Sam Mendes may have done more than just reload 007’s Walther PPK with box-office bullets when he took on Skyfall five years ago. For decades, Bond production company Eon vacillated between recruiting indie directors with a handful of arthouse hits on their hands (Quantum of Solace’s Marc Forster; Die Another Day’s Lee Tamahori) and tried and tested industry stalwarts (Casino Royale and GoldenEye’s Martin Campbell; The World Is Not Enough’s Michael Apted). But in the wake of Mendes’ success in taking Bond past the $1bn mark for the first time, then almost repeating the feat with 2015’s Spectre, an entirely new calibre of film-maker is being mentioned to take charge of 2019’s 25th official 007 movie.
While suggestions that Christopher Nolan might be prepared to take on Her Majesty’s top suave super spy seem to be little more than wishful thinking, whispers surrounding the involvement of Blade Runner 2049’s Denis Villeneuve appear to be more grounded. Villeneuve was named by Deadline in July as a frontrunner to take over from Mendes, and the Daily Mail’s well-connected Baz Bamigboye reported last month that the French-Canadian director of Sicario and Arrival was Daniel Craig’s top choice for the role.
Both Nolan and Villeneuve are members of a rare coterie of Hollywood film-makers who have proven themselves both as directors of original, intelligent cinema and as trusted carriers of the franchise flame. Warner Bros is still struggling to reinvent Batman five years after Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy closed, and Villeneuve has just resurrected a 35-year-old sci-fi saga to rapturous critical acclaim (even if the film’s US box office looks pretty disappointing). Like Mendes, both men know how to play the studio game. Nolan would never have been given the greenbacks to film brainteasing sci-fi blockbuster Inception, or this year’s Dunkirk, had he not proven his box-office clout with a trilogy of hit superhero movies. Likewise, Villeneuve and Mendes will find their personal projects easier to greenlight now that they have proven their value to studios desperate to inject the rarefied alchemy of visionary film-making into safer franchise fare.
Looking at the other mooted candidates for Bond 25, neither has quite the same standing. David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is a fine modern spin on the western, while Yann Demange’s ’71 is a lean and muscular Troubles-set thriller with just the right balance of genre thrills and historical grit. But Blade Runner 2049’s mesmerising visuals and its sheer echoing, cerebrum-twisting existential weight suggest Villeneuve has the chops to not just keep 007 rolling along nicely but take the suave spy to another level entirely. His partnership with 13-times Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins also bodes well, for the Bond series has perhaps never equalled for bravura visual eloquence the dazzling Deakins-shot sequences in which 007’s adventures took place against the ice-blue cityscapes of Shanghai and golden, gilded opulence of Macau.
Spectre, while a beautifully shot movie in its own right, did not get audiences’ eyes shooting out on stalks in quite the same way. It is surely these little touches of quality that help elevate franchise films to a higher status, and Villeneuve has proven he has what it takes.
The problem with increased expectations, of course, is that it becomes tougher to meet them. With luck, Eon chiefs Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson will have learned from the mistakes of Bond’s past, when safer film-makers were perhaps recruited because producers knew working with relative Hollywood ingenues or industry veterans would help them retain greater creative control. The noughties’ answer to Villeneuve and Nolan was Peter Jackson, who was once considered for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough – before the director’s Oscar-winning success with Lords of the Rings – but was ultimately passed over in favour of the more experienced Michael Apted. The result was a movie that continued a Brosnan-era decline for 007 that would not be reversed until Daniel Craig’s debut in 2006’s Casino Royale.
If producers truly want Craig’s stint in Her Majesty’s hot seat to end on a high, there can be no other choice than Villeneuve. The director says he would love to get the job, though he also suggests he is unable to talk about his interest in Bond for undisclosed reasons. Let’s hope that’s because the powers-that-be have already invited the director to Bond HQ and forced him to sign the film-making equivalent of the Official Secrets Act – because he’s about to be announced as 007’s next director.