliriously convoluted, one scene hurtling ingeniously into the next as Bond's impulsiveness and calculation work in tandem. If the action had any wit, the movie might have been as crackerjack as Casino Royale.

The screenwriters — Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade — take their cues from two of the best Bonds, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, but the differences are telling: The damaged-goods 007 doesn't even put the moves on the Bond girl (Olga Kurylenko), a tall drink of latte also driven by revenge.

The other, related difference is the absence of catharsis: Such villains as Robert Shaw's Red Grant and Harold Sakata's Oddjob had classic comeuppances, whereas the Quantum villains meet their fates off-screen.

It's Craig who holds it all together. My heart sank a bit when his Bond professed neither to know nor care if what he was drinking was shaken or stirred. Sean Connery's Bond was every bit as masculine-hard, but he could still reel off Bordeaux vintages; Craig embodies the new, anti-elitist Bond, the unstable toughie in a world of ever-shifting alliances, a world of neither queens nor supervillains.

He looks splendid in a tux but he's not at home in it; he's in his element when shirtless, his chest and arms so engorged he can barely sit straight. It's the body of a brooding obsessive — humorless, friendless, forsaken. He's the first Bond whose psyche is a source of suspense, and the first who makes us think, "He needs more sex."

Bond With A Broken Heart: Defending Daniel Craig

Actor Daniel Craig. i i

Seeking Solace: James Bond in Quantum is 007 raw — brooding and heartbroken — but still jet-setting around the world, spying with style. Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures
Actor Daniel Craig.

Seeking Solace: James Bond in Quantum is 007 raw — brooding and heartbroken — but still jet-setting around the world, spying with style.

Karen Ballard/Sony Pictures
Madhulika Sikka

"For queen and country": Madhulika Sikka, who grew up in England, developed her appreciation for James Bond early in life. She is now deputy executive producer for NPR's Morning Edition. Stephen Voss hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Voss
Gun: Daniel Craig as James Bond i i

"I was wrong about you": Sikka says it took a little while for her to warm up to the idea of Daniel Craig as James Bond. But Craig won her over; he's "done his homework," she says. hide caption

itoggle caption
Gun: Daniel Craig as James Bond

"I was wrong about you": Sikka says it took a little while for her to warm up to the idea of Daniel Craig as James Bond. But Craig won her over; he's "done his homework," she says.

I love James Bond. Actually, I love Daniel Craig as James Bond. There, I said it. Now that's not a particularly popular sentiment among the critics who have seen the latest Bond episode, Quantum of Solace.

"James Bond goes MIA" laments Variety. "Has Bond Lost His Balls?" asks The Daily Beast. And here's The New Yorker: "You have to ask whether anyone, man or boy, still yearns to get in touch with his inner 007. In short, who wants to be Daniel Craig?"

Variety's Todd McCarthy is wistful for the "ultimate male fantasy figure, an impudent, self-possessed, worldly man of action who is a villain-killer by vocation and a lady-killer by avocation." Well, boys, I'm here to tell you that the "literary" Bond has finally met the "celluloid" Bond — and it works.

Here's the truth — I've been a Bond fan since I was a child. Look, I grew up in England, and James Bond movies were a must-see event in my family. He's a character who made Britain feel good about itself at a time when the empire was definitely a distant memory. (And it seems he still does. Quantum's opening day smashed box-office records in Britain two weeks ago, even beating out previous record holder — another British icon — Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) The movie Bond I grew up with was all about cool gizmos and gadgets, exotic ports of call, a bit of wit and the occasional double entendre. What's not to love? Moneypenny and I were in agreement on that.

But I found Ian Fleming's Bond when I re-read Casino Royale, the book that launched the franchise more than 50 years ago. The Bond in these pages actually has feelings — feelings of doubt, fear, love and loss. So, I am here to tell you to forget about those cartoonish renditions you know from the movies. You need to go back to the source.

Gentlemen, Craig's Bond works because he went back to the source. I'll be the first to admit I thought the choice of Craig as Bond was ill-advised — why was this actor with the steely blue eyes who looks more like a Russian gangster taking the role that rightfully belonged to Clive Owen? But I was so wrong.

When he exploded on the screen in Casino Royale, he had done his homework. This Bond is a man that women can love because he loved a woman — Vesper Lynd — a woman who died. If you are looking for motivation, here it is. In the chapter that describes Lynd's death, Bond is clearly a broken man.

Now maybe it was the heartbreak that turned him into the carefree sex machine, the cavalier Bond that most men would like to be and the Bond that we know so well from the movies, a man who went through as many women as he went through ports of call. But Daniel Craig's Bond is not that Bond — yet.

Quantum of Solace picks up where Casino Royale left off. Bond is a brooding, heartbroken killing machine looking to avenge the death of Lynd. What is preserved of the old movie Bond? He's still jet-setting across the globe in search of a shadowy network of bad guys; he still looks delicious in a tux; he still drinks — but this time to drown his sorrows. This movie has no gadgets; no trail of women seduced and discarded by the undeniable charm of the world's greatest spy; not even a villain with a hideous infliction like Le Chiffre's bleeding eye.

What we have is James Bond — raw. This is a big-screen Bond whose character may actually develop over the next few movies. Guys, after the absurdity of movie Bond circa '80s and '90s, we must raise a glass to Daniel Craig for giving us a Bond for our time. Martinis all around — shaken, not stirred, of course.

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