The mainstream critics were not kind to Quantum of Solace, the 22nd entry in the James Bond series, but in an especially puzzling way. You see, it eschews many of the Bond traditions, continuing the building of a 21st century 007 in much the same way that its predecessor, Casino Royale, did so well. But what was strange about the critical indifference towards Solace was that it was shrugged off or attacked by many of the same critics who loved Royale, for doing many of the same things as that film.
Takes, as an example, Roger Ebert, who gave Royale four stars and noted of that film: "This time, no Moneypenny, no Q and Judi Dench is unleashed as M, given a larger role, and allowed to seem hard-eyed and disapproving to the reckless Bond." In his two-star Quantum of Solace review, he complains, "There is no Q in Quantum of Solace, except in the title. No Miss Moneypenny at all...This Bond, he doesn't bring much to the party." Huh? Daniel Craig in Royale, he writes, is "leaner, more taciturn, less sex-obsessed, able to be hurt in body and soul, not giving a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred." This time, he complains that "James Bond is not an action hero! He is too good for that. He is an attitude. Violence for him is an annoyance. He exists for the foreplay and the cigarette."
I plug these quotes in not to try and make a fool of Ebert (who is, seriously, my favorite working film writer) but to illustrate the strange amnesia that sometimes affects even the best critics. For me, the equation is simple. Did you like Casino Royale? If you did, you'll like Quantum of Solace. Period. It couldn't be more a more faithful successor, picking up so closely on the heels of the earlier film that discussing this plot in great detail amounts to spoiling the end of Royale.
In fact, one of the film's few major flaws is that the first act is a little clumsy, narratively speaking; if you haven't seen Royale recently, you might be a little lost, as far as who did what to whom and why. Ultimately, though, the finer details of the plot are fairly moot--there's Bond, there's a bad guy, he's after him, there's a girl, and off you go.
Journeyman director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction) throws us right in, with a killer opening car chase through the Italian mountain tunnels. It's a brutal, ruthless three-minute bone-cruncher that doesn't give the viewer a moment to catch their breath. Indeed, the film never wants for action. There's a killer foot chase, leading to a electrifying fistfight at an old church, with Bond and his target crashing through domes and into scaffolding. There's a speedboat chase with flying fists and plenty of dodged bullets. A shoot-out outside of an opera performance is particularly stylish, with inventive crosscuts and clever sound drop-outs. Even the short bursts of action, like a quick fight scene in an elevator, are exciting.
That the action is skillful is no surprise. What's made these recent Bond films notable is what happens between them. The relationship between Bond and M (Dench) is far more interesting than it has ever been, with real questions of trust on the line this time. The always-welcome Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini also return, and the cultivation of their relationships with Bond provide welcome background to the pyrotechnics. The real find in the cast, however, is Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, who is tough, likable, and exudes raw, exotic sexuality. The required secondary Bond girl, Gemma Arterton (as the wonderfully-names Strawberry Fields) isn't too bad either.
Craig, of course, proved himself a terrific Bond in Royale, and does nothing here to dispel that notion. He's tough, smart, determined, and, yes, charming. He also knows how to deliver both an ass-kicking and a fair but ruthless punishment to a villain, which leads to a very satisfying climax and resolution. Quantum of Solace doesn't quite live up to its immediate predecessor, but it is nevertheless a solid, sturdy entry into a very durable series.
Quantum of Solace's anamorphic transfer is rock solid. The 2.35:1 image is crisp and good-looking, with nothing noticeable in the way of digital artifacts. Roberto Schaefer's cinematography plays mostly in grays and blacks, which are deeply rendered with appropriate contrast. When brighter colors occasionally appear--as in the Italian chase sequence or the deep blue waters surrounding Giannini's villa--they pop nicely.
No complaints with the audio quality, either; the 5.1 track is sharp and exciting, with crystal-clear dialogue and well-mixed music. Directional effects are very good in the action sequences--and not just in the big, subwoofer-shaking explosions, but in the well-placed swinging planks and crashing glass of the church fight and the whizzing motors of the boat chase. Overall, a very impressive mix.
Bond is a brand, and its creators have put together an ultra-slick, well-produced package of bonus features. It's so controlled, in fact, that we might not be getting the most candid insights and reflections, but the extras here certainly don't suffer from a lack of details.
The lion's share of them are located on disc two of this double-disc special edition; the first disc (and, presumably, the single-disc edition) includes only the film's Theatrical Teaser Trailer #1 (1:51), Theatrical Trailer #2 (2:24), and the Music Video for the film's opening theme, "Another Way To Die", performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys (it's stylish but silly, much like the credit sequence it accompanies in the film, though the video confirms that even in a tux, White is still one weird-lookin' dude).
Disc two's centerpiece extra is the featurette "Bond On Location" (24:47), which briefly sets the context of the film's making (expectations were high following the success of Casino Royale, we're told the first of many times) before moving to the particulars of scouting and shooting at various locations in Latin America and Italy, as well as the customary studio shooting at Pinewood in England.
A series of much shorter featurettes follow. "Start of Shooting" (2:56) begins with Forster talking about the high expectations for the film, followed by some behind-the-scenes footage from the first day and early in the shoot. "On Location" (3:13) is, well, kind of redundant, considering the 24 minutes already spent covering the extensive globe-trotting of the shoot. "Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase" (2:14) profiles the new Bond girl and shows her in stunt rehearsals and shooting the boat chase sequence. "Director Marc Forster" (2:45) features Craig and the cast commenting on Forster, and the director talking about his job. "The Music" (2:37) shows composer David Arnold in studio, working and discussing the musical themes of the film.
The final bonus is "Crew Files" (46:15 total), a series of video blogs (presumably posted during the production and pre-release period) in which several members of the crew introduce themselves and explain their jobs, intercut with clips of the crew member in question at work. These clips are interesting for either would-be technicians interested in the business or detail-oriented cinephiles, but they're probably too exhaustive for the average viewer.
For the most part, the critics just plain got Quantum of Solace wrong. This is an exciting, enjoyable continuation of an edgier, tougher, tighter Bond's adventures, and those who were thrilled by the surprises of Casino Royale will likely find more to enjoy here.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.