Daniel Craig is pretty damn cool, no two ways about it. In “Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd James Bond film, he’s rugged, buff, ruthless, bitter and always plenty the worse for wear, both on-screen and off: he showed up to the London premiere with an arm in a sling thanks to a stunt gone wrong. That probably makes him a man’s Bond, and he’s certainly a woman’s, with those distracting blue eyes (they must be digitally enhanced). Case in point: at an opera premiere, he glides through the reception wearing a tuxedo cut to swooning point, then casually breaks a metal door handle off with his bare hand. Craig wears this role as well as he wears those custom-made suits. Or, for that matter, anything.
There’s only one problem. The creators of “Quantum of Solace” don’t seem too interested in Bond at all. The script diverts from, and pokes fun at, the Bond brand, scoring some clever moments but leaving the movie without much heart. This is post-Austin Powers Bond, stripped bare of anything remotely charming, camp or mockable.
There’s no memorable villain with a colorful name or diabolical pet; no unnecessarily elaborate assassination scenes for the spy to escape; no nifty new inventions from Q.
As in “Casino Royale” (2006), Craig’s Bond scorns even the iconic shaken-not-stirred martini. He’s a sort of anti-Bond – too cool to care about such prissy details.
This approach certainly has its moments. It’s refreshing to see our hero perpetually scratched up and bruised, rather than impossibly immaculate after each fight. And this film’s Bond girl, Camille (Olga Kurylenko), doesn’t even really fit the title. She’s tough as nails and barely a romantic interest, which makes things all the more interesting. A tremendous chase in Siena, Italy, and the spectacular opera scene – which looks like it cost a small bailout package – are worth the price of a ticket in and of themselves.
But other sections of the plot are less inspired, sometimes joyless, and left me longing for a pun, a clever explosion, even a bikini. Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a lackluster villain posing as an environmentalist, is mostly forgettable. The plot takes an interesting twist toward a message about the future of water as the new black market commodity, but that’s quickly lost in a jerky plot that leaves too many loose ends.
But all in all, despite its clunker of a title, “Quantum of Solace” is worth seeing, and its leading man is great fun to watch, as is Dame Judi Dench as M, needless to say. There’s also something to be said for challenging and modernizing the familiar, but those efforts are ultimately disappointing here. Unlike the newest movies from another franchise that’s outgrown its lighter, campier early films in favor of a gritty, muscular vision – Batman – “Quantum of Solace” gets serious without giving us much in exchange. Are we really too grown up for 007? Daniel, say it ain’t so.