By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
Nothing is sacred with the James Bond franchise anymore. Some fans will call that blasphemy, others consider it a blessing.
Quantum of Solace bends whatever rules 2006's Casino Royale didn't break, presenting more action in less time, with a world domination scheme based on natural resources rather than unnatural gadgets.
Recasting Agent 007 as blond, deadly distant Daniel Craig was only the beginning of an icon's overhaul. Quantum of Solace doesn't redefine as many Bondisms as Casino Royale — his martini choice, how he first donned a tuxedo or drove an Aston Martin — but moves confidently beyond the past. It's even the first sequel in the series' 22-film history.
Simply put: Bond is (Jason) Bourne again, which isn't a bad strategy as audience tastes for globe-trotting action change.
Quantum of Solace begins an hour after Casino Royale ended, with Bond's traitorous lover Vesper Lynd sacrificing herself for him in Venice. Villains she double-crossed are in hot pursuit of 007 in a spectacular car chase through the Italian countryside and tunnels, with oncoming traffic used as weapons.
Director Marc Forster quickly dispels any doubt about his capability to stage mayhem, after a career geared toward heavy drama (Monster's Ball, The Kite Runner) and whimsy (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction). If anything, Forster tries too hard proving himself in that regard after the point is established. Quantum of Solace is almost too action-packed; a dense plot is tough to track while catching your breath.
It turns out that SPECTRE and SMERSH have new competition in world threats: a corrupt energy syndicate known as Quantum, so secret that even M (Judi Dench) is caught off guard. She knows Bond is her best agent but worries that avenging Vesper's death will compromise his skill. Trust issues are constantly raised in Quantum of Solace, making Craig and Dench's shared scenes crackle with wit.
The money trail leads to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), who uses land deeds and blackmail the way Blofeld used bombs. By controlling oil and water resources, Greene plans to bleed the world. It isn't Bond's sexiest problem to solve, but topicality counts for something.
Bond's mission is complicated by Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who would love to kill Dominic first. Camille isn't typical "Bond girl" window dressing but a comrade in firearms, unwilling to be distracted by 007's charms. That honor goes to Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton), an MI6 agent assigned to keep Bond in check.
If the plot confuses, just sit back and enjoy the thrilling set pieces: rooftop and scaffolding stunts performed with Cirque de Soleil precision; a slick revealing of Quantum members during a staging of Puccini's Tosca; a speedboat escape; or any number of punchouts and gunfights. Quantum of Solace leaves a viewer woozy, either by its plot or bludgeoning old-school action.
Like it or not, this is the future of Bond. End credits promise he'll be back for a 23rd adventure, which is a more exciting possibility than it would have been 20 years ago.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs. tampabay.com/movies.