Quantum of Solace

Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Mathieu Amalric. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, November 14, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas

The only thing that’s cumbersome about Quantum of Solace is the deceptively clunky title. Making his second appearance as James Bond, Daniel Craig spends a hundred or so minutes streaking across the screen in a series of stunning action sequences. It’s enough to make the famously languorous opening credits seem sluggish by comparison.

Long-time admirers of the series may gripe that director Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Monster’s Ball) has sacrificed too many old-school traditions for the sake of a super-sleek story line. There’s precious little playfulness here—no silly puns, no oafish henchmen, no secret lair filled with tons of blinking hardware. Even the sex is noticeably downplayed.

This time around, it’s all about a blinding mix of speed and violence punctuated by convincing moments of angst.

The stripped-down style suits Craig, who is easily the grimmest Bond since Sean Connery scowled over his first martini. He plays the role as if he actually relishes the opportunity to walk around in a blood-spattered tuxedo. Picking up where Casino Royale left off, a bitter 007 is still recovering from the death of his lover. Alas, there’s a new Bond-worthy villain (Mathieu Amalric of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) on the scene, cleverly passing himself off as a concerned environmentalist.

Before long, Bond is traipsing across the globe, trying to piece together the plans of a diabolical secret organization. He hooks up with a sultry spy (Olga Kurylenko) and gets some unlikely aid from Casino Royale’s shadowy Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini, who adds a welcome touch of baggy-eyed soul). Major plot points whiz by faster than bullets. But between the gorgeous scenery and the kind of stunts that will leave you breathless, it hardly matters. Despite one or two forgivable gaps in logic, this is a lean and mean make-over that works.