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This doesn't surprise me at all.
I saw The Wrap's Jeff Sneider recently at a screening of "Star Trek Into Darkness," and as we were waiting to head into the auditorium, we were talking about the tenuous nature of James Bond director rumors.
Team EON is legendarily specific about what they do and how they approach the process of collaboration, and one of the things that has been interesting to watch over the course of the Daniel Craig era has been the evolution of their thinking about who to hire to direct the films. The Bond series has been steered by some workhorses, some modestly respectable industry journeymen, and some guys promoted from other departments on the series who were as close to a Home Team as possible. Until recently, though, they didn't reach out to the A-list with any sort of serious intent.
You may like or dislike "Quantum Of Solace," but the decision to hire Marc Forster was a sign of a new sort of aggressive pursuit of blockbuster box-office and critical consideration. It is the "Batman Begins" model of thinking, and while "Quantum" was considered a disappointment by many after the incredible confidence of "Casino Royale," the decision to hire Forster was an indication that Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson had turned a corner. Hiring Sam Mendes seemed like a further confirmation of their new mind-set.
Mendes paid off in a way that made this new approach look positively prescient. "Skyfall" is one of the most critically acclaimed Bond films ever, and a commercial force to be reckoned with at the end of last year. While it had its fair share of critics, including many longtime fans of the film series, "Skyfall" successfully defined what may well be the formula and tone of the series for many films in the near future. John Logan, who wrote the film, was as important to that as Sam Mendes was, and when he was hired to write the next film in the series, he seemed quite vocal about the notion that Mendes had helped him break the story to figure out what happens next with Bond.
At first, they were talking about making two films back to back that would connect as one big story, but pretty quickly, that talk was revised to just one film, and Logan went to work writing it. Mendes, on the other hand, appeared to move on to work on a London stage musical version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and he bowed out, saying he would not have the time to work on a new Bond film in the time frame that EON would want.
My guess is that he was exhausted. There is a special kind of pressure that lands on these filmmaker when they're making these big giant expensive franchise movies, and much of their professional reputation is based not only on what you eventually see onscreen, but also on how they handle that crushing pressure when it is at its worst. Mendes delivered something sleek and stylish and strong, even if it took everything out of him, and the pressure to do the same thing for a sequel is even stronger. Look at how people have reacted to the second JJ Abrams "Star Trek," and the marked difference in the way expectations played into that. When you get it as right as Mendes got it for "Skyfall," it almost doesn't pay to follow that film up, no matter how good your intentions and ideas.
When I talked to Sneider, he mentioned many of the names that were in the conversation about taking over for Mendes, including Christopher Nolan and Nicolas Winding Refn. I remember specifically saying to him how intriguing the choice would be if Refn ended up getting the gig.
"Only God Forgives," the highly-anticipated follow-up to "Drive" that reunited Refn and Ryan Gosling, just played the Cannes Film Festival, and before that screening, I would have bet on that as one of this year's big buzz movies. Now that the first wave of incredibly mixed reactions are in (including boos at the film's premiere screening), could that sort of vocal and voluminous rejection of Refn's latest have cost him the job directing the new Bond film?
Or had the producers already started their conversation with Mendes? Because it looks like they have swung back around to being willing to wait for Mendes to bring Logan's script to life. Michael Fleming seems pretty sure Mendes is going to close his deal for the film, so we'll see how this develops now over the next few years. One thing is for sure, though…
… James Bond Will Return.
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