(3 of 3)
You'll feel reverbs from other old movies, like Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (whose climax of an assassination attempt in the Albert Hall gets an update here) and Jackie Chan's Police Story (jumping from a building to the top of a moving bus to another building across the street). The globe-hopping itineraries of our favorite secret agent and his targets Italy, England, Austria, Haiti, Bolivia will remind you of the geographic restlessness on display in Syriana, Body of Lies and other war-on-terror spy capers. And like hundreds of action-film thugs, the marksmen in this film are fatally slow on the trigger
The major touchstone is Paul Greengrass's Bourne Ultimatum, surely the most influential action film of the decade. Quantum appropriates Bourne's tilt-a-whirl camera and ADD editing, not to mention the vigorous skirmishes on roofs, in cars and hotel rooms. But the big similarity is in the two films' heroes. James Bond and Jason Bourne are both company spies whom their governments want dead, and both are coping with their girlfriends' violent deaths.
From the first moment of Casino Royale, Craig was a different sort of Bond. Instead of the 007 of the Fleming canon a tough but smooth gentleman spy, schooled at Eton and Cambridge, radiating wit and warm sensuality Craig seems a cyber- or cipher-Bond, with a loyalty chip implanted in a mechanism that's built for murderous ingenuity. ("If you could avoid killing every possible lead," M tells him in this installment, "it would be deeply appreciated.") In lieu of the double-entendre bons mots assigned to Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, Craig communicates in grunts and sullen, conceivably soulful, laser stares. Spying is no game with this 007; it's a job that's become a compulsion. Craig's Bond is a brute, Rambo with muscles bulging through his tux.
Appealingly sturdy in Casino, Craig is near-mute here. This Bond is a crippled titan, "blinded by inconsolable rage," as M gently puts it; he shows as much emotion as a crash-test dummy and endures nearly as much damage. But since MI6 currently has more turncoat agents than a Whack-a-Mole game, and Bond is the functioning spy M can trust, he's obliged to save the world on his own, while other branches of the government want him captured or killed.
Every Bond movie needs two Bond girls. One is a British operative (Gemma Arterton) named Miss Fields in the credits she's ID'd as Strawberry Fields and her job is to relieve Bond's sexual tension and add to the body count. The other is Camille, who has lost her mother and sister to one of the chief brigands. For Bond, then, she is both a mortal threat and an emotional tonic. Silently sulfurous with vengeance scenarios, she and Bond can purge their demons in the only acceptable action-movie fashion: by killing the men who were in some way responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.
The movie suffers from the absence, even in flashbacks, of seraphic-satanic Eva Green, who played Vesper in Casino. But Kurylenko, a lovely Russian-Ukrainian hybrid who is oddly duskied up to look vaguely Latina, is a whiz at raising Quantum's temperature and gradually luring Bond out of his stolid shell. It's a pleasure to watch this model-turned-actress, also seen briefly illuminating Max Payne, turn into a model actress. Here's one Bond girl who's a richly appealing woman, with or without Bond.
I could go on, but who am I kidding? Critics aren't expected to review Bond films so much as test-drive them. In that spirit, here's a quick rundown, on a scale of 0 to 10. Opening credit sequence: 5 the usual semi-abstract woman's form, liquid and monumental. The song: 4 Jack White and Alicia Keys duet on a power-pop number that's tenacious but not delightful. Chief villain: 6 Amalric, who normally plays underdogs, hasn't the stature of a Dr. No or a Salamanca, but he's got the evil sneer down pat. Bond girl: 9 Olga Kurylenko is more than OK. Fight scenes: 9 frenetic, if familiar. And Bond 7: Craig certainly fills the frame of a modern, wounded action hero; but, just once or twice, could he, and this mostly knuckle-cracking, often crackerjack film, crack a smile?