This week, Skyfall director Sam Mendes made the smart decision to go out on top by bowing out of the next Bond title, which is a two-parter scripted by John Logan. As almost everyone in the universe knows by now, Skyfall was the best Bond in recent memory, an entry that both looked back at the history of the series while suggesting exciting new directions for the franchise. It reintroduced Moneypenny (played by the adorable Naomie Harris) and finally gave Dame Judi Dench the M she deserves, a complicated and brooding role worth her immense talents. And enough cannot be said about Javier Bardem’s Silva, a performance that’s over-the-top and kitschy like classic Bond villains but makes him dark and threatening in a way we haven’t seen in ages. When was the last time you showed up to a Bond movie for the villain? Precisely.
However, what I loved most about Skyfall is that Mendes finally found a happy medium between staying faithful to the Bond image while making him relevant to our geopolitical era. Quantum of Solace attempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater and ended up with a wet, critically injured infant. People hated it, because it didn’t feel like a Bond movie. It was Bourne, if Paul Greengrass forgot how to direct action. Greengrass would never be caught dead with those fight sequences. If we’re going to pass the torch again to another director, we need someone who can continue to tinker with the franchise without breaking it again, lest we end up back in Denise Richards territory. Hollywood, we’re never going back there again. Christmas will not come twice this time.
Like casting a new Star Wars director, almost every name imaginable has already been thrown into the ring (all in two days) — from Matthew Vaughn to Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino. The latter two famously tried to make Bond movies and couldn’t get them off the ground, although Spielberg ended up making his Bond movie, anyway. It was called Munich and it just starred more Jews — and Daniel Craig. Both Spielberg and Vaughn have previous Craig experience, which will be key in getting the star’s vote of confidence, as he hand-picked Mendes for the job. They made the deal over drinks. This is why many have been touting David Fincher, one of my personal favorite directors. Fincher hasn’t gone straight action in some time, although he came close with the Craig-starring The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Although the thought of the man who gave me The Social Network doing Bond makes me die happy inside, Fincher likely won’t be available for the project — as he’s been jockeying to get adaptations of Gone Girl and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea off the ground. Fincher is trying to move in new directions again as a director, which he tried and failed with in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Like the Bond franchise itself, Fincher wants to do something different, while looking back to the past. He’s just too perfect for it that he can’t possibly do it. Damn him.
As Fincher’s off limits, I’m going to put my vote behind one director whose hypothetical hat has already been thrown into the ring: Kathryn Bigelow. In terms of quality, Bigelow should already be a top contender for the job, as her last two movies have raised the bar for action filmmaking in Hollywood. She came this close to two straight Best Picture wins until a whisper campaign (and Congress) killed Zero Dark Thirty’s chances like I’ve never seen them slaughtered. It went from the frontrunner — for a brief, beautiful moment in time — to the least likely contender. Even Amour would have won over Zero Dark Thirty. What, is the Academy going to give Best Picture to the “torture movie,” as it was unfortunately branded? That would go over well. At least no one would have been talking about Seth MacFarlane the next day.
However, Zero Dark Thirty did something more impossible than winning Best Picture — which, frankly, been there, done that. Bigelow made history in a different way. Can you name the last time a director’s past two movies were both hailed as “the best film of the year” by the critical community? Peter Jackson, arguably, could claim that spot with the final two entries in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but Lost in Translation and Far From Heaven were technically more acclaimed. If you check out Critics Top 10, the site logs critics’ year-end best lists, and Todd Haynes’ masterpiece Far From Heaven was the runaway winner in 2002, garnering twice the votes of The Two Towers with a fraction of the press. Although The Return of the King won Best Picture, Lost in Translation landed on more Best Lists, even though it claimed fewer victories. 2003 was a weird year.
To find someone with a comparable streak, you have to go back to the 1970s, when Francis Ford Coppola had the amazing streak of The Godfather in 1973, The Godfather Part II in 1974 (which came out the same year as The Conversation, yet another Coppola triumph) and Apocalypse Now in 1979. Most directors are lucky if they make one masterpiece in their entire career. Coppola made four in a fucking row.
After Bigelow eked out the most Top 10 mentions (while also snagging the Metacritic honor of Best-Reviewed Film of 2012), Bigelow put herself halfway to Coppola territory, so directing a Bond movie might seem like an odd choice for her—as if she were testing the Gods by delving into pop. However, after challenging the place of women directors in Hollywood by beating the mens at their own game, why doesn’t she prove it at the mainstream level? Although Zero Dark Thirty garnered a number of comparisons to her previous work, it really reminded me of Fincher’s Zodiac, but the version of that film I wanted. Each were three-hour epic manhunts that precluded the possibility of true emotional resolution. Even if we ever get what we want, is it enough? What do we have to sacrifice in getting there? Bigelow out-Finchered Fincher.
And now, it’s time for her to show up Sam Mendes by making the best Bond movie ever, and she’s a surprisingly natural choice to take over for him. Although Casino Royale did a great job of bringing Bond back, Mendes was the first director to make the character make sense in today’s global climate, and the geopolitics of the film felt surprisingly relevant. Bond was no longer a relic of the past. Of any living director, Bigelow has her beast-like thumb on The Way We Live Now — in an era defined by men and women making impossible choices to further a never-ending cause. Like the characters in The Hurt Locker, Bond is fighting what is, in the end, an unwinnable war — as the franchise has gone on for 50 years and Britain has yet to rest safely. There’s always another enemy of battle to fight, and Casino Royale and Skyfall showed the human costs in the process.
Vesper Lynd’s death was a potent reminder that Bond isn’t just a muscled lothario but a man haunted by ghosts, the women he’s lost and loved and the comrades killed in the line of duty. In Quantum of Solace, he has to go back to work after watching his lover drown, much like Jeremy Renner at the end of The Hurt Locker, who can’t stop fighting a war he doesn’t even understand; at a certain point, you can’t go home. Skyfall literalizes that by placing Bond at his childhood home and then mercilessly destroying his past. Mendes doesn’t just say we can’t take it with us. Mendes blows the past up, just like Bond’s iconic Aston Martin.
Mendes has been given credit for his ballsy reinterpretation of Bond iconography, and if there’s anything else that desperately could us a Bond reboot, it’s the film’s gender roles. Casino Royale gave us one of the best Bond Girls ever in Eva Green, who was a checklist of every quality we love in a J.B. counterpart. She was sexy, dangerous, smart, mysterious and could hold her own against Bond. However, the past two Bond films have lacked a female presence that could complement Bond, and Skyfall didn’t even try. The intriguing Severin was axed halfway through the film, and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny was introduced as a set up for future Bond entries. In female inclusion, Skyfall felt like a huge step backward for a franchise that’s been overtly sexist since the dawn of time. It’s like the Bob Barker of spy anthologies.
One of the many great things about Zero Dark Thirty is that it gave us a female lead who wasn’t controlled by the men around her and often at odds the hierarchical patriarchy. Instead of using her sexuality to get what she wanted, Maya had to be better at her job than all of the men around her — becoming a lady Arnold Schwarzenegger by the end of the film. When Maya tells her superior, “I’m the motherfucker that found Bin Laden,” the entire audience of the theatre I was in erupted with laughter, because it was a woman saying the line. If it were a man reading the line, say Edward Norton, it wouldn’t have been funny. Zero Dark Thirty shows we have a long way to go in accepting women in positions of power, but the film itself was a huge step in the right direction.
An action movie starring a woman grossed almost $100 million domestically, and she didn’t even have to use her boobs to get there. Revolutionary. God love Angelina Jolie, but it wasn’t her acting in Tomb Raider. It was her curves. Guys were there for the goods.
Wouldn’t Jessica Chastain make an excellent addition to a Bond film? She’s shown she can do everything from drama to comedy to figuring out what the fuck Terence Malick is talking about. Chastain has quickly become the chic candidate for “Meryl Streep of her generation” by being a total chameleon and completely disappearing into her roles, in movies as different as The Help and Coriolanus. Chastain was in an action movie and a horror film that boasted the number one and two box office positions on the same weekend. If she can take America by storm, she can take Bond.
However, the real reason I like Bigelow and Chastain for the job is that they wouldn’t give us another Bond Girl. They would give us a Bond Woman, a character who is too busy kicking Bond’s ass to worry about saving hers. Die Another Day tried this with Jinx, but because the movie around Jinx was awful, Berry’s lively performance got buried in the wreckage. Bigelow could push the Jinx model further—of having a female spy be Bond’s equal — by giving Bond a lady counterpart he doesn’t have to have stylish sexual tension with.
To take a page from her ZDT character, Jessica Chastain wouldn’t have to fuck some guy to get to be in the movie or worthy of inclusion in the narrative. She’s there only because she’s good at her job and can do it just as well as Bond does, not just to pull her hair in a ponytail and play sexy scientist with a boob of gold. Chastain would be the motherfucker who found Silva, the motherfucker the Bond franchise needs. You don’t fuck Jessica Chastain. She fucks you.
After Bigelow and Chastain are done with Bond, let’s get a black Bond up in there, specifically Idris Elba. If you’ve watched Luther or The Wire and don’t think he would be perfect for the job, may the ghost of Stringer Bell haunt you forever.