I'll admit that I went into Quantum of Solace more or less dreading a repeat of the Licence To Kill debacle. All the danger signs were there - a rushed script because of a writers' strike, threats of Bond going rogue again plus the problem that great Bond films are usually followed by naff ones. The short running time wasn't encouraging, nor the bigger budget and promise of more action.
Well, this isn't one of the great Bond films, and Casino Royale set the bar far too high for it to compete. But it's certainly not a disappointment if you go in aware of that, and more gratifyingly, the similarities to LTK are superficial. Where Casino Royale was like making love all night long, this is more of a gratifyingly frenzied *beep* of a film. The running time isn't a problem because, like From Russia With Love, this is a pared down machine with no fat to trim away, throwing out all the overused touchstones to get down to business. From a plot point of view there's maybe a little too much one corpse leading to the next plot point in the first third, but the film wisely ditches that approach early.
Dan Bradley's action scenes are thankfully not as ineptly over-edited and incoherent as in Paul Greengrass' films, but aren't as impressive as Gary Powell's work on CR. There are moments of familiarity a motorbike sequence borrows from the unimpressively shot harbour scene in Jackie Chan's The Protector, but without the lethargic pacing, while an aerial dogfight owes a lot to a famously rejected stunt originally intended for the opening of GoldenEye and the opening car chase through heavy traffic could have benefited from not trying quite so hard. But within them there are moments of stylisation that few other Bonds have attempted and failed at but which are far more successful here, most notably an impressive opera sequence that could have done with a few more shots to clarify the odd mechanical detail (something other parts of the film could benefit from). It's also surprisingly vicious - for perhaps the first time in a Bond film, innocent bystanders are deliberately killed. That said, the rationale for the explosions at the end is more than a little dubious.
The film isn't as humorless as some have complained: there's a lot of dry humor where appropriate and a delightfully playful game of cat-and-mouse with Bond and M in a hotel, but none of the outright slapstick comedy that dragged the series down before. Nor is Forster's direction or the editing as awkward as some found it: there's a pleasingly epic scale to the film allied with a non-nonsense straight-down-to-business attitude that works well for this particular story.
The most curious complaint is that it's just action with no character development, when nothing could be further from the truth. While there is more action, the characterisation is integrated into both plot and action. Bond is once again on an emotional journey - forgiveness, believe it or not, is ultimately the quantum of solace of the title - though this time the heart and soul of the film is Giancarlo Giannini's Rene Mathis, the kind of man Bond might be capable of becoming and one he learns something about himself from. One of their scenes, alternately surprisingly tender and genuinely shockingly callous, is easily one of the very finest moments in the entire history of the series.
Craig still owns the role impressively and Jeffrey Wright starts to come in to his own as Felix Leiter this time round. Mathieu Amalric is one of the better villains of the past twenty years. He won't be among the greats, but he convinces and the scheme is genuinely ingenious in its simplicity. Olga Kurylenko manages to shake off the ineptness of her former performances to be a more than adequate but not especially memorable female lead, though Gemma Arterton lets the side down badly in a part that has unwelcome elements of Serena Gordon in GoldenEye and Rowan Atkinson in Never Say Never Again. Thankfully it's a small role so her weak and stilted straight-out-of-stage-school acting can't do too much damage.
Intriguingly, the film exists in a more convincing world of global politics than we've seen before in a Bond film: SPECTRE would have loved to be around in an era when governments eagerly step into bed with crime syndicates if it suits their ends and where corporations are able to play governments and intelligence agencies against each other. Here Bond works for a British government that tortures suspects on foreign soil in its desperation to snatch the scraps from the superpowers' tables. Initially, Bond is just as ruthless and morally flawed as his masters, the bullish arrogance gradually being smoothed away by emotional experience as he learns the importance of forgiveness to find the quantum of solace of the title that he needs to go on.
Yes, there are weaknesses - M's office is overdesigned, a few scenes could have played better, the Goldfinger reference just seems lazy, the song is crap and the gunbarrel sequence is a big and unnecessary mistake - but it's not the crushing disappointment some are claiming. It may not be a great Bond movie, but it most definitely is a Bond movie, and a damn good night out at the pictures. And one that left me seriously thinking that even if the series never recaptures the high of Casino Royale,we may just be entering a genuine second golden age of Bond movies.