Much has been made of the sadism of the James Bond character, particularly in his original incarnation in the fiction of Ian Fleming. But as played by Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale” and now “Quantum of Solace,” there’s a case to be made for 007 as masochist — unlike earlier renderings of the character, Craig’s Bond lets the audience feel the impact of every blow to the head, every bullet to the shoulder, every face-first landing into the side of a building.
This isn’t Roger Moore or even Pierce Brosnan we’re dealing with here — this is a 007 who bleeds and aches, both internally and externally.
It’s his internal suffering that propels much of “Quantum,” as Bond seeks out the shadow organization who killed his beloved Vesper Lynn in the previous film, a pursuit that puts him in direct dispute with eco-capitalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), whose Earth-friendly conglomerate hides various shades of skullduggery, from overthrowing governments in oil-rich countries (with the tacit approval of the CIA) to hoarding water supplies.
Ultimately, of course, the plot is just a gossamer web to carry us over from one location to another, as Bond jets from Italy to Haiti to Austria to Bolivia in pursuit of the bad guys. Director Marc Forster (the man behind such un-Bond-ish movies as “Monster’s Ball” and “Stranger than Fiction”) and screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade often tweak the series’ globe-trotting impulses by staging sequences in unlikely places.
Sinister characters gather at an outdoor performance of “Tosca,” but they communicate with each other from their seats in the audience, speaking through hidden mikes and earpieces. A shootout in an Italian piazza takes place amidst a mob of holiday revelers, many of them oblivious to the violence going on around them.
What’s most exciting about the staging of several action sequences — particularly in the car chase that opens the film — is how quick and jarring Forster keeps the pace. With shots seeming to begin a second or so before (or end a second after) you’d expect, and with the camera the tiniest bit closer to the action than normal, the audience is forced to fill in the missing spatial and temporal blanks on its own.
While many will be disappointed by the relative absence of scenes featuring a nearly naked Craig, the actor nonetheless maintains the coolly amoral and vicious undertone he has brought to the big-screen Bond.
Judi Dench’s M remains a scene-stealer — the blasé, British way in which she asks 007 if he wouldn’t mind not killing every single person of interest is so dry you could put it in one of Bond’s famous martinis. And even if you can’t believe that Amalric could hold his own in a fight with Daniel Craig for more than point-six seconds, he puts his uniquely reptilian features to good use as a slimy villain who presents a tree-hugging face to an unknowing world.
After the massive paradigm shift of “Casino Royale,” there’s not lots of new ground for “Quantum of Solace” to uncover. But as an adrenaline-packed example of the new-paradigm Bond, it ranks with the legendary franchise’s finest entries.