James Bond Returns, This Time With Revenge On His Mind

License To Thrill 

James Bond Returns, This Time With Revenge On His Mind

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There was a time when James Bond set the standard for action movies - cool gadgets, fast cars, faster girls, and plenty of shaken and stirred thrills. Then the Cold War-era spy went into outer space, tangled with Octopussy and generally became an immortal superhero who saved the world in one live-action cartoon after another. It was only a matter of time before another secret agent would step into Bond's tux, promptly step out of it and bring the whole gadget, cars and girls thing into the 21st century.

The Bourne series launched in 2002, the same year Pierce Brosnan played 007 for the final time. While James Bond and Halle Berry hopped around the globe in search of some mysterious diamond-funded space weapon in Die Another Day, Jason Bourne kicked major ass while searching for his forgotten past in The Bourne Identity. It's somehow appropriate that last year's The Bourne Ultimatum is a better film than every single one of Bond's 20-plus adventures: The Bourne movies not only amped the genre, they reinvented it.

Little surprise then that 2006's Casino Royale, the first Bond film to star the brooding Daniel Craig as the debonair spy, borrowed heavily from the Bourne franchise and did some reinventing of its own. And it goes way deeper than the leaps and bounds of the breathtaking parkour chase scene.

Bond killed men with his bare hands (just like Bourne!), he relied on brains rather than some high-tech thingamajig to get out of jams (just like Bourne!) and it all ended on a downer note (yep, just like Bourne).

That's where Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, picks up.

Immediately after the death of his girlfriend at the hands of the enigmatic Quantum organization, Bond speeds through Italy's winding mountain roads - in a gripping pre-titles sequence - with one of the group's masterminds tied up in his trunk. But before Bond and his secret-service colleagues (including boss M, played by a stern Judi Dench) have a chance to question the shadowy Mr. White, he escapes with the help of a Quantum mole. "We have people everywhere," he tells Bond.

Turns out he's right. While Quantum of Solace features a typically convoluted Bondsian plot - the short summary: an evil environmentalist wants to control Latin America's water supply - it's mostly personal this time, as Bond and a new gal pal (Olga Kurylenko) set out for revenge. They skip from Italy to Haiti to London to Bolivia, tracking the bad guys on land, in the water and in the air. Needless to say, this provides many opportunities for rooftop chases, hectic shoot-outs and theater-shaking explosions.

Unfortunately, it doesn't leave much room for the smoldering performances and smart set-pieces that made Casino Royale the most satisfying entry in the series' 46-year run. And at 106 minutes, Quantum of Solace is the shortest and most compact Bond movie. So there's little time to get bored; then again, director Marc Forster's hastily assembled climax is a major letdown.

Still, Forster - best known for Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland - stages the many action sequences with quick cuts, jump-cuts and dizzying displays of hand-to-hand combat. There are shades of Bourne here, but a terrific scene set at an opera that pulls together equal doses of brains and brawn is pure Bond.

Ultimately, this revenge tale turns into one about trust. ("If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it will be appreciated," M scolds Bond after he knocks off yet another suspect.) At times, Quantum of Solace becomes knotted in its twists and turns and double-crossings. As one ally says, "The villains and the heroes get all mixed up."

A couple of old friends (including CIA agent Felix Leiter, played again with cool calculation by Jeffrey Wright) show up, Bond beds a lithe British agent and there's a nice nod to a Goldfinger victim. But Quantum of Solace doesn't pack Casino Royale's jolt. Craig portrays Bond with a steely combination of wit, charm and ruthlessness, but he's not given much to do this time out, other than scale hotel balconies and bail from an exploding airplane. He's a merciless killing machine, whose one-track mind has little interest in Octopussy.

mgallucci@clevescene.com

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