“Casino Royale” came along just as the James Bond franchise was sinking into a lazy rehash of all that had gone before. It jump-started 007 with its seamless mix of action and emotion, and now “Quantum of Solace” keeps it humming along — in a familiar, but forgettable, gear.
The car metaphor is appropriate: “Quantum of Solace” starts out with a thrilling chase through the winding mountain roads of northern Italy that’s one of the film’s few highlights. But this is a very slight Bond movie, and it feels especially so compared to “Casino Royale,” easily one of the best of the long-running series.
And it’s unusual in that it’s a sequel — that’s never happened before. Director Marc Forster’s film picks up right where “Casino Royale” left off — literally, an hour or so afterward — with Daniel Craig’s Bond trying to avenge the death of the only woman he ever loved, Vesper Lynd.
He’s also trying to pin down the mastermind behind a plot to control the water supply of Bolivia, and maybe, someday, the world! Mathieu Amalric, star of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” plays the role of Dominic Greene with a calm, cold-eyed creepiness.
Along the many elaborate adventures Forster lays out for him, Bond hooks up with the leggy, mysterious and dangerous Camille (Ukrainian model Olga Kurylenko), who is on her own revenge mission. Then again, you’d have to be leggy, mysterious and dangerous to be a Bond babe.
Craig is, of course, sexy and masculine and formidable as always, and he plays beautifully off of Judi Dench who blissfully returns as M, the head of the British secret service. They share scenes that are both teasing and meaty, and their exchanges provide the movie with some much-needed substance. They’re enough to make you wish the two could spend the entire movie together, solving problems and sparring.
But despite his innate intensity, Craig seems a bit ... bored, maybe? Underutilized, despite appearing in nearly every frame of the film. His visceral combination of physicality and acting ability seems somewhat subdued here.
It almost feels as if he functions in a vacuum, as if character were as secondary as plot.
It certainly isn’t Craig’s fault, though. It’s the material, which seems simultaneously truncated and too action-packed. Similarly, Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini, both returning from “Casino Royale,” bring grace and class to their few scenes but get woefully little to do.
Besides the opening car chase, there’s a wild fight in which Bond and a bad guy are beating the hell out of each other while hanging upside down from scaffolding. There’s also a coolly suspenseful cat-and-mouse scene in the middle of a stunningly inventive performance of Puccini’s “Tosca.”
But the climactic showdown — at a completely empty boutique hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert — merely feels like an excuse to blow up a boutique hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert.
REVIEW | “Quantum of Solace”
Cast: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini
Director: Marc Forster
Running time: 106 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content)