Thursday, 7 March 2013

Bond 24 - The Poison Chalice

Why Sam Mendes passed on Bond 24. Plus a potential short list of successors

(Massive spoilers for
Skyfall, obviously.)

Even with the best will in the world, I don't think EON producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli would've predicted the extent of Skyfall's success. The previous two outings took $586 million and $599 million at the box office, but Skyfall's $1.1 billion makes it the 3rd largest gross for a non 3D film (behind Return Of The King and Titanic's initial 1997 release).

Therefore, it's entirely understandable why everybody wanted Skyfall director Sam Mendes back on board. The problem is, Skyfall has left the franchise in a somewhat precarious position.

With Skyfall, Mendes got to do things no other Bond director has done. He got to kill off M, bring old characters back into the series and with the 50th anniversary falling in the same year; he got to explore whether Bond's old fashioned approach still had a place in the 21st century. It was these factors which allowed Skyfall to stand out from many of the other films. However, these things cannot be done again for another 10 years (depending on how long Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw want to be involved). The next director has the almost thankless task of having to follow all of that with a more typical Bond adventure.

Sam Mendes working with Daniel Craig on the set of Skyfall
Daniel Craig's Bond films are very different to almost all of the previous 20. Casino Royale explored the character's origins and the tragic love affair with Vesper. Quantum of Solace dealt with Bond's loss of Vesper but suffered from production troubles. In Skyfall, Bond loses one of his closest allies. Only On Her Majesty's Secret Service (or at a stretch Licence To Kill) have comparably themes.

Daniel Craig has yet to do a "normal" Bond film. That's not to say he should settle for emotionless action romps, but it's too soon to have him fall in love again and killing anyone off would be too similar to Skyfall. Personally, I think a strong conflict between Bond and Ralph Fiennes' M would be a good character arc to explore. Will Bond have to change his ways if Fiennes isn't as chummy as Dench was?

So really, it's going to be a difficult task for whoever takes over. With the producers aiming for an autumn 2014 release date, story and script decisions are going to have be made fairly quickly. Whilst the financial troubles at MGM hampered the production of Skyfall, the script must have benefited from the extra time.

For Mendes, the prospect of having to top (or at least match) Skyfall was probably too daunting; particularly with several other projects on the go. Mendes is clearly a man who values the quality of his work over its quantity. By passing on Bond (for now at least) he can focus all of his attention on these commitments, in the knowledge that he delivered the most successful Bond film of all time.

Who's next?

With Mendes out of the picture, Broccoli and Wilson have an ocean of talent to pick from. Or do they? Presuming the 2014 release date is correct, the list of contenders might be shorter than they would've liked. Instant advantage given to any British directors.

Update 09/03/2013 - Christopher Nolan is going to direct Interstellar, which is due for release in November 2014. Despite his incredible talent, I don't think he could direct Bond 24 as well; so he can now be ruled out of the running. I'll leave him on the list because most of what I said applies for Bond 25 and beyond.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of Zero Dark Thirty
My personal choice would be the supremely talented Kathryn Bigelow. In Zero Dark Thirty (which I will eventually stop talking about), she crafted one of the best thrillers in recent memory. Throw in the success of The Hurt Locker and the cult popularity of films like Point Break; Bigelow could easily handle the scale and scope of a Bond film. In recent interviews, she has said to have nothing lined up in the near future; citing exhaustion after the tight turnaround on Zero Dark Thirty. Given the controversy surrounding her last film, something as apolitical as Bond might be a welcoming task.

Matthew Vaughn

As the director of Layer Cake, Vaughn must be able to take some of the credit for Daniel Craig getting the Bond job. Mendes was recruited by Craig so, providing they enjoyed working together, Craig might suggest Vaughn for the job. With Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class on his resume, Vaughn has shown he can handle big action films. However, his availability might be the deciding issue. He's currently working on the next X-Men film, an adaptation of the comic book The Secret Service as well as rebooting the Silver Surfer; most of which are big studio commitments that would be difficult to get out of.

Joe Wright

Hanna proved that Wright can turn in a splendid action flick when he's not busy doing literary adaptations.  Pride & Prejudice and Atonement were both well received but the critical reaction on The Soloist and Anna Karenina was somewhat cooler. He has style and flair to spare but has he forced himself too far into the costume drama corner to be considered a candidate?

Christopher Nolan with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of Inception
Christopher Nolan (See above)

Nolan is known to be a big fan of Bond, and you can see that influence in many of his films. However, he hasn't directed a script that he (or his brother) didn't write in over 10 years and is clearly most comfortable working from his own material. He's also just lost his trusted DP (Wally Pfister) and might not want to jump onto a film of such scale with a new DP. 3 of his last 5 films were of the same story and Inception was not too dissimilar either so I would like to see him do something radically different. However if he does want it, the job is probably his.

Tomas Alfredson

Alfredson has two critically acclaimed films (though I personally didn't care much for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) under his belt and is reportedly not actively working on anything at the moment. However, he's probably not proven enough (particularly with action) to be seriously considered.

Rupert Wyatt

Wyatt has made two very good films: The Escapist and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and showed with the latter that he can handle a large scale blockbuster. However, aside from a couple of shorts, that's all he's done. Definitely one for the future.

Martin Campbell

Directed two superb Bond films already (Goldeneye and Casino Royale) and would be a safe pair of hands to carry on the franchise. His last film was The Green Lantern which failed both critically and commercially, so Campbell might perhaps welcome a return to the Bond scene.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, Rian Johnson and an intimidating camera on the set of Looper
Rian Johnson

Johnson has written and directed 3 very different and successful films. He's also put in sterling work on Breaking Bad and Terriers. However like Nolan, he seems to be happy working on his own material.

Ralph Fiennes

This is an interesting option. He made his debut with the well directed Coriolanus which mixed drama with some action. Providing he doesn't have too much to do in front of the camera, Fiennes could easily manage the workload. Though with only one film under his directorial belt, Bond 24 might be a bit too soon.

And finally, some other names who are either just too busy at the moment or can be ruled out for other reasons:

Brad Bird (Tomorrowland), Duncan Jones (World Of Warcraft), J.J. Abrams (Star the other one... oh ok both of them), David Michod (The Rover), Quentin Tarantino (not gonna happen), Sir Ridley Scott (too difficult), Danny Boyle (stayed away from big budgets ever since The Beach).

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