After witnessing the complete rebirth of the James Bond franchise at the hands of Martin Campbell’s superbly crafted thrill-ride, “Casino Royale”; I looked forward with great anticipation for this year’s follow-up “Quantum of Solace”. Just like its predecessor, Daniel Craig once again portrays the famed Agent 007, alongside the always reliable Judi Dench as M; and continuing the basis of a more realistic James Bond there are still no gadgets to speak of, and James survives purely on his quick wit and fast-flying fists. So, does “Quantum of Solace” have what it takes to rival the film that came before it, or has this reinvigorated franchise already lost its momentum?

Beginning shortly after the events of “Casino Royale”, James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself trying to quell the thirst for vengeance that is raging deep inside. With his one-time love, Vesper, now dead, James is using his resources within MI-6 to track down those responsible for her betrayal and ultimate death. As James searches desperately for answers, he stumbles upon a powerful threat that has been spreading right underneath MI-6’s very nose; that of a mysterious group known as Quantum, led by a power hungry man named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). With M’s trust in him waning, James must work alongside a mysterious young woman (Olga Kurylenko) to uncover what Quantum is all about and how significant of a threat they truly are before it is too late.

As the 22nd official James Bond movie in the franchises long lasting history, some could pose the question, “Is there any possible new ground to cover with this enduring character?” My answer would be… apparently so, because after watching “Quantum of Solace”, there is more to this newest incarnation of James Bond than what we’ve been accustomed to over the last 40 some years.

The story for “Quantum of Solace”, as written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade (the same team of writers that collaborated on the previous film “Casino Royale”), delivers to audiences a side of James Bond we have never truly seen unleashed before. What I am referring to is James’ unbridled thirst for revenge. This facet of James’ character pushed an already tougher, more brutal James Bond into even more violent territory, and even introduced the notion that perhaps 007 was going too far in performing his sworn duties. A truly interesting, and fresh approach to the character that perfectly coincides with the new direction this series is taking.

Along with a more violent James Bond, the introduction of a criminal organization such as Quantum was a very welcome surprise for me, as this may allow for the Bond franchise to begin linking its films together again to some degree, rather than having them be merely episodic in nature. Now, this is not to say that I want them to begin leaving massive cliffhangers at the ends of their movies (such as, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” or “The Matrix Reloaded”), so that another film can come along and tie up all the loose ends. Not by any means. I just like the fact that we have this organization that could perhaps be used as a means of linking the villains Bond must face together; similar to the way the classic Bond movies used Blofeld (leader of the group known as SPECTRE) as the villain or at least backing the villain in many of the films. This wouldn’t necessarily require audiences to see every James Bond movie that gets made in order to understand what’s going on, in fact that would be detrimental to this franchises continued success (in my opinion); but this addition could be seen as a reward of sorts for those that have stuck with the franchise by providing a sense of continuity and a richer universe in which the character they love resides.

Some critics have panned this film for being too focused on Bond’s need for revenge and that this incarnation of Bond is nowhere near as fun as his predecessors. They wonder where are all the gadgets, the quick quips, the double entendres, and so on and so forth. Personally, I think all of their complaints are ridiculous, and contradict the very reasons they cited for loving “Casino Royale” because it was more realistic in nature. I think the idea of having a more realistic James Bond than those that came before is exactly what this franchise needs to stay relevant in today’s popular culture. When franchises such as the “Jason Bourne” series focuses on a seemingly real-life spy, the more outlandish that James Bond films become, the less audiences would relate to him; therefore the less appealing he would be as a character to the point that eventually he would just fade away in the shadow of a man with his same initials (Jason Bourne, for those not paying attention). If you are one of the people that enjoyed all the quick quips, gadgets, and sexual innuendos of the past, then you have 20 movies with which to fill your quota; and I admit I enjoy those kinds of James Bond films as well, but you have to face facts, that kind of 007 movie appears to be a thing of the past, and the realism of “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” is the future for this franchise.

The actors in “Quantum of Solace” all deliver terrific performances, a standard that has existed in every James Bond film that I have ever seen, and I’m sure was present even in the ones I haven’t. Daniel Craig continues to prove himself to be the best Agent 007 in my opinion, no disrespect to Sean Connery, but Craig’s version of Bond is how the character was meant to be. I thought Daniel did an excellent job of handling this even more aggressive Bond, as he accurately portrayed a man broken by his deep loss and guilt, and driven to payback those responsible. Judi Dench gives another perfect performance as the always proper, yet in your face M. Her loyalty to James, although it appears somewhat shaky at times in this film, and in all her other appearances even before this reboot, ultimately remains unwavering in the end. She tends to provide the calm sanity amidst the storm of Bond’s typically chaotic methods of achieving his goals.

Also returning to the series are Giancarlo Giannini and Jeffrey Wright (both appeared in “Casino Royale”). I appreciated that both of these actors returned to reprise their roles from the previous film, even if they weren’t featured all that heavily in this one; it is this sort of continuity that I enjoy in a film series. Joining the cast are foreign actors, Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) as the apparent leader of Quantum, Dominic Greene, and Olga Kurylenko (“Hitman”), as the newest Bond girl, Camille. I for one have not seen anything Mathieu has done, but from what I can tell he appears to be a very good actor and his performance here was nothing short of menacing much of the time. His villain fit in perfectly with the new direction this franchise has taken, as he was a very believable villain given the means he has at his disposal to accomplish his goals, and the methods he employs in doing so are realistic, and at times shocking. Olga Kurylenko surprised me with her performance, because based on her previous film, the video game adaptation “Hitman”, I wasn’t all that impressed by her acting prowess. However, any doubts I had about her talents, have been laid to rest, and like Vesper before her; Olga’s character of Camille is from a very different mold than those other Bond girls in the previous 20 films.

After “Casino Royale” I didn’t know if another James Bond movie could do any better. While I don’t believe director Marc Forster’s (“Monster’s Ball”) “Quantum of Solace” achieved the goal of toppling “Casino Royale” as the best Bond movie ever; regardless of what some of the critics may say, Marc did manage to provide a thoroughly engrossing follow-up film that does live up to its predecessor, and left me once again, anxiously awaiting the next installment.

In case you are curious, I mentioned earlier that there are 22 official James Bond movies; although to be truthful, this is not entirely accurate. There are technically 23 James Bond movies; however, Sean Connery’s last portrayal of the character in 1983’s “Never Say Never Again” is not recognized in the official Bond canon, as it is essentially a remake of “Thunderball”.

“Quantum of Solace” is rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, and sensuality.