Is it my imagination or does Daniel Craig in "Quantum of Solace" look like Vladimir Putin? He has the same bullet-shaped head, the same clenched mouth and jaw line, the same don't-mess-with-me glower. Has 007 gone over to the dark side?
Actually, if you've been paying attention since "Casino Royale," Craig's debut as Bond, you will have noticed that he already had the look of a surly hit man. This is a guy who does not seem capable of being shaken or stirred. Yes, I know, he fell in love with that is-she-or-isn't-she-a-villainess Vesper, but that was just window-dressing. It was in the movie so he could demonstrate that hell hath no fury like a James Bond scorned.
In "Quantum of Solace," Bond is still glum about Vesper's demise. (His idea of glum is to tighten his deadpan.) Most of the time, though, we have to infer what's going on inside his head, since the movie rarely gives him a moment for reflection. He's too busy being chased, shot at, pummeled – or, more often, vice versa. At 109 minutes, this is the shortest Bond movie ever. But it feels like one of the longest, and that's because it's all action and no downtime. It's as if all the plot, emotion, characterization – all the connective tissue – had been severed. What remains is strictly bam-pow calisthenics.
This is the kind of movie where Bond can't simply get into a car and just go somewhere. Whenever he enters a vehicle you can be sure a skidding U-turn and whizzing bullet are in the offing. "Quantum" opens with just such a chase, and it's a doozy. That's a problem, because none of the action sequences that ensue can match it.
But even this opening, slam-bang as it is, is essentially a conventional action piece. There's nothing witty about it, nothing exhilarating. The fun of the Bond movies was always their tongue-in-cheek flippancy. The puns may have been moldy but that was part of their charm. Bond was a fantasy figure and we could laugh at how outrageously retro those fantasies were. Bond was a cold warrior for the ages – and for all ages.
Craig's Bond is certainly a sharp swerve away from not only the Sean Connery prototype but everybody else's, too. I thought he was scarily effective in "Casino Royale" and I applauded the makeover. At the same time, I regretted the drop in savoir-faire. This time around, Craig's lethal grimness left me pretty cold, maybe because he's not called upon to do much except glower. Despite the efforts of director Marc Forster and his writers to give "Quantum" a "Casablanca"-style romantic angle, the periodic references to the expired Vesper, and Bond's hurt heart, have no emotional heft.
Because Bond is such a stiff, the supporting players come in for more attention. The Bond Girl, er, Woman this time out – Ukrainian model-actress Olga Kurylenko – is pretty vapid, but as the chief Bond villain, eco-bad-guy Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric gives a tutorial in how to be nasty using only one's eyelid. There's also Giancarlo Giannini's Mathis, back from "Casino Royale" and as expansive as ever.
Judi Dench's M has more screen time than before, and this may not be a good thing. A little of M goes a long way. When it looks as if Bond has gone AWOL to track down the higher-ups of the covert Quantum organization that is threatening the planet, M looks as if she's lost a lover. And, in a sense, she has. Bond's derring-do seems like the only form of vicarious excitement in her sodden life. 007, too, seems to have a soft spot for M. What have we come to when the love story in a James Bond movie is between these two?
It's possible that the popularity of the "Bourne" movies, with their straight-faced hero/assassin, has set the secret-agent genre down the wrong path. Deadly humorlessness may be fine for Bourne, but I'm beginning to think it's just plain deadly for Bond. It's ironic: After all these years of surviving everything that has been thrown at him, James Bond is finally being undone by his own team. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.)