SPOILER WARNING: This review assumes the reader has seen the predecessor to this film, "Casino Royale". If you haven't, it is highly advisable that you do so as this film only works fully if you come into it with the back-story.
Without a doubt, "Quantum of Solace" was one of the most anticipated film releases of the 2008 holiday season. It would be Daniel Craig's second outing as Bond and audiences were eagerly awaiting to see more of the magic from Craig and company that made "Casino Royale" one of the best received Bond films in decades. Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland", "Stranger Than Fiction") would take the directors chair from two-time Bond director Martin Campbell. Forster seemed an odd choice for such an action packed series, considering his dramatic background.
"Quantum of Solace" would also mark a first in the Bond series: the first direct sequel to a previous film. The film's opening moments establish this point immediately, as Bond engages in a high-speed car chase, on his way to deliver Mr. White to MI6. What follows next is a steady stream of action set pieces interspersed with just enough exposition and dialogue to give you a chance to catch your breath, the problem is, the action scenes, while top notch, not the style most Bond fans may have expected. They are obviously the work of Dan Bradley, second unit director and stunt coordinator; his style is very apparent, having been seen before in the latter two Bourne films. The Bourne films have arguably had an influence on the Bond reboot, but the last thing this revitalized series needs is to come off as an imitator of another franchise
My other biggest complaint with the action is the lack of brutality; the fights in "Casino Royale" were intense and the physical effects of violence were in your face; here Bond walks away with little damage to himself and feels more like a superhero than a super spy, for a film trying to show a larger than life character with emotional weight, this type of no consequence violence does a great disservice.
"Quantum of Solace's" main problems arise in the first act; the main villain, Dominic Greene (played very confidently by Mathieu Amalric) is introduced with side-villain General Medrano; alongside these two scoundrels, Camille (Olga Kurylenko) is thrown into the mix as the lover of Greene who is using him to extract revenge on Medrano, the man who killed her family. Bond is pulled into the mix while on an official mission to find more information on the Quantum organization; unofficially, Bond is still on a personal mission of revenge, as the same organization is responsible for the death of the woman he loved, Vesper Lynd. Hardened by her death, Bond struggles to remain a constant professional, claiming hatred of Vesper, but at the same time killing almost any thug who crosses his path.
All of this exposition is spread over the course of forty minutes and the previously mentioned action scenes feel like they are there simply for the sake of masking the limited plot. When action scenes in a Bond film become tedious, there is something wrong. These problems are especially detrimental as they set-up an expectation of disappointment for the viewer. This DVD marks the third time I've seen "Quantum of Solace" and while I am still frustrated by the first act, I'm able to enjoy the film more knowing, the latter two acts are rewarding.
It's not until the around the 40 minute mark that the film finally feels like a Bond film, and takes the very light plot and begins to advance it at a steady pace. It's easily arguable that the plot of the film isn't as important as the journey of Bond, but at the end of the day this is a James Bond film, and if you want to have a deep look at the character, then the story driving his actions needs to have more depth itself. When Camille finally returns to the limelight to set up the film's finale, the emotional weight of the film is allowed to shine. Daniel Craig's performance is nothing short of spectacular; he is cool and suave, while at the same time, deadly and vulnerable. In one of the film's best scenes, Bond comforts a dying man, showing a touching humanity; in the blink of an eye, Bond is dumping the man's body in the trash. His body and voice are one hundred percent professional, but Craig's expressive eyes still show a hint of hurt and a feeling of responsibility for getting the man involved in the first place.
The acting of this film, led by Craig, is the film's strongest point. Despite the thin plot and somewhat clichéd dialogue, every actor plays his or her part with excellence. Craig is kept in check by his boss/mother, "M", once again played by Dame Judi Dench. Dench's performance is very much in the same league as Craig's. She must officially, keep the leash on Bond, but deep down, she knows Bond deserves his revenge. Dench has talked about leaving the role many times in the past, only to be pulled back into the newest film; I strongly hope that she continues with the series for at least a few more films, as her chemistry with Craig is one this film's great assets.
Mathieu Amalric also does a fine job as Dominic Greene: he strikes a good balance of power, sophistication, and ruthless greed. In many ways, I think Greene is a better villain than Le Chiffre, despite Bond never truly getting to match words with Greene as he did with Le Chiffre.
No Bond film would be complete without a Bond girl and this film comes with two: the previously mentioned Camille, who like Bond needs revenge, but while just as unstable and emotional, hasn't hardened her heart to keep up appearances, like 007. Gemma Arterton plays Strawberry Fields and is fine in her role to advance both the plot and the emotional journey of James.
Last but not least are Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, and Jesper Christensen, as Felix Leiter, Rene Mathis, and Mr. White respectively. Leiter is little more a plot device in this film, while Mathis is a crucial character to Bond's development. Jesper Christensen's limited screen time is highly memorable and hopefully, he'll show up in a larger role in the next Bond film, as he evokes the classic Bond villain, we know and love.
As a whole package, "Quantum of Solace" is very entertaining, if you can get past the overly long feeling first act. Once it hits its stride, it's an engaging film and the action settles down a bit. Upon repeat viewings, the emotional journey of Bond becomes more apparent and this is where the talent of Marc Forster as a dramatic director shines. "Quantum of Solace" isn't Casino Royale 2.0. It's flaws keep it from being a great Bond film, but aren't so much, that it makes it a bad Bond film. The weak story is what will frustrate most people, and from those expecting something on the level of "Casino Royale", it's a justifiable complaint. For the Bond fan, at the end of the day, Greene's rather cheesy plot isn't what's important; what is, is the shaping of James Bond into 007 and by the film's final scene, Bond fans should be smiling.
M: "Bond, I need you back."
Bond: "I never left."
UPDATE: Upon reviewing the final product, I can safely say the 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer is stunning. From the opening scenes, I could see the movie had a great color balance with no bleeding. There is some grain to the image, most notably in the open desert scenes in the end, but it appears to be a style choice. Details are sharp and I only spotted some minor edge enhancement under very close scrutiny and even then, I had to pause the image to be sure. This is a very nice transfer and proof that SD-DVD is far from dead in terms of technical quality.
UPDATE: Now that I have a final product in hand, I can give a fair review of the audio. The 5.1 DTS English audio track is as good as the transfer. When the action kicks into high gear, it's very satisfying, but most importantly is well balanced when the quieter dialogue driven scenes pop up. Unlike the recent "Dark Knight" disc which had a lot of balance problems, I never found myself adjusting the volume either because the sound was overpowering or underwhelming. Surrounds are used to great effect, especially in the airplane chase towards the end of the film. Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, and French tracks are also included. I sampled a bit of the standard 5.1 track and it was good as well, but lacked the kick of the DTS track.
English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Extras are limited to the film's two theatrical trailers on the first disc as well as a music video for the film's title song. "Quantum of Solace" is available as both a single disc and double disc special edition. The extras on the second disc consist of a series of featurettes covering the making of the film that total approximately 40 minutes. It's typical "here's what we did" talking head style stuff, featuring clips of the movie; in my opinion, it's hardly worth devoting an extra disc to. There's also a Crew Files section, but instead of your generic text cast list, each name plays a short video with the cast or crewmember and they talk about their role in the film. This stuff might interest some, but there's no real substance and the replay value of the extras are nil. It seems that a double dip of this film is almost a given, considering the lack of substantial extras.
Minor rant: MGM/Sony has decided to use "eco-friendly" packaging with this release and I am not pleased in the least. If you're not familiar with "eco-friendly" DVD packaging, here's a description. The front and back case has large sections cut out, in an attempt to save resources. This is a pathetic practice, in my opinion, and does nothing but frustrate collectors due to the integrity of the case being compromised. It wouldn't take much for someone to accidentally gouge the packaging (in store especially) and destroy the cover art. In my case, this will lead to more "wasted resources" as now I will have to go and buy a replacement case. I agree that the planet's resources are limited (which is a large theme of "Quantum of Solace") but give me a break, when it comes to this. If they really want to save resources, quit printing the redundant slipcovers.
While it is nowhere near the level as its predecessor, "Quantum of Solace" is a middle of the road Bond film, which still puts it leaps and bounds above the absurdity of most Roger Moore era films. Any interested parties must watch "Casino Royale" first if they haven't already done so, since this film falls apart without the context from Craig's first outing as Bond. I can't recommend a purchase of the two-disc edition over the single disc unless the price difference is nominal, as the extras are nothing special. Thankfully MGM/FOX didn't drop the ball when it came to the technical presentation as "Quantum of Solace" is top notch in all aspects here. Huge Bond fans will definitely be revisiting this film on DVD. Recommended.