'Quantum of Solace' is not as good as the James Bond film that directly preceded it, 'Casino Royale,' but it's also not the raging disappointment that some have made it out to be. It falls somewhere in the middle of the 007 spectrum -- a tough, gritty, no-nonsense spy thriller that sometimes tries so hard to be atypical of the franchise that it loses the characteristics that made the series great in the first place. This is definitely James Bond for the new millennium, but it sometimes goes overboard trying to obliterate our memories of the superspy's past to the point of banal obfuscation.
To reveal too much of the plot is also to spoil 'Casino Royale,' so intertwined are the two films. (In fact, aside from the story thread of Bond battling Blofield to avenge his wife's death that was thrown into a few of the older Bond flicks, 'Quantum of Solace' is the first direct sequel to a Bond film yet made.) As 'Solace' begins, we are literally thrust into the action seconds after 'Royale' ends. 007 (Daniel Craig) is even more pissed off and bitter than he was in 'Royale,' having nabbed Mr. White (whom, it is believed, was responsible for the death of Bond's beloved Vesper, as seen in 'Royale'), plunked him into his trunk, and carted him off to be grilled by 'M' (Dame Judi Dench).
All of this quickly leads to the film's real, if highly-convoluted, storyline. If I followed it right, it seems that Mr. White is part of an organization named QUANTUM, which somehow factors into the revenge of the spunky Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who wants to execute businessman and environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), over the death of a loved one. From there, Bond discovers that Greene is behind yet another complex, take-over-the-world plot, and teaming up with Camille, must unravel and expose the plot, while also at last discovering the true motives behind the death of Vesper.
On one level, little in 'Quantum of Solace' matters much. All of this business with Greene and Mr. White (hey, where's Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard!?) is pretty darn uninteresting. Though many of the older Bonds were pretty campy, the best villains were the ones with such crazy, megalomaniacal plots to destroy the world that they were delicious in their silliness. 'Quantum of Solace' is all 'Bourne'-like business, to the point that it's both too complex and too by-the-numbers. The memory of Vesper soon grows so remote, and Bond so lost in plot mechanics as he tries to "avenge" her death, that I forgot what his whole motive was by mid-movie.
Yet, 'Quantum of Solace' still works on a few levels. It does finally complete the emotional arc of Bond started in 'Casino Royale.' Though more a coda to that original Ian Fleming tale that a stand-alone film, 'Solace' makes a genuine attempt to resolve the threads begun in 'Royale,' and to a fairly satisfactory degree. Admittedly, the ending of 'Solace' bears far too much a resemblance to the recent 'Bourne Ultimatum' that it borders on plagiarism, but at least with the story is resolved with some nice beats. It's also good news for fans of the more fun, less serious Bonds -- one can hope that the crabby, really-really-mad 007 of 'Royale' and "Solace' finally has this revenge business out of his system. Craig remains terrific in the role, but the character he is given is, as written, so dour and one-note that the actor has little room to bring anything more than a machine-like efficiency to the part.
'Quantum of Solace' also enjoys one of the better recent Bond girls. Kurylenko is not quite Eva Green in 'Casino Royale' (whose Vesper, for me, ranks up there as one of the best Bond girls ever), but she is at least given dimension and a sense of purpose in the overall narrative. Kurylenko also has a nice chemistry with Craig -- it's notable that they do not sleep together, as it's that constant will-they-or-won't-they tension that ignites the real spark to their banter and byplay. I also like the thematic underpinnings to the two characters -- more than just a sex object, Camille is Bond's moral counterpart and shadowy doppelganger. This contrast is what gives 'Solace' it's biggest emotional charge, and it's also one of the few areas where the film aims for and achieves emotional complexity and weight.
If nothing else, 'Quantum of Solace' is an utterly frenetic and doggedly relentless thrill-ride. Director Marc Forster ('Finding Neverland,' 'Monster's Ball') may at first seem an odd choice to helm a Bond film, and he does bring some of his more art school-leanings to this very commercial franchise, but he might as well be director in name only. 'Solace' really belongs to its second unit team, which pummels us with such intense, non-stop (and overly-edited) action that I was often left wrung-out and tired. 'Solace' also aims high in terms of its creative setpieces, with a mid-movie operatic interlude easily the most ambitious and intricate sequence yet seen in a Bond picture. If nothing else, 'Quantum of Solace' is a very fun, very fast thrill ride that never lets up.
Still, it's hard not to think that 'Quantum of Solace' might have had more resonance had the filmmakers tried a little harder to add some meat to the bones of a such a skeletal, action-heavy narrative. Aside from the very serious Craig, and a few nods to the Bond of yore (M, a typically snazzy credit sequence, and OK title tune by Jack White and Alicia Keyes), there is little in 'Quantum of Solace' that separates it from any generic (if well-made) action flick this side of the 'Bourne' series. While I still enjoyed 'Solace,' it's not the instant classic that was 'Casino Royale,' and only whets my appetite for a return to a more well-rounded and less pretentious Bond the next time around. 'Quantum of Solace' hasn't entirely let the air out of the tires of the rebooted Bond, but it's time for the franchise to lighten up just a little bit if it is to maintain its newfound luster.
'Quantum of Solace' looks a little bit better to me than 'Casino Royale,' if still not quite achieving five-star video. MGM/Fox presents the film in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.39:1), and it accurately captures the film's rough-and-tough visual style.
'Quantum of Solace' is more hard-edged than 'Casino Royale,' which is immediately evident right out of the gate. The source, while clean, is deliberately grainy, and contrast pushed to accent depth at the expense of the finest details. However, there is great dimensionality to the image, and much of it looks fantastic. Colors are a bit all over the place -- some exteriors look more natural, while other scenes are intentionally desaturated or processed. The palette is clean, however, and only a few shots look too saturated and overbearing. Fleshtones holds about as firm as is possible. I did detect some noise mixed in with the grain (though it is not as noticeable as I found with 'Casino Royale'), but no major compression artifacts. 'Quantum of Solace' falls a tad short of perfection, but for most of its runtime it looks pretty darn good.
This DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is first-rate. It's easily one of the finest action soundtracks I've heard on Blu-ray in a very long while.
Prepare to have your speakers blasted the minute the studio logo fades. 'Quantum of Solace' bowls you over -- dynamic range is top-tier, from the crystal clear highs right down to the driving, subwoofer-pummeling low bass. This is as expansive and powerful a soundtrack as you're going to find, especially at a high volume. Surround use is great and the action scenes boast some aggressive pans. Highlights are the opener, the avant garde opera sequence, and the fiery climax -- these are all likely to be demo scenes for many a month to come. Though 'Quantum of Solace' is hardly a talky picture (does Daniel Craig say more than a few lines in the whole picture?), dialogue is perfectly balanced and always clear and distinct. Only some of the thick accents gave me trouble. Otherwise, 'Quantum of Solace' rocks on Blu-ray.
Despite the wealth of bulletpoints on the back of the box, there really isn't nearly as much here as you would expect. As with 'Casino Royale,' it is all but pre-destined that MGM will double dip "Quantum of Solace.' What we get here is largely filler, if good-looking filler at that (almost all of the video is presented in 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 or MPEG-2).
'Quantum of Solace' simply isn't as good as 'Casino Royale.' However, it's still a pretty kinetic and engaging enough action-thriller -- it's just too bad Bond is starting to feel so generic he doesn't feel like Bond anymore. This Blu-ray looks and sounds great, though the extras cry out "double dip a-comin'!" Still, this is a solid buy for Bond fans, and worth a rental for everyone else.