Ah, shit: Sam Mendes to direct the next James Bond movie

6 01 2010

From today’s Hollywood Reporter:


To be a James Bond fan is to live in disappointment. Every two years, you’re teased with a sensational trailer featuring a couple big explosions and/or breasts, you get yourself all worked up by either or both, and when the newest Bond film finally hits, you’re there opening night… only to emerge two hours later, bludgeoned by a European cheese platter with nothing to recommend it but the reprise of that jangly, addictive theme song. Nothing, it seemed, no gadget nor titty, could ever deliver the pure high of the Sean Connery years…

Or so it was until 2006, when the bar was raised high again by the Bond series’  finest reinvention, CASINO ROYALE, a film that only gets better on repeated viewing. Director Martin Campell, master of classy action, carried off the series’ trademark chase sequences with flawless pacing and spatial orientation. In his first outing as 007, Daniel Craig’s grave confidence wasn’t just fun to watch, it felt instantly earned. More than anything though, what worked about CASINO ROYALE was the relationship between Bond and Vesper Lynd, played by the magnificent Eva Green. If anything, the final act which on first viewing seemed indulgent with its extended, swooning romance (not exactly 007’s trademark,) now seems irreducible. To cut a second of it would ruin everything.

Bond. James Bond.

Craig’s second outing, the 22nd Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE, is not much of a movie – though compared to the nadir of the series, it’s also quite acceptable. Director Marc Forster was seemingly so intimidated by the perfection of Campbell’s action sequences that he chopped up his own nearly beyond recognition – similar to what Christopher Nolan has done in his Batman series. In Forster’s hands, SOLACE contained some highs (the opening teaser’s boffo, I SAID BOFFO, and the dangling climax to the Siena sequence is tense and excellent,) but the finale held no surprises, and never realized the potential of the film’s first moments.

Weak. Real weak.

Like bringing Nolan onto Batman, putting Forster on Bond was an attempt to add some prestige to a formulaic genre piece. And now, Sam Mendes will have his shot to make BOND 23 all arty and shit; an assignment that certainly recalls Forster and Nolan in spirit – but still sends a shiver down this fan’s spine. And that’s not just because Mendes hasn’t directed a great film since his first one; it’s because what Bond films depend on isn’t an injection of style or an outsider sensibility. A good Bond requires a familiarity with Bond over all else. Almost all the best films of the Bond series weren’t the first Bond film made by their director. Terence Young shot DR. NO before FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Guy Hamilton had GOLDFINGER before LIVE AND LET DIE, and before hitting gold with CASINO ROYALE, Martin Campbell had already directed GOLDENEYE.

More than an experienced helmer even, good Bond calls for a screenplay that walks the tightrope between delivering what’s expected, and delivering a jolt. Mendes, unfortunately, has proven several times over that he’s drawn to material that allows him room for style – even when substance is lacking. (JARHEAD, anyone? Didn’t think so…) Dare, friends, to imagine Mendes’ over-stylized, down-beat Donmar take on spy-jinx  – and how far off balance that could throw the Bond tightrope act. If the past decade since Mendes won his Oscar have made anything clear, it’s that Alan Ball’s screenplay for AMERICAN BEAUTY was its great asset. Not Kevin Spacey, not that marimba-heavy score or that deeply profound Ralph’s bag – and not Mendes, the would-be wunderkind who appeared to knock one out of the park on his first at bat… turns out, in retrospect, he really didn’t.

The good news is that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, co-writers of CASINO ROYALE, (with ex-scientologist Paul Haggis) are working on BOND 23 – albeit with a nip and tuck this time by Peter Morgan, who recently said that this film will be “shocking.” Shocking like REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, Peter? Guuuhhh. But hey, maybe Purvis and Wade will rise again to the occasion, and maybe, just maybe, Mendes won’t get in their way… Anything’s possible. Guy Hamilton, who directed the series capstone GOLDFINGER, also directed THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, one of its most craptastic. Anything’s possible – even, I suppose, a good James Bond movie by Sam Mendes. I’ll believe it when I see it… And needless to say, I’ll be there opening night, ready to be let down.