By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist March 6, 2013 at 12:02PM
The following is an updated version of a Bond feature we ran in November.
Somewhat shocking (to fans), but not completely surprising news this AM. Sam Mendes, the director of " Skyfall," the highest-grossing -- by a large margin with $1.1 billion -- and arguably most popular James Bond film ever decided to pass and won't be directing " Bond 24." While the " American Beauty" director suggested in recent interviews he might take on the next installment -- something the Bond producers would have loved, we're sure -- he had flipped and flopped, and it doesn't come as huge surprise Mendes moved on if you've paid attention to his creatively peripatetic career.
The director remained noncommittal in the interim, saying in one interview last year, "I felt like everything I wanted to do with a Bond movie, I put into this film. So I would have to be convinced that I could do something that I loved and cared about as much if I was to do it again. I think the great risk of repeating oneself is that one doesn't have the great store of ideas that you have when you first tackle a subject."
Mendes was an unusual choice to begin with and one that had some fans scratching their heads at first. Known for theater, adult chamber dramas, " Revolutionary Road," " American Beauty," the moody crime film, " Road To Perdition," and the slightly looser and more off-the-cuff dramedy, " Away We Go," Mendes was no one's first choice to direct a movie that relied heavily on action and blockbuster set pieces. But the Bond Broccoli producers and Daniel Craig (who was the first person to float the idea) recognized those tentpole elements can sort themselves out and what was missing from Bond was a heart and soul and urgent dramatic stakes (a la " The Dark Knight" trilogy, something Mendes himself said helped inspire "Skyfall."). It was a risky, bold choice, not something the Bond producers are known for given how cookie-cutter-ish the franchise has been in some eras, but it paid off immensely, beyond anyone's wildest dreams, racking up $500 million more than the second-highest-grossing Bond flick. The dar k edge of the movie even made " Casino Royale" -- up until that point the rawest Bond film, and credited with revitalizing the going-stale franchise -- look like something light and fluffy. (Worth reading: " What Worked & Didn't Work In 'Skyfall ").
The gamble having paid off, we're assuming (and hoping) the keepers of the Bond flame are going to keep pursuing this newer direction and keep pushing Bond into uncomfortable situations. And that likely means being copacetic with choices who might not be well-versed in action, but have a full grasp of drama and directing actors (though both qualities are surely a CV plus; action purists hopefully need not apply). And so with the director's chair vacated and an opening in the MI6 world, here are six directors we think could handle Bond if they were interested.
Why He Might Do It: Wyatt just stepped away from the high-profile " The Equalizer" starring Denzel Washington , so he's got a new window to work within. He's also possibly the best-equipped director on this list given that he helmed, " Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes," a surprise tentpole hit in 2011, that spawned a quick sequel and possessed all the elements we've been discussing: heart, soul, pathos, plus blockbuster bang and entertaining thrills. In that film, Wyatt, who was only known for smaller films like “ The Escapist" up until that point, proved with 'Apes' he could handle all challenges, like working with difficult VFX (the motion capture work is stellar), drama, action, but perhaps most importantly pulling emotional, striking performances out of actors in a movie with a concept that could be absurd in the wrong hands. 'Apes' did look silly even to the geek constituents before it was released, but the film was no joke and surprisingly heartfelt on top of being engaging and taut. Being English can't hurt either. Every British director likely has Bond DNA inside them somewhere. He would be an excellent choice and fufills all the requirements.
Why He Might Not (And Maybe Can't): The fact of the matter is while Wyatt is off "The Equalizer," the reason he had to bail on the project in the first place was because he has the WWI movie " Birdsong" on deck that cast Nicholas Hoult last month. It's likely shooting this summer, which means he probably can't be free in time for "Bond 24" which we assume the producers will want to shoot as soon as possible. He's also directing a pilot for AMC, so that's more evidence why his calendar is too full. That is, unless he were to ditch everything for "Bond 24" (assuming it was even offered), but dropping those comittments, even if it were a possibility, could prove to be impossible.
Why He Might Do It: Seven years since his feature film debut, Joe Wright has marked himself as a more interesting filmmaker (almost) every time he's been at bat. His 2005 debut " Pride & Prejudice" and 2007''s " Atonement" saw him pegged by most as a prestige helmer, one with a flair for tracking shots and a grounded approach, but arguably more a younger take on a director like John Madden than anything more interesting. The poorly received " The Soloist" didn't exactly change anyone's minds. But Wright has turned things around, with the bonkers pop-art spy picture " Hanna" last year, and this year's " Anna Karenina," a gorgeous, hugely cinematic take on the Tolstoy novel that shows him to be a far more playful filmmaker than many thought he was to begin with. In many ways, he'd be the obvious heir to Mendes; possessing a similar prestige-y background, and with some impressive action experience in "Hanna" under his belt to boot. He'd be capable of dealing with the high-profile cast that are in place -- Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, maybe even Albert Finney -- and attract further quality acting talent too. And while he's resisted franchise territory so far, he's been circling the adventure-y sounding " The Secret Life of Houdini" more recently, which suggests he may be ready to get stuck into that kind of thing.
Why He Might Not: Well, for one thing, he's pretty busy with two theatrical productions in London next year, at the Donmar Warehouse and the Young Vic, and possibly 'Houdini,' after that. He also just signed up direct an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's " The Ocean At The End Of The Lane ." Whether or not he could make a potential 2015 release date could be tricky. Furthermore, "Hanna" and "Anna Karenina" are more experimental than anything that Mendes has made before, and there could be a concern on Broccoli and Wilson's part that Wright could end up delivering an abstracted, non-naturalistic take on the franchise (though we're sure Wright would toe the line to a degree, but we'd hope not too much). He'd be a fascinating choice, and one that would make sense after Mendes, but we suspect it could be a long shot. Then again, we'd have said that about Mendes.