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James Bond cries, too

"Quantum of Solace" arrives in theaters today as the 23rd Bond outing (or it may be the 22nd or 24th, depending on how you keep count) - and there's something decidedly different about it.

Ladies and gentleman, you will see James Bond cry. Actually cry!

You will see James Bond get drunk. The heretofore unflappable spy gets tipsy after six vodka concoctions that, as far as we could tell, were neither shaken nor stirred.

You will see James Bond brokenhearted over the death of the main babe in his last movie, "Casino Royale." Guys used to fantasize about how he loved 'em and left 'em.

Some fans are grumbling about this new outing.

And yet.

There is hope - a great deal of hope - because Daniel Craig is one of the best actors ever to play the role. He may well be the best.

"Quantum of Solace" is a rip-roaring action flick that has Bond jumping across tiled roofs in Italy, crashing boats and getting involved in a super-colossal explosion in the desert. The action stuff is great, and Craig, in his second outing, is a charismatic star who is coming off the best reviews any Bond film ever received.

"Casino Royale" (2006) also took in more at the box office than any previous 007, while re-inventing the character for modern audiences. The new movie has the highest budget of any Bond film yet - well over $150 million.

But the "Quantum" Bond lacks all of the character's playfulness. "Quantum of Solace" is much closer to "The Bourne Identity" than it is to "Goldfinger." With the exception of his super sports car, there are no gadgets that make him invincible. He's pretty much on his own.

The first suspicion that a revolution might be coming was when an arty director was named. Marc Forster, the German-Swiss director, had never helmed an action movie before. His "Finding Neverland" (2004) got an Oscar nomination for Johnny Depp as the author of "Peter Pan." About the sexiest thing he's directed was the Billy Bob Thornton/Halle Berry outing, "Monster's Ball" (2001), which won her an Oscar.

But the Broccoli family, the producers of the Bond series, has seen 007 last longer than any other character franchise in movie history (with the possible exception of Tarzan). Daughter Barbara, producer of the last six films, thought Bond's misogyn y was not PC. After the disastrous years of the silly, danger-free Roger Moore Bonds, repetition no longer was an option.

Since "Casino Royale," the first of Ian Fleming's novels, had never truly been made into a movie, there was an idea to go back to the beginning. (The "Casino Royale" released in 1967 was a silly, overproduced comedy that didn't follow the book at all).

So, the 2006 film took up with Bond before he dressed immaculately and knew the right drink. That "Casino Royale" gave new life to the franchise. "Quantum " starts just moments after that film's ending.

Bond is grieving over the death of Vesper and is wondering if she had betrayed him to boot. He learns that she didn't actually do him wrong; it was the bad guys who made her do it. He loved her.

"Quantum" is all about revenge. It's a bit of a risk, though, to base the entire film on a crime that's not even in this movie.

The plot is convoluted, but discernible. One of the screenwriters is Paul Haggis, whose "Crash" won Oscars for best movie and original screenplay. It's all about an evil outfit called Quantum, seeking to control global natural resources. Quantum will never replace SPECTRE as evil organizations go.

The central villain is Monsieur Greene, played by a frail French actor named Mathieu Amalric, who got rave reviews last year for blinking his eyes in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." His scariest tactic here is to look bug-eyed and summon his henchman. We'd love to have Donald Pleasence back as Blofeld with that Persian cat. Now, he was mean.

Anyway, Greene is in cahoots with a Bolivian general to get control of a bit of desert. He wants the water, not oil.

The resident Bond girl is Camille, played by former model Olga Kurylenko (she'll never replace Ursula Andress in our Bond fantasies). She's beautiful for some scenes, but mostly, like Bond, she's ticked off. There is no mirth in this outing.

Both could use a course in anger management.

In keeping with the notion that only strong women now tread the world, Camille is pretty action-oriented herself and doesn't need to be saved by any male, not even Bond. She, too, is out for revenge, her target being the greasy general who murdered her parents. In fact, Bond's rescue messes up her plans. She's too busy fighting to become a Bond babe, but there is a genuinely suspenseful scene when she is in danger of being burned alive.

The closest thing to a Bond girl from the past is Gemma Arterton, who plays a cool agent who warms to him. Her name is even of the old school - Strawberry Fields (although she's never really identified as such in the film itself, as if that might be too gauche a nod to the fans).

Giancarlo Giannini returns as Bond's onetime friend from "Casino Royale." Jeffrey Wright, who plays arrogance extremely well, is a CIA agent who may be cool, or maybe is just falling asleep. Tim Pigott-Smith, a fine villain from some memorable PBS shows, is a concerned foreign secretary.

The best thing, as far as actors who aren't in action scenes, is the inimitable Dame Judi Dench. Her increased role as Bond's no-nonsense boss, M, is welcome. She accuses him of being so concerned with revenge that he is of no further use. He's killing the suspects before they can be questioned. Yet, she sides with her angry agent against the Americans. (Dench refers to "the Americans" with such a snarling disdain that we tend to crunch down in the theater seat.)

Craig is self-assured and grim. He makes it clear that even James Bond has feelings - enough to take out half of Europe in a search for revenge. Less muscular but more panther-like than in his first Bond film, he has all the confidence needed. He looks as if he could kill. Fans may well fear that not enough of the old Bond fun remains.

What's left is plenty of well-staged action from Italy to Haiti to South America and beyond. It is expensively produced - all the money shows.

Some people have claimed that this director might kill off Bond when the Cold War couldn't, but a new, more realistic Bond is highly preferable to the buffoon the character became in the 1970s.

Mal Vincent, (757) 446-2347, mal.vincent@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Movies


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