As the star of the longest-running franchise in film history, James Bond has flirted with irrelevance more than once: The character is a misogynist fossil, an outdated relic of the Cold War, and, in spite of his movies' insistence on being flashy and up to the minute, almost all of them feel ridiculously dated. But this is also Bond's value: He's always been an evolving bellwether of the times, and each film documents, via espionage and sex, the current state of global politics, technology, and fashion.

The series' 2006 reboot, Casino Royale, jettisoned a lot of junk—the silly gadgets, the sexual puns, the implausible super-heroics (in 2002's Die Another Day, you might recall, Bond surfed a 100-foot tidal wave and drove an invisible car). Stone-faced Daniel Craig instantly erased memories of the horrid Pierce Brosnan era without reverting to Sean Connery's hairy-chested machismo or Roger Moore's winking foppery. Casino Royale was basically the beginning of an entirely new series, and Quantum of Solace is very much its sequel.

Quantum picks up right where Royale left off, with Bond capturing a contact for a crime syndicate. He's to a Bolivian general who murdered the family of Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko, upholding the fine tradition of impossibly gorgeous Bond women). Camille now has vengeance on her mind—a quality she shares with Bond, who's seeking revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd, the girl from Casino Royale. There's a foot chase through the Il Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, a boat chase in a harbor in Haiti, and a plane chase over the mountains of Bolivia.

As may be apparent, Quantum of Solace makes about as much sense as its baffling title, but even as plotlines unravel and stack up like corpses, the movie is entirely awesome. Better than Casino Royale? Well, no. Quantum's story is incredibly confusing, the action scenes are shot so close that it's difficult to tell what's happening, and the beady-eyed supervillain (Mathieu Amalric) looks like a shorter Roman Polanski and is about as intimidating as a gerbil.

Still, the level of sheer spectacle is tremendous, and Quantum satisfies on every visceral level. Giancarlo Giannini, one of the best things about Royale, returns as French agent René Mathis, Judi Dench is back as M, and of course, there's Craig—less thuggish than in Royale, but more menacing, and just as layered.

Quantum's highlight is a surreal, ravishing sequence shot at the floating opera house in Bregenz, Austria, where Bond eavesdrops on members of the evil cartel during a production of Puccini's Tosca. Of course, this is ludicrous—but when it looks this cool, you're more than happy to throw disbelief to the wind.