The debut of Daniel Craig as 007 in Casino Royale marked the first worthwhile James Bond movie in nearly two decades, but as with most franchise reboots, it carried a whiff of apology for the sins of an earlier era. Bond was not only pummeled in the balls (that torture scene, taken from the novel, was right up Ian Fleming's sadistic alley) but walloped in the heart as well, devastated by the death of a woman he had grown to (gasp!) love. The drowning of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) promised to be the scripting team's sensitive-man justification for Bond's future frostiness and lechery. So let the shooting and rutting begin! Right, James?
Not so fast. The new Bond picture, Quantum of Solace, is directed by Marc Forster, who has something of a weakness for teary melodrama (Finding Neverland, The Kite Runner), and it is a wholly original scenario, with the title taken from Fleming's short story in which a group of agents exchange their favorite shaggy-dog stories about the British spy. This story must be the one I missed, called "James Bond Sulks and Gets Sloshed, But Still Kills People." How else to explain Craig suffering from insomnia in the back of a chartered jet, sipping his seventh straight dry martini and trying manfully not to cry? He seems shaken, all right.
This sort of thing, coupled with Bond going as rogue as Sarah Palin in order to get revenge on Vesper's murderers, gives Quantum of Solacean unfortunate air of espionage as therapy. That doesn't mean it's a bad watch. From the catchy theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keys to a suitably vindictive fate for its villain, Quantum is still a very good Bond movie (if not quite a match for Casino, which was a great one). Craig continues to be an ideal casting choice, and Forster rivals the electrifying pace of the previous film. The director also adds some classy stylistic flourishes; this is certainly the first 007 film to pay such careful attention to fonts.
What else would you like to know? There are two new girls (brunette Olga Kurylenko and the spectacular redhead Gemma Arterton), one of whom meets a crude fate that suggests the alternate title Oilfinger. Judi Dench is on hand to do whatever it is Judi Dench does in these things. There's a fight scene in the middle of an avant-garde performance of Puccini's Tosca. Mathieu Amalric plays a baddie who looks so much like Roman Polanski that I don't see why Forster didn't just hire Roman Polanski. The megalomaniac fronts as an environmentally friendly industrialist, and the action culminates in a desert resort that is no doubt LEED-certified but does not seem to meet fire code. Hotels are very important to this Bond, who reserves his harshest contempt for two targets: the puffy American intelligence agents (who coddle dictators and refuse to be swayed by new information) and the thought of staying the night in anything less than four-star accommodations. James Bond, scornful of America and second-rate comforts? He's back to his old self. PG-13.
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